Rootham: Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity
Rootham: Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity


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"On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" by John Milton

Stanza Text Rehearsal Figure Page Comments
I This is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav'ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.


Tenor solo

II That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherwith he wont at Heav'ns high Councel-Table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside; and here with us to be,
Forsook the Courts of everlasting Day,
And chose with us a darksom House of mortal Clay.

Tenor solo

III Say Heav'nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no vers, no hymn, or solemn strein,
To welcom him to this his new abode,
Now while the Heav'n by the Suns team untrod,
Hath took no print of the approching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?


Tenor solo

IV See how from far upon the Eastern rode
The Star-led Wisards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first, thy Lord to greet,
And joyn thy voice unto the Angel Quire,
From out his secret Altar toucht with hallow'd fire.

Tenor solo

Boys' semichorus
"Who shall ascend...?"
Stanza Text Rehearsal Figure Page Comments
The Hymn
I It was the Winter wilde,
While the Heav'n-born-childe,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature in aw to him
Had doff't her gawdy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the Sun her lusty Paramour.

Chorus SATB

II Onely with speeches fair
She woo's the gentle Air
To hide her guilty front with innocent Snow,
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinfull blame,
The Saintly Vail of Maiden white to throw,
Confounded, that her Maker's eyes
Should look so neer upon her foul deformities.


Chorus SATB

III But he her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyd Peace,
She crown'd with Olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphear,
His ready Harbinger,
With Turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing,
And waving wide her mirtle wand,
She strikes a universall Peace through Sea and Land.



Chorus SATB

IV No War, or Battails sound
Was heard the World around:
The idle spear and shield were high up hung;
The hooked Chariot stood
Unstain'd with hostile blood,
The Trumpet spake not to the armed throng,
And Kings sate still with awfull eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.


Chorus SATB

Stanza Text Rehearsal Figure Page Comments

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Opus 81
Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity

Completed in 1927 by Cyril Bradley Rootham (CBR), this ambitious setting of Milton's poem was regarded by the composer himself as his finest work.

Outline of this work

Opus 81 "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity" was composed in the period 1925-1927, and won for Cyril Rootham a prestigious Carnegie Award in 1928.

The work is scored for soloists (soprano, tenor, baritone), chorus, semi-chorus of boys and orchestra. The programme notes from this 1962 performance were written by the composer's son Jasper and can be downloaded as a PDF file (24Mb). The concert programme also contains the entire lyrics of Milton's poem.

Publication status

CBR's "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity" was beautifully typeset as a result of winning the Carnegie award, and this original edition is still available for hire from Stainer & Bell. The work carries the catalogue number HL167 in their Hire Library.

This performance

This historic first recording of CBR's "Ode" Op.81 features the Cambridge University Musical Society, conducted by David Willcocks. The recording was made at a concert given in the Chapel at King's College, Cambridge, on 28 November 1962. The soloists were Honor Sheppard (soprano), Wilfred Brown (tenor) and John Lawrenson (bass).

The total duration is just over 42 minutes. There was a technical problem part-way through the recording, involving the disconnection of one of the microphones. Because of this, the soloists sound rather distant in the latter part of the performance. In addition, this recording has been recovered from an LP once belonging to Jasper Rootham. The record has been played many, many times and is slightly damaged in places. We are very grateful to Samsound for restoring this unique recording.

Historical note

CBR's "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity" was first performed on 13 June 1930 in a performance by the Cambridge University Music Society choir and orchestra, conducted by the composer. A performance in Gloucester at the 1934 Three Choirs Festival brought further acclaim, and the 1975 Vernon Handley recording (see below) was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 18 December 1975 and 23 December 1980.

Available on CD

As part of the centenary celebration of Rootham's birth, the Nativity Ode was also broadcast on Radio 3 on 18 December 1975: on that recording Vernon Handley conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Singers and Trinity Boys Choir.

Lyrita REAM2118

This 1975 recording is now available as part of the Itter Broadcast Collection on the Lyrita label as catalogue REAM2118 through Presto Classical: this is a 2-CD set which also includes Rootham's Symphony No 2 (Op.97) recorded in 1984. Here is a link to Presto Classical's informative page about the CD set:
Cyril Rootham: Op.81 Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity and Op.97 Symphony No 2 in D major