Winter Solstice, cantata for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and ensemble

Recording not available.

Opis materiału
  • Composer:Andrzej Panufnik
  • Original title: Winter Solstice
  • year of completion: 1972
  • instrumentation: soprano, baritone, choir and instrumental ensemble
  • commission: Thames Chamber Choir and Orchestra
  • Dedication: To Roxanna and Jeremy
  • text author: Camilla Jessel
  • kind of text: literary
  • Text language: English
  • Premiere: Kingston, 6.12.1972, Jean Knibbs – soprano, Bruce Pullan – baritone, Louis Halsey Singers, London Bach Orchestra, Louis Halsey – conductor

Winter Solstice is a Christmas cantata commissioned by the Thames Chamber Choir and Orchestra from Kingston-upon-Thames. The composer wondered for a long time how to approach the topic of Christmas in an original manner. His wife came to his aid:

Camilla pointed out that dualism did not only appear in oriental philosophy, but that it was also fundamental part of the origins of Western beliefs; and that the Christmas traditions of Jesus in the stable and the supposed date of His birth had grown out of the pagan winter solstice ceremonies, when a new baby was always brought in at the darkest point in the year as a symbol that life on earth would soon be born again.

In the end, Camilla wrote the text in which she used this pagan-Christian dualism. This was possible also thanks to the similarity between the words “Son’”and “Sun”, which sound almost identical in English. As a result, at the central point of the work the performers, divided into “pagans” and “Christians”, can simultaneously sing in celebration of the birth of the Son and the Sun, using almost the same word to praise God (the Christians) and Sun (the pagans).

The cantata consists of five movements designed as a palindrome, in accordance with the principles of symmetry. The axis of symmetry is provided by the third movement, which at the same time constitutes the climax of the work. In accordance with symmetry, the fourth movement reflects the second, and the fifth reflects the first. The titles of the movements are Mistletoe Carol, Chant of the Earth Mother, Nativity of the SO/u/N, Sermon of St. Augustine  and Hymn for the New Year.

The performers include two solo singers: a soprano symbolizing the Earth Mother and a baritone personifying St. Augustine converting the pagans. Fragments from the saint’s Sermons appear in the fourth movement, when we hear after the song celebrating the birth of the Son and the Sun the following words:

Worship not the sun, but Him who made the sun!

The composition ends with a hymn for the New Year, celebrated by all irrespective of their religion. The soloists and the chorus are accompanied by an instrumental ensemble comprising three trumpets, three trombones, timpani and glockenspiel.