Holst: Christmas Day (Fantasy on Old Carols)


In ‘Christmas Day’ (Fantasy on Old Carols) Holst ingeniously interweaves several well-known carols. Great Xmas repertoire for wind quintet.

  • Instruments : Fl. Ob. Cl.(in Bb) Hn. Bsn.
  • Difficulty : C – approx. ABRSM Grade 5
  • Duration : 7’00
  • ISMN : 979-0-708088-91-2
  • Portus Press reference : PPQ50


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.

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