*FOUR SONGS OF THE NATIVITY(for SATB choir and 8 brass) op.415 (July 1990)

A cycle of mediaeval songs
Published by: Highbridge Music Ltd
Commissioned by: Sir David Willcocks and The Book Club for The Bach Choir
Instrumentation: 4 trumpets, 3 trombones.tuba
[Key to Abbreviations]
Note on Lyrics: Medieval and macaronic texts translated by Brian Stone
Duration: 15 mins
First Performance: Composer's note: Sir David Willcocks was conducting a complete concert of Christmas music in St Paul's Cathedral on 13th December 1990 with the Bach Choir and London Brass in which the first performance of the work was featured. At the last minute he very graciously asked me if I would like to conduct the work, which was a great delight, standing right under the Dome in that immense acoustic with such wonderful voices.

Sheet Music Available
Full score for sale
Organ / vocal score for sale
Instrumental parts for hire
Recordings Available
The Passion of Mary / Four Songs of The Nativity
Released: March 2010
Recorded: 12th August 2009
Artists: Patricia Rozario, Robert Blake, Richard Edgar-Wilson, David Wilson-Johnson, London Voices, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Howard Blake.
Available from: Amazon UK Naxos Records


  • 1: Holy Mary, Mother Mild
  • 2: Of a Rose is all my Song
  • 3: Jesu, Son Most Sweet and Dear
  • 4: Let us gather Hand in Hand


The mediaeval joy in faith finds its best expression in lyrics on the Nativity and on the role of the Virgin Mary. The ideas of unique birth and everlasting triumph over death combine to remove all darkness, so that Hell is no more than  a hazard which Our Lady helps us circumvent. Winter and long nights are forgotten in Her magical dance-song, and the Middle Ages' burning sense of Sin itself is lost in ecstatic reloicing.

1. 'Holy Mary, Mother Mild' is Macaronic, a verse in two languages, Latin and English, where the Latin acts as a burden to the main poem in English.

2.'Of a Rose is all my Song' is a Nativity carol in the Trouvere style comparing the Virgin Mary to a beautiful rose.

3. 'Jesu Son Most Sweet and Dear' is the Virgin's song to the Christ-Child and takes an imaginative leap into the Virgin's experience, portraying tenderness and simplicity.

4.'Let us Gather Hand in Hand' is thought to be the earliest carol discovered in English, appearing in a Franciscan list of sermon outlines written not later than 1350. The refrain conveys the manner of its performance and the joy of the occasion.

The poems were translated by Brian Stone and are reproduced by permission of Penguin Books Ltd from 'Mediaeval English Verse' 1964.


2nd December 2011
- 4th December 2011

Rockingham Choral Society Christmas concert feature the American premiere of Four Songs of the Nativity by Howard Blake, which combines ancient texts with 21st century music. New Hampshire, USA

15th December 2007 Cambridge Philharmonic Society, Prime Brass, Emmanuel United Reform Church
January 1991 The Bach Choir, St. George's Windsor
23rd December 1990 The Bach Choir, Royal Albert Hall
19th December 1990 The Bach Choir, Fairfield Hall
16th December 1990 The Bach Choir, Royal Albert Hall


Blake’s Four Songs of the Nativity, carol settings of great charm and vitality which follow, make lovely, spare use of brass (just as the harp is effectively deployed in The Passion of Mary.

Roderick Dunnett, Church Times, 28/5/2010


Related Works

'HOLY MARY, MOTHER MILD' op.238 (October 1976)
A late mediaeval poem of the nativity for tenor and piano (or string quartet), original version, later adapted as one of the 'Four Songs of the Nativity), see op.415
'Of A Rose Is All My Song' op.241 (December 1976)
A late mediaeval poem of the nativity for bass and piano (or string quartet) later adapted as one of the Four Songs of the Nativity, see op.415
'Four Songs Of The Nativity for SATB Chorus and Organ' op.423 (March 1991)
an arrangement iof the original work for SATB choir and 8 brass opus 415
'Four Songs of the Nativity (for SATB choir and 5 brass)' op.531 (October 2002)
Re-arrangement of the work originally for SATB choir and 8 brass
'Four Songs Of The Nativity (arranged for choir and woodwind)' op.544 (November 2004)
an arrangement of the original work for SATB choir and 8 brass opus 415

Related Autobiography Chapters

Thorunn Johannsdottir Tryggvaason ('Dody') gives an RAM recital (1959)
Bach Choir and 'Four Songs of The Nativity' in St.Paul's Cathedral (1990)

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