Although we associate the person we have come to know as Santa Claus with the celebration of Christmas, Britten‘s St Nicolas was commissioned to celebrate the centenary of Lancing College, Sussex and was given its first official performance there in July 1948. However, there had been an unofficial première six weeks earlier as part of the opening concert for the first ever Aldeburgh Festival. Both were conducted by the composer, with the role of Nicolas sung by Britten’s partner, Peter Pears, a former pupil at the College.
More than two centuries earlier Joseph Haydn composed his St Nicholas Mass to celebrate the nameday, 6th December, of his employer, Prince Nicolaus Esterházy. The Mass follows the usual format of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei and while it is comparatively short it shares all the trademarks of joy, vivacity and tunefulness as the masses he wrote in his old age.