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In the Bleak Midwinter

1906 – English Hymnal




Lyrics: Christina Rossetti (1872)

Music: Gustav Holst (Cranham-1906)

Arr. Ruth Randle (2007) 


            In the Bleak Midwinter began as a Christmas poem written by the prominent English poetess, Christina Rossetti for publication in the Scribner’s Monthly magazine. Ten years earlier, at age 31, she had published her first work, Goblin Market and Other Poems, whose critical praise caused her acclaim as the natural successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. A fuller appreciation and understanding of the significance of the lyrics of this month’s selection is given in the first historical link listed below.


            Gustav Holst (1874-1934) wrote nearly 200 musical compositions in his lifetime, mostly in the classical vein. He is best remembered for his orchestral suite, The Planets. At one point in his life, he lived in the English village of Cranham, in Gloucestershire County, a short distance northwest of London. While there, he composed what is probably the best-known tune for what is now the Christmas carol, In the Bleak Midwinter. Originally, his composition was simply titled Cranham, but the carol retains the name of the poem. Two lesser-known music composers for this carol were Harold Edwin Darke and Thomas B. Strong. A detailed biography of Gustav Holst appears in the third historical link below.




            Reviewers of the works by Holst have commented about its individuality, characterized by its unconventional use of meter and “haunting melodies”. The latter appears in this carol, with its minor and dissonant chords. There have been other versions of this music arranged for the dulcimer, using traditional tunings. Here, Ruth has tried to capture the “haunting” mood as Holst might have intended. Her frequent use of B7sus4 and C#sus4 “tension” chords seem to accomplish this. See if you don’t agree.




Music files:

PDF file -        In the Bleak Midwinter.pdf

TablEdit file -  In the Bleak Midwinter.tef

MIDI file -        In the Bleak Midwinter.mid




Historical Links:

Lyrics:       http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_bleak_midwinter

Lyricist:     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christina_Rossetti

Composer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Holst

Music:        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranham,_Gloucestershire

  Click to go to the TablEdit website and download their free demo version

If you do not have the Tabledit program, please click on the TablEdit banner to download a free .tef reader program.  It includes the ability to play this song at a slower speed (great for learning). TablEdit is a program for creating, editing, printing and listening to tablature and sheet music (standard notation) for fretted, stringed instruments.

  Click here to download a free version of Adobe Reader

Adobe® Reader® is a free software for viewing and printing Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files.

  Our PDF music files are produced from music created with Finale® notation software.


Our .MIDI music files are produced by TablEdit notation software.





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