During his early career, Britten undertook occasional commissions from the BBC in order to supplement his longer-term concert and operatic work. In the autumn of 1944 he contributed music to a radio programme entitled A Poet’s Christmas
, broadcast by the Home Service on Christmas Eve and also featuring music by Michael Tippett. Britten’s contribution was his Chorale after an old French Carol
, with a text by W H Auden (who had been Britten’s close friend and collaborator in the period from 1936 to 1942). The Chorale’s text was part of an unachieved Christmas Oratorio
on which Britten and Auden intended to collaborate. Britten’s setting is based on the hymn tune ‘Picardy’, known in France as ‘Romancero’; it lay unperformed for many years, but was resurrected in 1961 when Imogen Holst conducted its first airing since the original broadcast in 1944.
from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2001