In the Bleak Midwinter

Conductor Notes:

Abbie’s SATB arrangement of this carol has been around for many years and is widely performed. Kathleen Rodde commissioned this SSAA version for Cantamus Iowa State University, and it was a hit with me and the singers from the first reading. Both feature piano (or harp), an optional opening solo, and a soaring duet in the closing verse. The treble version is a semitone higher than the SATB, and I feel it works really well in that spot. This haunting arrangement speaks well, with logical voice leading and gratifying lines, at the same time as there are ample opportunities to find subtleties of balance and phrasing.

As a Canadian who knows the original text very well, I have to admit to missing the poem in its original form, especially the “cherubim and seraphim” of verse three. I almost reverted to the original text, and that could be done quite simply by reading your choir the handful of word changes.


This lists any discs, concerts or collections where this piece is included.




Poem by Christina Rossetti, John Andrew Storey (modified A. Betinis)

In the bleak midwinter
frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow,
snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter long ago.

Christ a homeless stranger,
so the gospels say,
cradled in a manger
and a bed of hay;
in the bleak midwinter,
a stable place sufficed,
Mary and her baby, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels
May have thronged the air,
Shepherds, beasts and wise men,
May have gathered there,
But only his mother
In her tender bliss
Blessed this new redeemer
With a kiss.

What can I give you,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give you:
Give my heart.

I give my heart…

A note on Abbie’s website: Verse 1 by Christina Rossetti, verse 2 by John Andrew Storey, verses 3 & 4 by Rossetti, modified A. Betinis. These texts are in the public domain, and may be reprinted from this website for use in concert programs and for promotional use as related to this musical work.