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Before the ice is in the pools (2021)


For choir (SATB)


First performance by The Bach Choir at Cadogan Hall, December 21, 2001. Subsequently performed over 10 times by Ex Cathedra as part of their Christmas Music by Candlelight concerts.

Winner of the Sir David Willcocks Carol Competition 2021

Text: Before the ice is in the pools by Emily Dickinson

Duration: 3 minutes

"Before the ice is in the pools" is a poem about the marvels of winter and the festival of Christmas. With the notion of "wonder" central to Dickinson’s poem, she prompts to the reader questions of what forms of wonder we may encounter during this magical time of year. These wonders may be both secular or non-secular: the wonders of natural beauty, the wonder of kindness and friendship, or that of the nativity; the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.  


In this setting of "Before the ice is in the pools" the palpable sense of anticipation and novelty in Dickinson’s text is expressed through a fusion of both close and anticipatory clusters, and broad, warm harmonies. Coupled with a gentle, hymn-like melody, the climax of "Wonder upon wonder" is enriched by an illuminating harmonic shift up a major third to A major, before a return to the whispered spirituality of the opening.  

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