Winter Solstice, cantata for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus and ensemble, to words by Camilla Jessel, 1972, 21'
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, the performers, divided into ‘pagans’ and ‘Christians’, at the central point of the work 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 palindromically, 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 the principles of symmetry, the fourth movement reflects the second, the fifth – 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: soprano symbolising the Earth Mother and baritone personifying St. Augustine converting the pagans. Fragments from the saint’s Sermons appear in the fourth movement, when after the song celebrating the birth of the Son and the Sun we hear 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.
The cantata Winter Solstice was premiered on 16 December 1972 in Kingston-upon-Thames; the conductor was Louis Halsey.