Benjamin Britten wrote the cantata Saint Nicolas in 1948 for the centennial celebrations of Lancing College in Sussex. Here are two excerpts.
The first, ‘The Birth of Nicholas’ and the second, ‘Nicholas Comes to Myra and Is Chosen as Bishop.”
Writing specifically for the resources available to him on this occasion, Britten scored the piece for mixed choir, tenor soloist, three or four boys, strings, piano duet, organ and percussion. Within this ensemble, the only professional musicians required were the tenor soloist, a string quartet to lead the other strings, and the percussionists.
Saint Nicolas marks Britten’s first professional work intended primarily for performance by amateur musicians. Now the cantata is frequently performed by youth and amateur ensembles.
The text of Saint Nicolas was written by Eric Crozier after extensive research into the legendary life of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, Lycia. Crozier’s libretto paints a dramatically bold portrait of the saint’s character, exaggerating the legends and glory that have accumulated over the centuries around Nicholas’s story. Britten’s music enhances the drama of Crozier’s text using striking contrasts in instrumentation, vocal style, and musical textures.