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December 13, 2020 70 min

Emily McConkey is a graduate student in English at the University of Ottawa. Over the last two years, she has served as the student researcher for the Christina Rossetti in Music digital archive and runs the archive’s Twitter account @CGRossettiMusic. Her research interests have always had an interdisciplinary focus. Her MA thesis explores the figure of Medusa in Victorian women’s art and poetry, and she is more broadly interested in Ovidian reception in the Victorian and Modernist eras. She is also a research volunteer in the Library and Archives at the National Gallery of Canada. 

Emily tells us how in a BBC poll (2008), the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts named Harold Darke’s setting of “In the Bleak Mid-winter” the greatest Christmas carol of all time. This calls on the power that musical settings have in bringing poetry to new audiences: no other poem by Christina Rossetti has become so ingrained in mainstream culture.  Emily expresses that the carol initially gained popularity with Gustav Holst and Harold Darke’s sacred settings. Over time, popular arrangements of these settings by artists including Burt Jansch, James Taylor, and Jacob Collier would carry the poem into a secular context.  As Emily discusses in her paper, the carol has also experienced new life through its inclusion in television, such as The Crown and Peaky Blinders. Emily runs us through these versions with her festive conversation, proving that while Christina Rossetti’s present-day readership is fairly small, musical settings keep her poetry alive and relevant to the popular consciousness, especially through Christmastime.

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