Today, December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It is the day that the Church commemorates the Herod's slaughter of the young boys of Bethlehem, as he searched for and sought to kill the Infant Jesus. It also talks of the Holy Family's dramatic flight into Egypt.
Robin Humphrey Milford (22 January 1903 – 29 December 1959) was born in Oxford and attended Rugby School from 1916 where his musical talent recognized. He studied at the Royal College of Music from 1921 to 1926, where his composition teachers were Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. He studied harmony and counterpoint under R. O. Morris, and was also an organ student.
In 1927, he worked for a time with the Aeolian Company correcting Duo-Art pianola rolls until 1930. He also taught part-time at Ludgrove School and at Downe House School. In 1929 he had met fellow-composer Gerald Finzi, and the two formed a lifelong friendship.
At the outbreak of the Second World War Milford volunteered for the army, but after just one week, he suffered a breakdown, and after treatment he and his family moved to Guernsey. His depression was deepened by the death of his mother in 1940. He returned to England, to teach and compose, but soon afterwards his five-year-old son, Barnaby, was killed in a road accident. His grief at this tragedy prompted him to attempt suicide several times. By 1946 he had recovered sufficiently to resume teaching and to undertake musical activities.
After the death of his father in 1952, and the deaths of Finzi (1956) and Vaughan Williams (1958), Milford took his own life in December 1959.
This work is the second of "Three Christmas Pieces," published by Oxford in 1930. It is based upon the well-known "Coventry Carol," which is sung on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It is a continuous and colorful set of variations on the famous tune.
The score is attached below, as well as a photo of Milford and a painting of the Holy Innocents.
Full text is given in the First Comment.