I decided I needed to put one sad song on the list.
I decided I needed to put one sad song on the list.
Time for another classic, I think. For whatever reason, jazz really works for me for Christmas, a certain kind of jazz at least. It’s warm, inviting, laid-back, and you can have it on while you wrap gifts, bake goodies, or just sit and enjoy the tree lights. So take all of that and add classic Charlie Brown, and you get the Vince Guaraldi trio playing “O Tannenbaum.” Have a feel-good Thursday!
Last night I was trying to describe today’s song to my brother-in-law:
“So it comes tearing out of the gate right from the beginning, and the three parts sing in canon and keep getting closer and closer together. At one point it starts all three voice parts only one beat apart so they’re singing right on top of each other, and it’s like this militant yet unarmed depiction of the baby Jesus in a minor key but in treble voices accompanied by this racing harp. It’s totally trippy.”
Yeah. And completely awesome. It’s from the Ceremony of Carols composed in 1942 by Benjamin Britten, a 20th-century British composer.
You have to check out the lyrics though. They’re from a 1595 work by Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest who hung out in England even while popular opinion was staunchly anti-Catholic. Eventually Southwell was hanged, drawn, and quartered for his Catholicism. I love the concept of the Christchild the lyrics present. For example: “All hell doth at His presence quake,/ Though He Himself for cold do shake;/ For in this weak unarmèd wise/ The gates of hell He will surprise.”
I’ve pasted the lyrics below. I really wanted to find a performance of Brits singing it, but it seemed more important that you actually see it being sung, and so you get a sparkling French children’s choir with fun accents instead.
Hope you love This Little Babe from Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.
This little babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at His presence quake,
Though He Himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmèd wise
The gates of hell He will surprise.
With tears He fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield,
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns, cold and need,
And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.
His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
The crib His trench, hay-stalks His stakes,
Of shepherds He His muster makes;
And thus, as sure His foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.
My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that He hath pight;
Within His crib is surest ward,
This little babe will be thy guard;
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.
We’re halfway through the countdown today, and I thought it was time for a classic. I remember watching the Boston Pops’ Christmas specials on TV when I was really little, and I distinctly remember their performance of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. It was magical! I could hear the clip-clop of the horse hooves, the whip, the jingle bells on the sleigh, and that funny whinny at the end. It was as if the orchestra could talk! A week out fromChristmas I hope you have that “happy feeling nothing in the world can buy…”
Often vocal a cappella music gets a bad rap (ha—see what I did there?) for being cheesy and/or lowbrow. As a trained musician, I would hate for my tastes to be considered lowbrow, but guess what? I love a cappella that’s done well. I was a closet watcher of the entire third (and final) season of the Sing-Off, and I’ve been following a couple of the groups from it ever since.
Today’s song hits a bunch of my fond spots: English classical music, poetry, a soprano who is more gracious than she is diva-esque, and one of my dearest friends. “In the Bleak Midwinter” is by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) who incorporated medieval and folk music influences in his compositions. The lyrics are by pre-Raphaelite poet Christina Rossetti, and it is performed here by Norwegian artist Sissel, whose clear, articulate voice captures just the right feel I think. She is accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. Props to my best friend who is in the cello section.
Today we’re tapping into the centuries of Latin church music to commemorate the birth of Christ. This is “O Magnum Mysterium” by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), a Spanish composer of the Counter-Reformation. In answer to Reformation complaints about the excesses of polyphonic church music, one of the goals of the Counter-Reformation composers was to make the text of church music easier to understand as it was also polyphonic. And you can understand these words — that is, if you can understand Latin. If not, however, here you go:
Remembering the victims in Sandy Hook yesterday, I’m including a second selection as well. This is “Requiem aeternum II” from Herbert Howells’ Requiem. Exactly when Howells (1892-1983) composed the work is not entirely known. He worked on it in some form in 1932 and used parts of that composition for a later, larger work, but it seems that the Requiem came at least in part out of the all-consuming grief Howells felt when, in 1935, his nine-year-old son Michael died suddenly of polio. By some accounts he composed the piece, and, in the words of my former choir conductor, “put it in a drawer and left it alone” as though it was too painful to publish or work with more. Several years, even decades later, it was published. It is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever sung. I hope you enjoy this selection from it. The text is below.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.