Sunday, December 20, 2009

December 20

"The Twelve Days of Christmas"
sung by Dame Kiri te Kanawa


I have always HATED this song.

It's redundant, redundant, redundant. To make matters even worse, it's one of the most frequently recorded carols, and seriously overplayed.

Listening to this song in all of its nauseating varieties, in every major shopping centre from Wal Mart to Holt Renfrew, makes me feel as though my brain is going to rupture and leak out of my ears.

So imagine my shock and surprise when I discovered this particular recording, featuring the sublime New Zealand opera star, Dame Kiri te Kanawa.

This recording? Takes my breath away.

Dame Kiri is clearly in her element, and her soaring, lilting voice is full of all of the good humour required to make this song successfully engaging for the listener. Even more brilliantly, each verse has its own little musical theme which is carried along through each successive verse, and culminates into a wonderfully inspiring finale.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" originated as a children's rhyme that was published in a book called "Mirth without Mischief " in about 1780. It was used as a memory and forfeit game, wherein each player took it in turns to say the rhyme, and more lines were added with every round. It is also rumoured to have been written as a "catechism song" to help young Catholics learn their faith. However, this would have been at a time when practicing Catholicism was discouraged in England, and there is apparently no substantive primary evidence that supports this claim.

The date of the song's first performance is not known, though it was used in European and Scandinavian traditions as early as the sixteenth century. Frederic Austin wrote an arrangement in the early twentieth century, which can be found in The New Oxford Book of Carols. He added his own melody from the verse "Five gold(en) rings" onwards, which is why the latter part of the song sounds quite different from the beginning.

The Twelve Days of Christmas, and the evenings of those twelve days ("Twelve-tide"), are the festive days beginning the evening of Christmas Day, through the morning of Epiphany (January 6). This period of time is also known as "Christmastide".

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