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Christmas classic ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ has a renewed life as part of Church of England campaign


Almost 150 years after Christina Rossetii wrote In the Bleak Midwinter, it has become a music sensation, heading up the UK iTunes Classical Charts.

This well-loved carol forms the centrepiece of the Church of England’s Advent and Christmas campaign #AtTheHeartOfChristmas encouraging people to hear the Christmas story through their local church. The soundtrack is a new version of In The Bleak Midwinter created by Rebecca Dale, one of the UK’s top young composers, and was performed by St Martin’s Voices, under the direction of Andrew Earis, in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

UK Rebecca Dale

Composer Rebecca Dale. PICTURE: Supplied.

Within days of being launched as a single, it reached the top of the classical charts.

“It only commenced as a background to the commercial,” said Earis. “Then it was released as a single and I didn’t expect the success it has achieved. It has been exciting, a glimmer of brightness in the dark of the latest COVID outbreak.” 

“Most other carols are very upbeat and joyous. This one is beautiful, serene and much more intimate. It resonates with Christmas for this is when people are focusing on what is happening and their families.

He described reworking the carol as an “interesting experience”.

“The carol starts very simply, the builds up to a crescendo in the middle, before dropping back into a single soprano and quiet humming by the choir.” 

Dale said she had been looking at In the Bleak Midwinter for some time.

In the Bleak Midwinter is such an atmospheric, evocative poem – the whole first verse is given to simply creating an enchanting winter landscape as the backdrop for its story. So the text is full of ideas that are a gift to set music to – such as ‘angels and archangels’ which lends itself immediately to soaring sopranos!’ – but the poem also has a particularly personal and intimate final verse, which I love. We wanted to keep a nod to tradition, and so the setting is rhythmically similar to the well-known versions but also to bring in something contemporary. My intention was to begin with a very simple tune, and make the harmony more unusual as the piece develops’.

Dale had just three weeks to complete her task prior to recording, and just one afternoon to work on final edits following the first rehearsal.

“It was brilliant working with Andrew Earis and St Martin’s Voices who as well as being great musicians were very accommodating of my hands on process,” she said. “The coverage has been a big surprise. I love writing music people would like to hear and I’ve always loved melody – if a piece connects with people that’s really wonderful.”

UK Andrew Earis

Andrew Earis of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. PICTURE: Supplied.

The Church of England campaign involves a four minute promotional film featuring personal reflections from people in all works of life speaking about what Christmas means to them. There are tales of faith, generosity, hardships overcome, Christmas memories and hopes for the future told by clergy, frontline workers and volunteers during the pandemic as well as families, pupils and teachers.

They speak about what is at the heart of Christmas for them – hope, family, happiness, togetherness, sharing and love – and some speak about being separated from friends and family during lockdowns and looking forward to singing carols and meeting together, which was not possible for many people last Christmas during the pandemic restrictions. 

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Among those commenting is Rev Tasha Critchlow, a London hospital chaplain who looks back over the challenges of the past 18 months.

“Christmas brings people together in their desire to fight darkness and light’. A bereaved mother Kim Rowbotham, from Kettering says simply ‘Jesus came into this broken world to give us hope. If I had to sum up Christmas in one word, it would be love.”

Commenting on her involvement in the campaign, Dale added: “Traditional carols remind me of that warmth of family and congregation Christmas memories, where we could all come together, which I know we’re all so looking forward to this year. The Church of England campaign is about the story at the heart of Christmas, and something very special to me about the last verse in particular is the message that it doesn’t matter how small we might feel in the grand scheme of things – there is always something we can do.”

Speaking of the carol, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the “only thing that makes Christmas perfect is Jesus, who sees, loves and welcomes all”.

“The message of this carol is that the only thing we need to give him and each other is our hearts – our very own selves.”

All royalties from the digital streams and track downloads are being donated to UK charities helping homeless people. 



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