This beautiful song, with music by Tchaikovsky and English words by Geoffrey Dearmer, is popular as both a Christmas and an Easter carol. In fact it started life as a poem written in 1857 by the American poet Richard Henry Stoddard, Roses and Thorns. Twenty years later the poem was translated into Russian by poet Aleksey Pleshcheyev; and then Tchaikovsky set it to music as part of his Sixteen Songs for Children (Op.54, 1883), using Pleshcheyev’s title Legend. At this stage it was arranged for 'high voice with piano accompaniment'. Here is the original arrangement, sung in Russian by the tenor Nicolai Gedda. Tchaikovsky also wrote a version scored for mixed a capella choir, and he conducted this arrangement at the opening of Carnegie Hall in New York in 1891, to rapturous applause. Tchaikovsky’s choral version can be heard beautifully sung in Russian by the USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir; listen out for the basso profundo voices in the closing bars.
Tchaikovsky’s song was later translated back into English by the poet Geoffrey Dearmer (1893-1996). In this form it has been performed by a great number of choirs; one of the best recordings is by the Choir of All Saints’ Church, Northampton.
English folk singer June Tabor turned back to a solo voice and piano arrangement for her 2001 album Rosa Mundi. Interestingly she sings at exactly the same pitch as the solo tenor Nicolai Gedda (above), but to very different effect.
Lastly, if you can spare the time, you can watch string quartet Cuarteto Petrus playing Arensky’s Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky. Russian composer Anton Arensky (1861-1906) wrote this soon after Tchaikovsky’s death as a tribute to the elder composer. The theme is, of course, Tchaikovsky’s settting of Legend.