Christmas always has a touch of winter melancholy, especially this year and one of my favourite carols for enjoying a touch of melancholy is Bethlehem Down, made more interesting and poignant by the story behind it
Peter Warlock was the pseudonymn of Philip Heseltine (1894–1930), his choice of Warlock reflected his interest in occult practices! Bethlehem Down was created in a mood of flippancy due to the impecunious state of Warlock and his poet friend Bruce Blunt – both notorious for their Bohemian behaviour. They hoped to earn enough money to get suitably drunk at Christmas; the carol was completed in a few days and published (words and music) in The Daily Telegraph on Christmas Eve. Their plan had worked and they had ‘an immortal carouse on the proceeds’.
But Warlock’s career as a composer, music scholar and critic was cut short; towards the end of his life he became depressed by a loss of creative inspiration and died in his London flat of coal gas poisoning in 1930, probably suicide.
But elves do not bring melancholy with them – though don’t you hate them hanging around in the kitchen when you are trying to cook?