Today, January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany. One all the hymns composed for this great occasion, few are more popular or well-loved then "The First Nowell."
This setting was published by Oxford University Press in 1956. It was composed by C. P. P. Burton.
Claud Peter Primrose Burton (1916-1957) was a pupil of the great Sir William H. Harris.
We was successively organist of the Collegiate Church of St. Mary, Warwick, and then on St. Alban's Cathedral.
Tragically, he lost his life in a swimming accident while heroically saving the life of a chorister. His untimely death was from tuberculosis, which was precipitated from this incident. See the newly attached photo.
As far as I know, this is his only published (at least surviving) work.
The work is indeed improvisatory in style, and that's the way I tried to play it. I didn't work out the details of registrations. Instead, I just "played" it 5 or 6 times, and kept the recording that I thought was best.
You'll notice that the piece changes key quite often, and you'll find yourself "travelling" along with it. The main key of the piece is E major.
In almost all hymnals, this hymn appears in the now "normal" key of D major. Some modern hymnals have "dropped" it down to C major, thinking that D major was "too high."
If you look at some older English hymnals, you'll occasionally see the hymn appearing there in E Major, so, perhaps this was the key that was the norm to Burton.
THANKS to bayless and to Alastair Johnson for supplying me with a photo and more information about Claud Burton! Photos of St. Mary, Warwick, and St. Alban's Cathedral are also attached below.
This upload concludes the Advent-Epiphany cycle. During that time period, I've uploaded at least one piece or hymn for each day.
I've tried to be varied and interesting, and I hope that you've enjoyed listening, as much as I did recording the music.
A blessed Epiphany to all!