Saint Nicolas, Op. 42

Saint Nicolas, Op. 42
A Cantata
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

  • This Cantata was written for performance at the Centenary Celebration of Lancing College, Sussex, on July 24th, 1948. It was sung by the combined choirs of three boys' schools (the main chorus) and one girls' school (the gallery choir with its own conductor). The audience is also included in the performance in the singing of two hymns. The performance was conducted by the composer and the gallery-choir was conducted by Jasper Rooper. The part of Nicolas was sung by tenor Peter Pears, Britten's life partner.
  • The MSU performances will feature the following performers and instrumentation:
    • Nicolas - Peter Gillis, tenor
      Main Choir - Montclair State University Chorale, conducted by Heather J. Buchanan
      Gallery Choir - Childern's Chorus of Sussex County, conducted by Deborah Mello
      Piano Duet - Steven W. Ryan & Ruth Rendleman
      Organ - Renee Louprette
      String orchestra - Boris Kucharsky, concertmaster
      Percussion (timpani, side drum, bass drum, tenor drum, cymbal, triangle, gong, whip & tambourine)

Saint Nicolas

Saint Nicolas Bishop of Myra
Patron-saint of childern, seamen and travelers

Nicolas was born at Patara in Asia Minor and died during the first half of the fourth century, having long served as Bishop of Myra, the capital of his native country Lycia. He is the hero of many popular legends, but few facts of his life are certain.

In 1087 his relics were captured from his tomb at Myra and carried away to the Italian city of Bari, where a new church was built to enshrine them. Here they continued, as at Myra, to work miracles: the shrine, which is said to exude a miraculous, sweet-smelling oil, became a place of pilgrimage from all parts of Europe.

In the Middle Ages 400 churches were dedicated to his honor in England alone. He is the patron-saint of Russia and Greece, and is universally known to children in his disguise of 'Santa Claus.'

Nicolas was born of wealthy parents. From his babyhood he showed signs of exceptional grace and refused to feed on canonical fast-days. He was taught by the Church in boyhood and youth, and when his parents died of the plague he gave all his wealth to charity and went in pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Coming back to the city of Myra, he was chosen bishop according to a revelation made before his arrival, and served this diocese faithfully until his death.

During the persecution of the martyrs 1(303-311) Nicolas was imprisoned under Diocletian. 2 Later he was one of the three hundred and eighteen Bishops summoned to attend the first great Chruch Council at Nicea, where he is said to have disgraced himself, but gave great glory to God, by striking the founder of the Arian heresy.3

Most legends of Nicolas are concerned with his care of the poor and oppressed, and with his power of appearing from great distances to rescue those who called on him. The three golden balls that he carries in statues and pictures symbolize the purses of gold he secretly gave to rescue three girls of noble family from prostitution.


1 Also known as The Diocletianatic Persecution. The last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Over 20,000 Christians are thought to have died during Diocletian's reign.

2 Roman Emperor 284-305.

3 The Arian heresy describes several controversies related to Arianism which divided the Christian church from before the Council of Nicaea in 325 to after the Council of Constantinople in 381. The most important of these controversies concerned the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.