Friday, December 26, 2008

December 26

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669
The Adoration of the Shepherds (1646)

"The Shepherd's Farewell"
from Part II of L'enfance du Christ, Op.25
by Hector Berlioz
and performed by
The London Symphony Orchestra,
with The Tenbrae Choir

Thou must leave thy lowly dwelling,
The humble crib, the stable bare.
Babe, all mortal babes excelling,
Content our earthly lot to share.
Loving father, Loving mother,
Shelter thee with tender care!

Blessed Jesus, we implore thee
With humble love and holy fear.
In the land that lies before thee,
Forget not us who linger here!
May the shepherd's lowly calling,
Ever to thy heart be dear!

Blest are ye beyond all measure,
Thou happy father, mother mild!
Guard ye well your heav'nly treasure,
The Prince of Peace, The Holy Child!
God go with you, God protect you,
Guide you safely through the wild!

Hector Berlioz’s oratorio, "L’enfance du Christ" (The Infancy of Christ) is described as a "sacred trilogy", and tells the story of the birth of Jesus and the journey of the Holy Family as they escape Bethlehem and head across Egypt to the city of Sais. It began as an organ piece composed for Berlioz's friend, Joseph-Louis Duc, called "L'adieu des bergers", and gradually evolved into the larger choral work, for which Berlioz also wrote the words. The first of its three sections depicts King Herod ordering the massacre of all newborn children in Judaea; the second shows the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus setting out for Egypt to avoid the slaughter, having been warned by angels; and the final section portrays their arrival in the Egyptian town of Sais where they are given refuge by a family of Ishmaelites.

Berlioz's music was usually received with great hostility by Parisian audiences and critics, who generally accused it of being bizarre and discordant. And so, the composer had the chorus performed as a hoax on 12 November 1850, passing it off as the work of an imaginary 17th-century composer "Ducré". He was gratified to discover many people who hated his music were taken in and praised it, one lady even going so far as to say, "Berlioz would never be able to write a tune as simple and charming as this little piece by old Ducré".

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