Friday, December 3, 2010

December 4

The Basque Carol: The Angel Gabriel

words paraphrased by Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)
performed by The Choir of New College, Oxford

The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame.
"All hail," said he, "thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favoured lady,"

"For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honour thee,
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favoured lady,"

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head.
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said,
"My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name."
Most highly favoured lady.

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn.
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
"Most highly favoured lady,"

This carol has an unusual history. While it is based on a Basque carol, "Birjina gaztettobat zegoen", its melody and words may actually have roots in the thirteenth or fourteenth century hymn, "Angelus Ad Virgineum". The carol was copied down by French composer and musicologist Charles Bordes, who published it in a volume of Basque folk tunes in 1895. The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (who is best known for his hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers") translated it into English, but took liberties with the text, reducing the original six stanzas to four. The exquisite image that Baring-Gould achieves with his poem is nothing short of magical, however, and shines in its Victorian-style description of Gabriel, with "...wings as drifted snow/His eyes as flame".

Rather than accompanying this piece of music with a Victorian painting of The Annunciation, however, I have chosen this more modern depiction of the scene... For no matter how many times I hear this story read to me, I cannot help but marvel at how truly terrified the painfully young mother-to-be must have been. And yet, she was somehow able to find the strength within herself to lean upon her faith, and trust that the future would unfold as it should.

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