In 1949, Sheffield born composer Wilfred Heaton (1918 – 2000) provided the music fo a Christmas production of W.B.Yeat’s play The King’s Threshold. It was staged at The Little Theatre by The Settlement Players, an amateur group linked to the Sheffield Educational Settlement. Founded in 1918 at the Y.M.C.A, the Settlement was part of the University Settlement movement and ran courses for working people in music and the liberal arts under the wardenship of Arnold Freeman. Heaton enrolled as a student in 1948, but was soon teaching music classes and composing small items for its annual productions. Freeman was a leading advocate of Anthroposophy espoused by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Heaton became closely involved in the work of the Settlement and under Freeman’s initial guidance, became a life long follower of the principles of Steiner’s Science of the Spirit, as Anthroposophy is also called.
Heaton’s melody was written in folk song style and was intended to be sung without accompaniment. Its metre and memorable contours lend themselves to choral treatment. My researches for an appropriate seasonal text led me to the centuries old tradition of carol singing in the pubs of North Sheffield and North Derbyshire that still takes place in November and all December each year. It is often referred to as ‘The Sheffield Carols’. One of the most popular of them is ‘Awake, arise good Christians’. Two published settings from USA have been identified, by W.F.Sherwin (1826-1888) and, with text ascribed
to ‘Parish Visitor’, by F. Schilling. This was published in Carols Old and New (1916), compiled by Rev. Charles, Lewis Hutchins (1838-1920).
My arrangement is based on a simple harmonisation which is also elaborated to follow the biblical narrative of the verses. I have set all the verses published in 1916, but have omitted the refrain which is sometimes sung in the Sheffield version.