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:
O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord. Alleluia!
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.
Today’s song is “A’ Soalin” by Peter, Paul & Mary. The song comes from the tradition of begging for soul cakes door to door on All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints Day. Each cake eaten represented a soul being freed from Purgatory on or All Souls Day (now observed on Nov. 2). “Soalin” is considered the origin of trick-or-treating. I wish I had known that the more candy I got, the more souls out of Purgatory. I could have used that as a bargaining point with my mom to go longer.
I try to do the 12 Days of Christmas most years, and this year I decided to post a favorite song each day for the 12 Days of Christmas music. (It is very difficult to choose only 12.)