A Boy Was Born op. 3
(1932-33) SATB and Organ. Composed by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). Music Sales America. 90 pages. Chester Music #CH76549. Published by Chester Music (HL.14037801).
Item Number: HL.14037801
ISBN 1849386382. 8.5x11 inches.
Choral Variations for unaccompanied* SATB with boys' voices
Texts:Theme A Boy was Born Anon. 16th century
Variation 1 Lullay, Jesu Anon. before 1536
Variation 2 Herod Anon. before 1529
Variation 3 Jesu, as Thou art our saviour Anon. 15th Century
Variation 4 The Three Kings Anon. 15th Century
Variation 5 In the bleak mid-winter Christina Rossetti
Lully, lulley, lully, lulley Anon. before 1536
Variation 6 (Finale) Noel!, Welcome Yule Anon. 15th century
Christmas Thomas Tusser A Christmas Carol Francis Quarles
Publisher: Chester Music
Difficulty level: 5
*an organ part was created by Ralph Downes in 1957-58 which should only be used in extremis.
The extent of Britten's early genius can, to some extent, be measured by thiswork. Written while a student at the Royal College of Music aged only 19 itdemonstrates the most precocious creative gifts. A rock-solid technique is evident, but also the ability to develop ideas over a large span of time (this is a major work) and, while testing even the best of choirs to its limits, Britten nevertheless always writes within the grasp of what is possible, and not only possible but supremely effective. Each movement contributes to the developing relationship with the initial theme, while also sitting perfectly within the sense of an unfolding 'Suite' of movements. The conductor needs to realise the tempo relationships and the contrasts of mood, pace and dynamics, and judge the scale of each movement in relation to the others.
One of the issues with this work is that it requires a boys' choir in addition to the main choir. This, of course, can also be a girls' or even a mixed group of upper voices. It does have to be a separate group, however, and in some performances they also have their own conductor, but they should not be placed at a distance due to the intricacy of their part in relation to the whole.
A Boy was Born is one of the most excitingly satisfying of Britten's choral works. While it should not be undertaken by any but the most ambitious amateur choirs, its challenges are certainly surmountable with a good run of rehearsals.
Duration: 32 minutes
Paul Spicer, Lichfield, 2011.