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First line:
Earth today rejoices, Alleluia
author of text
Coventry Nativity Play
author of text
Transcribed from surviving C15th-C16th texts

'Boughton: Bethlehem' (CDA66690)
Boughton: Bethlehem
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Act 1 No 01: Choral Prelude  Earth today rejoices, Alleluia
Act 1 No 02. Scene 1 The home of Joseph and Mary at Nazareth: Hail Mary, full of grace (Gabriel/Mary)
Act 1 No 03. Scene 1 The home of Joseph and Mary at Nazareth: Mary, my wife so dear, how do ye (Joseph/Mary)
Act 1 No 04. Scene 1 The home of Joseph and Mary at Nazareth: Arise, Joseph, and go home again (Gabriel)
Act 1 No 05. Scene 1 The home of Joseph and Mary at Nazareth: Now, Lord, I thank thee with heart full sad (Joseph/Mary)
Act 1 No 06: Choral Interlude  In the ending of the year
Act 1 No 07. Scene 2 A Moor at Night: O God that art in Trinity (Jem/Dave/Sym/Angels)
Act 1 No 08. Scene 2 A Moor at Night: The stars of the morning shall dance and sing (Angels/Sym/Dave/Jem)
Act 1 No 09: Choral Interlude  O come, all ye faithful
Act 1 No 10. Scene 3 The Stable at Bethlehem: Lullay, lullay, so softly sleeping there (Mary/Joseph)
Act 1 No 11. Scene 3 The Stable at Bethlehem: As down from Heaven, from Heaven so high (Shepherds/Angels/Jem/Dave/Sym/Mary)
Act 1 No 12: Choral Interlude  The Holly and the Ivy
Act 2 No 1. Scene 1 An open place in Jerusalem: Now blessed be God of his sweet sonde (Zarathustra/Nubar/Merlin)
Act 2 No 2. Scene 1 An open place in Jerusalem: News, news, wonderful marvels! (Believer/Unbeliever/Women/Children/Calchas)
Act 2 No 3. Scene 1 An open place in Jerusalem: I am he who reigns king in Judea and Israel (Herod/Chorus of slaves/Calcahs)
Act 2 No 4. Scene 1 An open place in Jerusalem: Hail, Lord without a peer! (Calchas/Herod/Zarathustra/Chorus of slaves)
Act 2 No 5: Choral Interlude 'The Seven Joys of Mary'  The first great joy that Mary had
Act 2 No 6. Scene 2 The Stable: A nwe year, a nwe year (Mary/Joseph)
Act 2 No 7. Scene 2 The Stable: Ohe lalula, Ohe lalay (Zarathustra/Merlin/Nubar/Mary)
Act 2 No 8. Scene 2 The Stable: Hail, Lord of land and sea (Gabriel/Mary/Wise Men/Joseph)
Act 2 No 9. Scene 2 The Stable: So gracious, so precious in royaltie (Wise Men/Joseph/Mary/Angels)

Rutland Boughton adapted his libretto from the fourteenth-century Coventry Nativity Play, as performed by the Shearman Taylors' Company, using Thomas Sharp's 1825 transcription of the surviving fifteenth- and sixteenth-century manuscripts. He made several cuts to sharpen up the action, and added certain well-known fifteenth-century carols for Mary and the Angels to sing. He also marked off each stage of the drama by a well-known Christmas carol. Deployed in much the same way as Bach used the chorale in his Passions, Tippett the spiritual in A Child of Our Time, and Britten popular hymns in Noye's Fludde, the carols form a powerful commentary on the action and relate it in a very personal way to the everyday experience of the listener. Each carol was originally intended to be sung by the audience in unison (as was done in 1915), but Boughton later elaborated them in the manner of the choral variations on British folksongs that had helped to make his name at the beginning of the century. The result is some of the most powerful and orginal carol arrangements that have ever been made.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the music of Bethlehem is its utter simplicity. Gone are all the Wagnerian trappings to be found in Boughton's earlier compositions. Everything is stripped to essentials — the cleansing influence being that of folksong, although, apart from the carols, only one actual example is used (to characterize Zarathustra at the beginning of Act Two). The rest is Boughton responding with artless sympathy and writing 'folksong' of his own to such purpose that Vaughan Williams found it hard to believe he had not indulged in a 'collecting' spree among the good folk of Glastonbury. For Herod, on the other hand, Boughton adopted a deliberately showy, vulgarly flamboyant style the better to suggest the empty pomposities of royalty. An extended ballet sequence (omitted in this recording) carried musical mockery perhaps a shade too far in an orgy of Brummagem orientalism more reminiscent of Ketelby's art than his own. The three Shepherds are delightfully characterized by Boughton's simulated folksong, while the Wise Men add touches of ragtime (for Nubar) and, for Merlin, a theme that he had already used to good effect in the first of his Arthurian dramas, The Birth of Arthur. His skill in combining the three Wise Men's themes, and, in the Herod scene, unexpectedly linking two very different carols, adds greatly to the excitement and dramatic impact of the score. Indeed, Bethlehem is the only one of Boughton's music dramas to make use of the ensemble. Nor is it without orchestral felicities. Scored only for a small orchestra, it is a model of subtle resource, limpid in its colouring and perfectly in keeping with the innocent story it is required to illustrate.

Act one
Choral Prelude: 'Earth today rejoices':
Scene 1: The home of Mary and Joseph. The Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she has been chosen above all women to conceive and bear God's only son. Though frightened at first, Mary submits to the Lord's will. When, however, she tells Joseph what has happened he chides her for deceiving him and prepares to leave, but the Angel Gabriel reassures him of her innocence. Together they set out for Bethlehem.

Choral Interlude: 'In the ending of the year'
Scene 2: A Moor at Night. The Shepherds Jem, Dave, and Sym see a great star and hear angel voices telling of the birth of a Saviour. Joyfully they set out to find the Holy child.

Choral Interlude: 'O come, all ye faithful'
Scene 3: The Stable at Bethlehem. Mary sings a lullaby to the new-born child. The Shepherds present their simple gifts — a penny whistle, a hat, a pair of warm mittens — and go on their way rejoicing.

Choral Interlude: 'The Holly and the Ivy'

Act two
Scene 1: Before the door of King Herod's palace in Jerusalem. Three Wise Men, Zarathustra, Nubar, and Merlin, meet. Each has followed the star and will now journey together to Bethlehem. A woman spreads the news of the birth of a Saviour and there is great rejoicing among the crowd. This is interrupted by the sudden and terrifying appearance of Herod who demands that the Wise Men be made to explain their mission. Calchas the Herald brings them before him and he learns that a Child has been born who will be King over all the World. Herod pretends to be sympathetic, but when they have gone he rages against the Child and vows to kill Him.

Choral Interlude: 'The Seven Joys of Mary'
Scene 2: The Stable at Bethlehem. The Wise Men present their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Angel Gabriel warns of Herod's evil intentions and the Wise Men take heed. As the angels sing their paean of praise Mary and Joseph set out for the safety of Egypt.

from notes by Michael Hurd 1993

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Details for CDA66690 track 14
Act 2 No 2 Scene 1, An open place in Jerusalem: News, news, wonderful marvels! (Believer/Unbeliever/Women/Children/Calchas)
Recording date
27 July 1993
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Martin Compton
Recording engineer
Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Boughton: Bethlehem (CDA66690)
    Disc 1 Track 14
    Release date: October 1993
    Deletion date: September 2009
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