2(II=picc).2(II=ca).2(II=bcl).2 - 2221 - timpani - perc(2): t.bells/cyms/tam-t/anvil/vib/glock/chimes/xyl/handbells/susp cym/w-chimes/sleigh bells/tgl/snare drum/tamb/TD - harp - strings
I think A Christmas Carol is the most perfect story ever written. Its structure is so simple, yet it embraces an enormous amount: a thoroughgoing critique of human nature, our Christmas rituals, the cost of financial arrogance and the need for greater understanding in society - it is therefore just as compelling now as it was the day it was published in 1843. I have wanted to recreate it musically for years.
My last collaboration with the BBCSO, Wind in the Willows, (which was nominated for an Audio Drama award) was hugely enjoyable and proved that film-style scoring and live drama could create compelling radio in which the pictures were perfect. A Christmas Carol is, however a different animal - we have a smaller orchestra, a much larger choir (being the BBC Singers, 24 of the finest voices in the country!) and much greater intensity of focus. Where Willows was a relaxed jog through a picaresque novel, Scrooge's journey runs almost in real, albeit supernatural, time. We are with him constantly, and see what he sees both in reality and in memory. So the music must support his travels and his state of mind constantly.
To do this I have tried to maintain the idea of the melodic nature of Christmas Carols - I have filled the piece with tunes, both positive and negative, and tried to set it in the cold, newly-industrialised, viciously uncaring London that Dickens grew up in, literally a City of Iron. The good that people do and the warmth of Christmastide are the bright moments in an otherwise dark tale set in dark places. My first childhood acquaintance with the story left me with an indelible memory of Scrooge's school, the Ghost of Christmas Present's horrific children and those purloined deathbed curtains. This is no jolly Yuletide yarn, it is a stark warning from 150 years ago about the folly of selfishness.
But it is also a wonderful opportunity to capture our ideas of Dickens's world - from walking the London streets to flying over a raging sea, from Scrooge's cold apartments to the dank slums where his clothes are sold, from Bob Cratchit's humble house to the folksy delight of Fezziwig's Ball - and, being Christmas, of course there are bells and trumpets, songs and, yes, Carols - one of which you may recognise as the Wexford Carol, one of the oldest in existence. It is a quirk of timing that I composed this piece throughout the hottest summer I can remember - but thanks to Dickens's unmatched power of imaginative writing, it was always winter in my heart. I have loved adapting A Christmas Carol. I hope you enjoy the result.