Bethlehem Down was written by Peter Warlock (the pseudonymn of Philip Heseltine) in collaboration with his poet friend Bruce Blunt. The carol’s haunting sadness belies the work’s origins as it was conceived on a pub crawl as a means to generating some much-needed cash for Christmas drinking! Warlock’s music and Blunt’s lyrics were printed in the The Daily Telegraph on Christmas Eve 1927 whereupon the friends used the proceeds to embark on what Blunt called an ‘immortal carouse’!
In late 1930 Warlock produced a new arrangement of the carol for solo voice and organ. In that version, whilst the melody is presented unadulterated, the accompanying harmonies (which were already quite exotic) gradually become more and more bizarre – perhaps a musical demonstration of his tortured and deteriorating mental state? Indeed, he committed suicide within a few months.
In this arrangement I have stretched the original four verses to five in order to give each player a solo ‘verse’. I have also interweaved some of the more palatable ideas from Warlock’s later version with those presented in the original material.