Christmas Song nr 9: In the Bleak Midwinter by Paper Aeroplanes

Songs that encapsulate the dark of the holiday season have always fascinated me, not the melancholy loneliness that some people feel, but the beauty of looking out over a snow covered landscape, the moon reflecting in the ice crystals and knowing that one is warm inside. Though the lyrics of In the Bleak Midwinter are more sacred than most Christmas Songs it is in the performance by Paper Aeroplanes that it creates that feeling to me.

The song itself was first regarded as a carol when it was set to music by Gustav Holst in 1906, but was from the beginning a poem; penned before 1872 by Christina Rosetti. She wrote it in response to a Christmas poem request by Scribner’s Monthly and would later be published in her Poetic Works in 1904.

The poem describes the setting of the birth of Jesus, from the windy and cold atmosphere to the birth itself. It references angels gathering round, as well as shepherds and the Virgin Mother herself, but also the return of Christ to create his Kingdom. In the end of the tune the author reflects on she can give the lord, what she might sacrifice when shepherds can give their livestock. It is indeed a carol that captures the myths of the season as well as the feeling and sounds.

Paper Aeroplanes, from Wales, is a duo comprised of Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn and that play indie music steeped in folk. They have consistently released albums since 2010 to great acclaim. Their songs balance between melancholy and bouncy joy in a most intelligent way. The sweet voice of Howells lends itself well to the tone of In the Bleak Midwinter, that ehy featured on their 2012 EP Time to Be. Though Paper Aeroplanes’ version only contains three of the five verse it is enough to give the carol the gravitas it deserves, and in all honesty, needs. The interpretation of the music is slow, thoughtful and precise and blends well with the vocals.

Because of the quiet reverence that the music and lyrics of this classic Christmas carol creates in the hands of Paper Aeroplanes it becomes our number nine track on the Christmas List of Songs.

-Andrew Tobias


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