The Three Kings

For soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone soli, SATB chorus and orchestra


50 minutes



Dedication National Federation of Music Societies

Commissioned by London Symphony Chorus to celebrate its 30th anniversary






soprano solo mezzo-soprano solo tenor solo baritone solo soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone chorus


2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, *percussion (2 players), timpani, strings *percussion (2 players): marimba, glockenspiel, crotales, large suspended cymbal, clashed cymbals, 2 tambourines (medium and small), maracas, tam-tam, very large bass drum, bell tree


1. Lullabye
2. Transition
3. Sol Occasum
4. The Children of Time
5. Sol, Luna et Sidera
6. The Dove
7. Circling Star Blizzard
8. Transition
9. Shepherds and Kings
10. Cantus Tibiarum
11. Arrival
12. Fulsit Stella
13. Outside the Last Door
14. Silver Harp Stroke
15. Transition
16. House of Winter
17. A Winter Lamb
18. The New Child
19. Transition
20. The Story is Told
21. Ex Spina Rosa


Composer Notes

The Three Kings is a setting, for soloists, chorus and orchestra, of Christmas poems by the Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown, interspersed with related Latin fragments from fifteenth-century carols.

I prepared the text in 1980, but the opportunity to compose the music did not present itself until 1995, with a commission from the London Symphony Chorus.

The work is continuous, there being no breaks between movements: the thematic process is also continuous, the transformations, developments and variations crystallizing out into very clear statements at each of the Latin sections, which are sung by the chorus in unison. Nos 1 and 18 are lullabies, the first for a child being told the story of the Three Kings, the second for the new child himself, marking the departure and arrival points for the whole musical argument: nos 20 and 21 together make a postlude.

The musical material is mined from the same vein as my Symphony No. 5 (1994) and the choreographic poem The Beltane Fire (1995), but is like neither of these, in that its modes of expression are closer to the sung vernacular of Orkney, while retaining the same or similar underlying principles of design and process: the actual choral layout draws on my experience writing for my own school choir in Cirencester over thirty years ago, and for the St. Magnus Singers, Orkney, in Solstice of Light, seventeen years ago, but modified and intensified by the more ambitious arcs of continuous transformation.

Programme Notes

Short Note by Paul Griffiths

Written three and a half decades after O Magnum Mysterium, Davies’s second Christmas cantata is again an uncanny recapture of a relatively simple modal style – luminous, sometimes plaintive, sometimes rapturous. Another, and perhaps closer, comparison would be with Solstice of Light, for this is again a linked series of George Mackay Brown settings designed to give pleasure (if sometimes strenuous pleasure) to a non-professional choir, and here again a spiritual mystery is glimpsed in an the setting of Orkney. The bulk of the piece belongs to the chorus; the soloists’ contributions are brief, but pointed, and the orchestra is there to support and slightly tweak out the choral drift.>/p>


First Performance

Barbican Hall, London

Sunday, 15 October 1995

London Symphony Orchestra