The English composer, Gustav Holst (1874-1934) wrote Christmas Day (subtitled A Choral Fantasy on Old Carols) in 1910. He dedicated the piece to the music students of Morley College, where it was premièred – ironically after Christmas – on January 28 1911.
Although originally scored for chorus and orchestra the version that is most frequently performed today is for chorus accompanied by organ. Evidently, Holst held a dim view of this work as he wrote in a postcard that ‘Xmas Day can be done pf (pianoforte) and str [string] or any other combination but it is poor stuff and not worth doing.’ Perhaps one should view this remark in light of the fact that it was made in 1918 – by which time Holst had become a well-known figure following the international success of The Planets.
In a Christmas Day Holst uses a number of traditional carols: Good Christian Men,Rejoice; God Rest Ye Merry,Gentlemen; The First Nowell; and the lesser known (but no less lovely) Come, Ye Lofty, Come, Ye Lowly set to a lively Breton melody. The latter two are cleverly intertwined and a series of impressive harmonic progressions are employed, pushing the music to a climax, before subsiding towards a gentle, but haunting conclusion.