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Music Text

Biblical (E), Liturgical (L), Traditional (Scottish Gaelic), Southwell (E), Donne (E), Milton (E)

Scoring pipe(or anvil)/2timbales/hi-hat/susp.cym-harp-cel-str

Abbreviations (PDF)


Boosey & Hawkes

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World Premiere
Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Mary Bevan, soprano / Christopher Maltman, baritone / Netherlands Radio Philharmonic & Choir / James MacMillan
Composer's Notes


  1. Sinfonia 1; orchestra
  2. Chorus 1; chorus and orchestra
  3. Aria 1; soprano solo and orchestra
  4. Tableau 1; soli, chorus and orchestra
  5. Aria 2; baritone solo and orchestra
  6. Chorus 2; chorus and orchestra
  7. Sinfonia 2; orchestra


  1. Sinfonia 3; orchestra
  2. Chorus 3; chorus and orchestra
  3. Aria 3; baritone solo and orchestra
  4. Tableau 2; soli, chorus and orchestra
  5. Aria 4; soprano solo and orchestra
  6. Chorus 4; chorus and celesta
  7. Sinfonia 4; orchestra

My Christmas Oratorio was written in 2019 and is a setting of assorted poetry, liturgical texts and scripture taken from various sources, all relating to the birth of Jesus. It is structured in two Parts, each consisting of seven movements.

Therefore the music of each Part is topped and tailed by short orchestral movements (four in all), creating a palindromic structure. The Choruses are mostly Latin liturgical texts (although the last one is a Scottish lullaby), the Arias are settings of poems by Robert Southwell (2), John Donne and John Milton, and the two central Tableaux are biblical accounts from the Gospels of St Matthew in Part 1, and St John in Part 2.

The soloists, who have two arias each, are a soprano and a baritone, (and they sing in the two Tableaux along with the choir). The orchestra is of modest size, using double woodwind, brass and percussion, plus a harp and celesta.

There are various characteristic elements and moods throughout, from the ambiguous opening which mixes resonances of childhood innocence with more ominous premonitions, pointing to later events in the life of Jesus. There are also intermittent moments of joyfulness and the childhood excitement and abandon of Christmas at various points, especially in the choral Hodie Christus Natus Est and in some of the orchestral interludes.

Sometimes we hear the ‘dancing’ rhythms associated with some secular Christmas carols. There is also, at points, a sense of narrative when the chorus take the role of the Evangelist as he tells the Nativity story. The 16th and 17th century English poems provide opportunities for reflection in the four solo Arias, firmly based in the oratorio tradition.

There is also at points a sense of mystery in both orchestral and choral textures, such as in the setting of the O Magnum Mysterium text in Part 2. The oratorio ends reflectively in Sinfonia 4 with the orchestra alone, highlighting a small ensemble of string soloists amid the larger textures.

James MacMillan, 2020

Reproduction Rights
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer

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