Saint Nicolas is a cantata with
music by Benjamin Britten and text by Eric Crozier, written in 1948. It was commissioned
to celebrate the centenary of Lancing College, Sussex. Its first official performance took
place at the College in July 1948, though in fact it had already received an unofficial
premičre six weeks earlier, at the opening concert of the very first Aldeburgh Festival.
Britten himself conducted both these performances, with the part of Nicolas sung by Peter
Pears, himself a former pupil of Lancing College. The piece is scored for chorus, treble
soloists, tenor solo, piano duet, organ, percussion and strings.
The cantata tells the story of the life and achievements - some real but mostly
legendary - of Nicolas, the 4th century bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor.
The chorus asks Nicolas to speak to them across the ages and tell his story.
The birth of Nicolas
Sopranos and altos, representing children, sing of the birth and childhood. At the
end of each verse, the boy Nicolas sings, "God be glorified".
Nicolas devotes himself to God
Nicolas sells his lands to feed the poor, but is still uneasy and angry. He asks
God to purge his angry soul.
He journeys to Palestine
The men describe the sea voyage. On the journey, the sailors jeer at Nicolas who predicts
a storm ahead, and indeed the wind rises and the waves begin to overwhelm the ship. At the
height of the storm, the sailors kneel and pray, and Nicolas begs God to make the storm to
A detail from Fra Angelico's painting St Nicholas
saves the ship, 1437
He comes to Myra and is chosen Bishop
The choir proclaims Nicolas Bishop of Myra, following the ceremony of receiving the mitre,
golden robe, dalmatic and crozier. Then the congregation joins in singing All people
that on earth do dwell.
Nicolas from prison
Nicolas tells of the persecution of his Church for eight years by the Romans. He calls on
them to turn from sin and "bow down your hard and stubborn hearts".
Nicolas and the Pickled Boys
In an inn three women are calling for their missing boys Timothy, Mark, and John.
Travellers reaching the inn order a meal and invite Nicolas to join them. But suddenly he
warns them not to touch the meat, for it is the flesh of the missing boys who have been
killed by the butcher and pickled in salt. Nicolas brings the three boys back to life and
the choir joins them in praise for the miracle.
His piety and marvelous works
A choral song of praise to Nicolas after being Bishop for forty years. They tell several
stories of his mercy, charity, and kindness. The choir asks that these legends should keep
the memory of Nicolas alive.
The death of Nicolas
While the choir sings the Nunc dimittis Nicolas eagerly prepares for his death
and journey to "Him who waits for me above". At the end the congregation joins
with the choir in singing the hymn God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to
1913 - 1976
In this cantata the choir plays various
contrasting characters during the drama, relating the saint's adventures, often as
The cantata is in nine scenes.
||The Birth of Nicolas
||Nicolas Devotes Himself to God
||He Journeys to Palestine
||He Comes to Myra and is Chosen Bishop
||Nicolas from Prison
||Nicolas and the Pickled Boys
||His Piety and Marvelous Works
||The Death of Nicolas