Victor Hely-Hutchinson

A Carol Symphony

    Description by Bruce Eder

    Dating from the late 1920s, this delectable (and immediately popular) symphony is a four-movement work of surprising unity derived from a handful of Christmas carols. The first movement opens with a short declamatory note on the brass and kettle drums; the strings play running scales, and the brass and horns come in quoting the melody of O Come All Ye Faithful, trading melodic lines as the strings keep up their furious tempo. The music rises to a fevered pitch before the horns and winds give a stately quotation of the principal theme. The brass reaches a crescendo to which the strings rise, joining them in a bold restatement and finale. The second-movement scherzo opens with a quotation of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen by the winds and reeds, picked up by the basses and cellos -- the violins gather up the tune for a spirited set of variations, with the winds adding flourishes. The middle section offers a slower, more reflective improvisation on the basic melody, which the reeds pick up and, passing the melody to the strings and the horns, return to a joyous elaboration of the carol, even featuring the drums prominently in the underscoring, before the basses end the section with a short pizzicato quotation. The third movement, andante quasi lento e cantible, is the most complex, made up of two distinct sections. A serious, reflective string opening leads to a prelude from the reeds and horns, which give way to the main body of the first half of the movement, a series of variations on The First Nowell for harp and violins, joined by the reeds, winds, and brass. The variations build to a triumphant conclusion featuring all of the voices of the orchestra quoting the carol in their most radiant fashion. (This section of the Carol Symphony was used as the theme music for the early 1980s British television production of "The Box of Delights," based on John Masefield's 1930s children's book.) The second section of this movement is a set of variations on O Little Town of Bethlehem that is, surprisingly, somber enough to recall Vaughan Williams' Norfolk Rhapsody in mood. The fourth and final movement returns to the opening of the first and to O Come All Ye Faithful, in a series of ever more jaunty variations, rippling through quotations from a handful of other carols in increasingly broad fashion before returning to its starting point yet again in an utterly unbridled, extrovert manner, making particular use of the horns, for a triumphant finale.


    1. Allegro Energico--
    2. Scherzo
    3. Andante Quasi Lento E Cantabile--
    4. Allegro Energico

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 Guild Light Music GLCD 5233
    2003 Naxos 8557099
    2001 Angel Records / EMI Music Distribution 64131
    1991 EMI Classics