Let the Heavens Ring

Razor wire

10th January 2020
For Martyn Whittock

What is it?

Let the Heavens Ring is based upon the Romanian Christmas carol 'Daţi drumul la cer' by Ovidiu Vasilescu. I have retained the melody and musical style of the original. It is set for unaccompanied voices. Ovidiu Vasilescu was arrested in 1956 at the age of 17, becoming one of the youngest political prisoners in Romania. 'Daţi drumul la cer' is the prayer of a political prisoner, naked, cold, bound and hungry - having been given nothing to eat for eight days in a row - in the depths of a Romanian winter. It represents how we might resort to the hope of Christ at the lowest points in our lives, offering a perspective on Christmas that contrasts starkly with traditional western carols.


The following English lyrics are my own. They translate the sense of Vasilescu's highly idiomatic Romanian rather than the words directly.

Hallelu, Hallelu, yea and Hallelu
Lord, in this dark night I thought I'd ask of you
Send a youthful angel beauteous, bright and good
With the scent of incense and of cypress wood

Thus to sanctify, Lord, me, a prisoner lost
And extract a blessing from beneath the frost.
Bringing more, dear Lord, with peace and comfort found
For these inmates starving, naked, cold and bound,

Blessing us with bread baked fresh of which we dream,
Warming all who taste it by its golden gleam.
Holy bread, your broken body, Lord, such grace,
And the holy tears that glisten on your face.

From the guiding star, Lord, strike with steel a spark
To bring warmth to chains that bind us in the dark.
From the swaddling bands, your cradle from of old,
Bring a bundle, Lord, to shield us from the cold.

Hallelu, Hallelu, yea and Hallelu
Please forgive me, Lord, for what I ask of you,
But you know the deep despair from which I plead
For the saints themselves, Lord, in their hour of need.

May it be to you, Most High, our secret prayer,
Through the precious baby, holy gift so rare.
Hallelujah, Lord, let angel voices sing:
We will join their praises, let the heavens ring.


I first heard 'Daţi drumul la cer' at a carol concert in the city centre square of Suceava, Romania, the evening of Wednesday 11th December 2019. It was sung by Clara Ioana Hurjui. The effect of the music hanging in the freezing winter air, combined with the stark Romanian lyrics, made my skin tingle. My aim here is to enable you to experience something of that, so this is the exact same performance, in Romanian.

It would in any case be impossible to do a synthetic rendition of my arrangement that would do justice to this, but if you would like your own rendition to be featured here, by all means do not hestitate to get in touch with me.


Ovidiu Vasilescu

Ovidiu Vasilescu and Brăila, his birthplace,
on the River Danube in southeast Romania.

Thinking back, I realise that I have spent in total probably around eight years of my life in Romania. I feel so much at home there and so much at ease with the Romanian language that Romania was the obvious destination when I wanted to get away from British politics for a while. So I spent seven weeks at the end of 2019 living on my own in a small apartment in Suceava, which my wife and I had visited on vacation the previous year. It's not the most scenic or exciting of places, but it served my purposes. During that time I visited churches in Suceava itself, Câmpulung Moldovenesc and Iași. Late in the afternoon of 11th December 2019 I was having coffee with Cătălin Croitor, pastor of a local church, who told me that a carol concert was about to start in the local square, near where we were sitting. So I wandered in that direction before heading back to my apartment. I'm glad that I did. Just as I got there, a young woman in traditional costume stood on the stage and sang 'Dați drumul la cer'.

From time to time a piece of music gets lodged in my head and that's what happened with 'Daţi drumul la cer'. Immediately I was struck by how alien the sentiments expressed might seem to somebody from western Europe, the USA or Australia. Seeing an opportunity for a bit of awareness-raising, I decided to make my own translation. That was easier said than done. Ovidiu Vasilescu's verses convey a world of suffering in highly symbolic Romanian. The challenge was to produce something in English that is poetic, has the correct syllable stresses and communicates the spirit of the original. I hope that I have succeeded in doing that and giving recognition to Ovidiu Vasilescu in the process.


Suceava carol concert, 11th December 2019

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