The set of Four Carols for Dark Times was written between 2003Œ_5 and commissioned at the rate of one piece per year for the Birmingham Bach Choir to perform at their Christmas concerts. When I reached the final carol I was concerned that if they were to be performed as a set they needed a ŒïscherzoŒÍ movement and so I wrote Carol as a balancing movement. The poems are all by that extraordinary Welsh priest-poet R S Thomas (1913Œ_2000) whose poetry speaks to me with a directness unmatched in my experience by any other 20th century poet. I have set many of his poems to music in various forms. ThomasŒÍs writing is rich with the imagery of human frailty in relation to religion. The final poem, Festival, is as good an example as any of his approach: the trappings of Christmas Œ_ gold, holly, mistletoe Œ_ are used to contrast the cheapness of our self-centred celebration with the commitment required to nurture real faith.
In terms of performance it is crucial for the conductor to get under the spirit of the words finding all the necessary colours to project ThomasŒÍs vivid imagery as effectively as possible. It is equally important to address the textural challenges in the music with careful attention to fine blend and balance between voices. Be sensitive to occasional issues of time spacing between phrases at key moments, which are often indicated by commas.
Although these carols are designed to be sung as a set, they may be performed individually.