Monday, December 31, 2012


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Forget Santa Claus...

When the heck are the Laundry Fairy and
 the Vacuum Genie comin' to town???

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

December 25

Sassoferrato:  Madonna and Child with Cherubs, 1650

i thank You God for most this amazing
poem by e. e. cummings, arranged by Eric Whitacre,
and performed by The Eric Whitacre Singers 

 i thank You God for most this amazing
day:  for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky:  and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;  this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:  and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-- lifted from the no
of all nothing-- human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Merry Christmas, my friends!
May you all be surrounded by those whom you love best...

xo CGF

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Heart-in-Waiting

"Madonna and Child" by Wee Three, 2009

The Heart-in-Waiting

Jesus walked through whispering wood:
‘I am pale blossom, I am blood berry,
I am rough bark, I am sharp thorn.
This is the place where you will be born.’

Jesus went down to the skirl of the sea:
‘I am long reach, I am fierce comber,
I am keen saltspray, I am spring tide.’
He pushed the cup of the sea aside

And heard the sky which breathed-and-blew:
‘I am the firmament, I am shape-changer,
I cradle and carry and kiss and roar,
I am infinite roof and floor.’

All day he walked, he walked all night,
Then Jesus came to the heart at dawn.
‘Here and now,’ said the heart-in-waiting,
‘This is the place where you must be born.’

from Selected Poems
Enitharmon Press 2001

For Christmas Eve

The Cradle in Bethlehem
performed by Sara Groves

Sing sweet and low your lullaby,
Till angels say Amen,
A mother tonight is rocking
A cradle in Bethlehem.

While wise men follow
Through the dark,
A star that beckons them,
A mother tonight is rocking
A cradle in Bethlehem.

"A little child will lead them,"
The prophets said of old,
In storm and tempest heed Him,
Until the bell is tolled.

Sing sweet and low your lullaby,
Till angels say Amen,
A mother tonight is rocking
A cradle in Bethlehem.

The composer of this lovely carol, Larry Stock, was born in 1896, the son of a cellist with the New York Symphony Orchestra. He began attending the Juilliard School when he was twelve years old, and studied piano. After graduating at the age of 16, he continued his studies at The City College of New York. Stock also studied piano with a then prominent teacher, Clarence Adler.

Larry Stock spent nearly a half century of writing and composing, and turned out literally scores of popular songs, including Blueberry Hill (a major hit recording for Fats Domino), Umbrella Man (which ultimately surpassed Blueberry Hill in sales, selling over 50 million records and more than a million pieces of sheet music), and the Dean Martin classic, "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You".

He composed the music for The Cradle in Bethlehem with lyricist Alfred Bryan (who was born in Brantford, Ontario, Canada). The song was first recorded on Nat King Cole's album, "The Magic of Christmas", which was released in 1960.

The news from here...

It should come as no surprise to any of you who know us that our life is lifted directly from the morning funny pages...

Child Number One's Christmas Eve:

Child Number Two's Christmas Eve:

Child Number Three's Christmas Eve:


Hurry up, Christmas...
We need you!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

December 24

Still, Still, Still
A traditional Austrian Christmas carol,
the Salzburg melody dating from 1819.
performed by Musica Sacra

Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.

Sleep, sleep, sleep,
'Tis the eve of our Saviour's birth.
The night is peaceful all around you,
Close your eyes,
Let sleep surround you.
Sleep, sleep, sleep
'Tis the eve of our Saviour's birth.

Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.
While guardian angels without number
Watch you as you sweetly slumber.
Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

December 23

The Wild Wood Carol
by John Rutter, and performed by
The Cambridge Singers

Sing O the wild wood, the green holly,
The silent river and barren tree,
The humble creatures that no man sees,
Sing O the wild wood.

A weary journey one winter's night,
No hope of shelter, no rest in sight,
Who was the creature that bore Mary?
A simple donkey.

And when they came into Bethl'hem town,
They found a stable to lay them down,
For their companions that Christmas night,
An ox and an ass.

And then an angel came down to earth,
To bear the news of the Saviour's birth,
The first to marvel were shepherds poor,
And sheep with their lambs.

"The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong glances, and silence succeeded--but for a moment only. Then, from up above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

`Very well sung, boys!' cried the Rat heartily. `And now come along in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something hot!'

...It did not take long to prepare the brew and thrust the tin heater well into the red heart of the fire; and soon every field- mouse was sipping and coughing and choking (for a little mulled ale goes a long way) and wiping his eyes and laughing and forgetting he had ever been cold in all his life..."

--From Kenneth Grahame's classic work, "The Wind in the Willows", Dulce Domum

For as long as I can remember, "The Wind in the Willows" has been an integral part of our family's Christmastime.

Many years ago, my English grandfather perfected the hobby of planning and executing meticulous reel-to-reel recordings of a wide variety of BBC programs.  Upon Grand-dad's death in 1969, my own father inherited a sizable collection of these enormous spools, and set about transferring them first to cassettes, then later to CDs.  

One of my most prized possessions is a copy of a radio drama from the 1950s, of Kenneth Grahame's masterpiece, "The Wind in the Willows".  When my brother, sister and I were small, we used to beg to hear installments of the program each night, leading up to Christmas-- and then we would gorge ourselves on the story (particularly "The Adventures of Mr. Toad") on Christmas Day.  

The tradition continues.

When I was in labour with my children, it was the stories of Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger that calmed me through long hours in hospital.

My own children-- the third generation of listeners-- are now enjoying the recording, and I like to think that Grand-dad is eminently pleased that his wonderful gift continues to give such pleasure to his family.

Friday, December 21, 2012

December 22

Sure on this Shining Night
poem by James Agee,  arranged by Samuel Barber,
performed by Gerald Finley
and also by The Joyful Company of Singers

Sure on this shining night
Of star-made shadows round
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground

The late year lies down the north,
All is healed, all is health
High summer holds the earth,
Hearts all whole

Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder
Wandr’ing far alone
Of shadows on the stars.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 21

Bethlehem Down
music by Peter Warlock, with words by Bruce Blunt, 
and performed by Polyphony

"When He is King we will give Him a King's gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes", said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight,
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music,
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When He is King they will clothe Him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down

Here He has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close-huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music,
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem Down.

This is a haunting, gorgeous carol by Philip Arnold Heseltine, who was best known as the Anglo-Welsh composer, Peter Warlock (1894–1930). For his text, he used a poem written by journalist and poet Bruce Blunt (1899–1957).

I find the story behind this, one of my favourite carols, to be almost impossible to believe-- it comes close to spoiling my enjoyment!! I have learned that Warlock wrote it to finance an "immortal carouse" (a heavy bout of drinking) on Christmas Eve, 1927, for himself and Blunt, who were experiencing financial difficulty. The pair submitted the carol to the Daily Telegraph's annual Christmas carol contest... and won. Necessity being the mother of invention, it must have been a very happy Christmas, after all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 20

"Adoration of the Magi" by Pranas Domsaitis

Here is the Little Door
a poem by Frances/G. K. Chesterton
scored for a capella choir by Herbert Howells
and performed by Chanticleer

Here is the little door, lift up the latch, oh lift!
We need not wander more but enter with our gift;
Our gift of finest gold,
Gold that was never bought nor sold;
Myrrh to be strewn about his bed;
Incense in clouds about his head;
All for the Child who stirs not in his sleep.
But holy slumber holds with ass and sheep.

Bend low about his bed, for each he has a gift;
See how his eyes awake, lift up your hands, O lift!
For gold, he gives a keen-edged sword
(Defend with it Thy little Lord!),
For incense, smoke of battle red.
Myrrh for the honoured happy dead;
Gifts for his children terrible and sweet,
Touched by such tiny hands and
Oh such tiny feet.

This is a carol that is commonly performed for Epiphany, and is sung from the point of view of the Magi, who are approaching the infant Christ, born in a stable in Bethlehem. I find it to be positively mesmerising... the reverent anticipation of the Three Kings seeking the baby Jesus is so perfectly reflected in the soft, delicate opening of the piece. The Kings, who have traveled together for so long, seeking the infant Christ, sing in perfect unity as the discovery is made, and their gifts are presented. There is a dramatic juxtaposition between the purity and innocence of the tiny newborn child, and the future that they predict for him, which is foreshadowed in their offerings. As the tone of the poem changes in the second verse, composer Herbert Howells amplifies the melody both dynamically and harmonically. The choir sings in unison the ferocious line, "Defend with it Thy little lord!", only to be reduced once again to the realization of the humanity of the newborn Saviour, who, in spite of the awe-inspiring life they prophesised for him, is still just a wee babe, after all.

It has long been debated as to who actually penned the words to this lovely poem. G. K. Chesterton was a noted English author (1874-1936), but his wife, Frances, was also a gifted writer. She penned many Christmas-themed pieces, including poems, stories, a short play, and the lovely children's carol, "How Far is it to Bethlehem?" G. K. Chesterton is given an author credit for "Here is the Little Door" in many scholarly publications, and the use of paradox in the verse would seem to fit with the style of a great deal of his writing. However, I feel that it is important to give credit to both authors, since there is evidence of both possibilities.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 19

We Three Kings
performed by The Canadian Brass

...and, because an instrumental version is the only way 
I can endure this piece, I also offer alternate lyrics.  

You're welcome.

We Three Cats
by Laurie Loughlin

We three cats of Orient are
Terrified to get in the car.
Why go out for celebrating?
We'll stay right where we are.  Ooooohhhh--

Home is heaven.  Home is good.
Home is where we get our food.
Why go out for Christmas parties?
Frankly we're not in the mood.

We're not happy with a trip yet.
Seems they always end at the vet.
These excursions are diversions
We'd just as soon forget.  Ooooohhhh--

(Repeat Chorus)

We three cats are Siamese,
Himalayan, and Tonkinese.
Bring us gifts of meat with gravy
And mild kinds of cheese.  Ooooohhhh--

(Repeat Chorus)


Monday, December 17, 2012

December 18

How Great Our Joy
by John Rutter
and performed by The Cambridge Singers

King John's Christmas

King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon ...
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “JACK.”

“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man —
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now,
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow —
The first I’ve had for years.

“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man —
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife —
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all...
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!


--A. A. Milne

December 17

Du Ring an Meinem Finger
from Frauenliebe und Leben Liederkreis op. 30
music by Robert Schumann
and performed by Dame Janet Baker

Thou ring on my finger,
my little golden ring,
I press thee piously upon my lips
piously upon my heart.

I had dreamt it,
the tranquil, lovely dream of childhood,
I found myself alone and lost
in barren, infinite space.

Thou ring on my finger,
thou hast taught me for the first time,
hast opened my gaze unto
the endless, deep value of life.

I want to serve him, live for him,
belong to him entire,
Give myself and find myself
transfigured in his radiance.

Thou ring on my finger,
my little golden ring,
I press thee piously upon lips,
piously upon my heart.

46 years is a long time.

But time passes in the blink of an eye, when you work as hard, and fit as much into an average day as my mum and dad always have.

It's their wedding anniversary today, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate than to offer them this music, which Robert Schumann composed for his bride, Clara Wieck, in 1840.

It's also the music that my dad played for me, almost exactly 20 years ago, the night before I was married.  We'd finished the wedding rehearsal, the guests had all gone home, and the rest of the family had retired to bed.  He ushered me into the little "music room", selected the cd, and said somewhat apologetically:

"Unfortunately, the words are a bit sexist..."

Well, yes, I guess they are.  They WERE written by a man, after all-- Adelbert von Chamisso, who lived from 1731-1838, so perhaps a bit of slack should be cut there.

But, the melody is exquisite.  And, if you are mature enough to look a little further than the absurdity of a man having the chutzpah to write about "A Woman's Love and Life"...  There's an awful lot more to admire, here.  The sentiments are genuine, and are undoubtedly an optimistic reflection of how we should ALL feel-- both men and women-- when we're just about to set off into the most important relationship of our lives.

It may not always have felt like this to my mum and dad, during all these 46 years... not by a long shot.

But the strength of their partnership is something I'll always admire, depend upon, and be incredibly grateful for.

Cheers, you two.

Sybil Fawlty: You seem very jolly, Basil.

Basil Fawlty: Hm?

Sybil Fawlty: You seem very jolly.

Basil Fawlty: Jolly?

Sybil Fawlty: Yes, jolly. Sort of happy.

Basil Fawlty: (with feigned reminiscence) Oh, happy. Yes, I remember that. 
No, not that I noticed, dear. Well, I'll report it if it happens, though.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In memoriam.

The Seal Lullaby
poem by Rudyard Kipling, music by Eric Whitacre,
and performed by The Eric Whitacre Singers

The Seal Lullaby by Eric Whitacre on Grooveshark

Oh! Hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
  And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us,
  At rest in the hollows that rustle between.

Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow,
  Oh weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
  Asleep in the arms of the slow swinging seas!

Dedicated to the brave teachers and small students:  
all innocent victims of  the tragedy at 
Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

December 16

Madonna and Child c. 1340-45, by Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

A Hymn to the Virgin
Anonymous, c. 1300, with music by Benjamin Britten
performed by The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge

Of on that is so fayr and bright
Velut maris stella,
Brighter than the day is light,
Parens et puella:
Ic crie to the, thou see to me,
Levedy, preye thi Sone for me,
Tam pia,
That ic mote come to thee
Al this world was for-lore
Eva peccatrice,
Tyl our Lord was y-bore
De te genetrice.
With ave it went away
Thuster nyth and comz the day
The welle springeth ut of the,
Levedy, flour of alle thing,
Rose sine spina,
Thu bere Jhesu, hevene king,
Gratia divina:
Of alle thu ber'st the pris,
Levedy, quene of paradys
Mayde milde, moder es

Several years ago, I was very fortunate to have been contacted by a lovely lady who had been reading my blog, and listening to the Christmas carols. We enjoyed a lively correspondence that Christmas, and I was so delighted by her writing, her warmth and good counsel.

One particular day, she wrote something that struck a deep chord in me. We had been discussing motherhood, and the challenges we both face. She said that she had suddenly realized that as women,"WE create Christmas. Even in tough times. It's up to us."

She is so right. It is up to us. That is how Christmas began, after all:   With a new mother, just doing the very best she could, in the circumstances she found herself with... Trying to be a good woman, against all odds. Just like us.

Hence, the choice of carol today, the "Hymn to the Virgin". A beautiful, thirteenth-century verse, dedicated to an extraordinary woman, devoted wife and loving mother, who did the very best she could, for her child, and for her family, on that first Christmas Night.

Friday, December 14, 2012

December 15

performed by Sara Groves

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December 14

Stained Glass Window by Herbert William Bryans
at St Andrew's Church, Holt, Norfolk.

The Holy Boy
music by John Ireland, poem by Herbert S. Brown
performed by The Cambridge Singers,
and also by pianist Eric Parkin

Lowly, laid in a manger,
With oxen brooding nigh,
The Heav’nly Babe is lying
His Maiden Mother by.

Lo! the wayfaring sages,
Who journey’d far through the wild,
Now worship, silent, adoring,
The Boy, The Heav’nly Child –
The Heav’nly Child!

Leave your work and your play-time,
And kneel in homage and prayer.
The Prince of Love is smiling
Asleep in His cradle there!

Bend your heart to the wonder,
The Birth, the Mystery mild,
And worship, silent, adoring,
The Boy, The Heav’nly Child –
The Heav’nly Child!

Dim the light of the lantern,
And bare the mean abode,
Yet gold and myrrh and incense,
Proclaim the Son of God.

Lowly, laid in a manger,
By Virgin undefiled,
Come worship, silent, adoring,
The boy, The Heav’nly Child –
The Heav’nly Child!

John Ireland was born in 1879, to parents who were cultured and "literary". Indeed, they were friends with many influential writers of the day, including Ralph Waldo Emerson. Sadly, Ireland was orphaned at the age of 14, when both of his parents died within just a few months of one another. Luckily, he had found music by this point in his early life, and was able to continue his studies at the newly-established Royal College of Music in London. He concentrated on piano and organ, with a focus on composition, under the tutelage of Sir Charles Stanford, who taught many of the English composers who emerged at the end of the 19th century: Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, George Butterworth, and many others.

Ireland seems to have been extremely hard on himself during his early years of composition: he destroyed almost every work that he wrote during his youth, and very little remains of his "juvenilia". However, near the end of The Great War, he became an overnight sensation when his Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor was extremely well received by audiences and critics. From then until his death in 1962, he worked as a composer and teacher at the Royal College of Music, where his students included Benjamin Britten and E. J. Moeran. One of my great-uncles also had the privilege of Ireland's teaching, and remained a devotee of his music and influence for the rest of his long life. John Ireland also served as organist and choirmaster at St. Luke's Church, Chelsea, in London.

Ireland's work has often been described as "musical impressionism". He tended away from writing heavier works for full orchestras- he never wrote a symphony- and preferred writing chamber music, and works for voice and piano. He was very strongly influenced by British poetry, and set the writings of A. E. Housman, Thomas Hardy, Christina Rossetti, John Masefield and Rupert Brooke to music. He also dearly loved the English countryside, and eventually settled in a converted windmill in Sussex, where he died on 12th June 1962.

The Holy Boy is perhaps one of John Ireland's best-known works, and it has been arranged for voice, choir, piano, and string orchestra. I also have a great fondness for his hymn, My Song is Love Unknown, composed in 1918, for lyrics written in 1664 by Samuel Crossman.

My great-uncle
My very favourite piece, however, is The Towing Path, which was the first of John Ireland's music that I ever heard played. I was about nine years old when my very elderly great-uncle (who had been Ireland's pupil at the Royal College of Music) came to Canada with my grandmother for a visit. He brought a suitcase-full of sheet music with him, as he had heard that my mother was a gifted pianist. He must have been impressed by my mother's skill and interest in music, as he gave her copies of many of the pieces that she had admired before he left.

Whenever I hear Ireland's music, I am reminded of my great-uncle: a tall, foreboding looking gentleman, who was, in fact, soft-spoken, and possessed the gentle soul of a gifted artist.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 13

"Sunset at Riefel", taken by one of my dearest friends,
Sandra Fiedler, of S.m.united photography.
You can see more of her work on her amazing facebook page.

Saw You Never in the Twilight
performed by Musica Sacra,
words by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander, 1853

Saw you never, in the twilight, 
when the sun had left the skies,
Up in heaven the clear stars shining 
through the gloom, like silver eyes?
So of old the wise men, watching, 
saw a little stranger star,
And they knew the King was given, 
and they followed it from afar.

Heard you never of the story 
how they crossed the desert wild,
Journeyed on by plain and mountain, 
till they found the holy Child?
How they opened all their treasure, 
kneeling to that infant King;
Gave the gold and fragrant incense, 
gave the myrrh in offering?

Know ye not that lowly Baby 
was the bright and morning Star?
He Who came to light the Gentiles, 
and the darkened isles afar?
And we, too, may seek His cradle; 
there our hearts' best treasures bring;
Love, and faith, and true devotion 
for our Savior, God and King.

Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander was born in Redcross, County Wicklow, Ireland in 1818, and died in Londonderry in 1895.  Her husband was William Alexander, bishop of Derry and Raphoe, and later the Anglican primate for Ireland.  

She was the founder of the Girls' Friendly Society in Londonderry, and along with her sister, established a school for the deaf.

Humphreys Alexander wrote about 400 hymns in her lifetime, including the lyrics for one of my favourite pieces, "All Things Bright and Beautiful".

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

December 12

The flight to the North Pole

"We're Walking in the Air"
performed by The King's Singers,
from the movie based upon Raymond Brigg's
"The Snowman"

I showed this beautiful film to my special education students last week.  I chose it, not simply because of the wonderful story of a child being swept off to the North Pole by a magical snowman...  but because the tale is told without any dialogue or narrative whatsoever.  The only accompaniment to the animation is music, which creates a perfect sound-scape.

Children who might not normally have had the ability to focus their attention, much less retain specific information, were completely mesmerized by it.  I sat, amazed, as they whispered predictions about "what would happen next..." to each other as the story progressed.  

The experience reinforced my belief that music is simply another language, and sometimes far more effective at communicating meaning than the written, or even the spoken word.

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 11

The beautiful "fan" ceiling of King's College Chapel, Cambridge

"The Fayrfax Carol"

A Tudor manuscript, set to music for
the 1997 "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols"
by Thomas Adès, and performed by
The Choir of King's College, Cambridge.
'A, my dere, a, my dere Son,'
    Seyd Mary, 'A, my dere;
    A, my dere, a, my dere Son,'
    Seyd Mary, 'A, my dere;
Kys thy moder, Jhesu,
Kys thi moder, Jhesu,
    With a lawghyng chere.'
This endurs nyght
I sawe a syght
    All in my slepe:
Mary, that may,
She sang lullay
    And sore did wepe.
To kepe she sought
Full fast aboute
    Her Son from colde;
Joseph seyd, 'Wiff,
My joy, my lyff,
    Say what ye wolde.'
'Nothyng, my spowse,
Is in this howse

    Vnto my pay ;
My Son, a Kyng
That made all thyng,
    Lyth in hay.'
    'My moder dere,
Amend your chere,
    And now be still;

Thus for to lye,
It is sothely
    My Fadirs will.
Gret passion
    Infynytly, infynytely,
As it is fownd,
Many a wownd
    Suffyr shall I.
On Caluery,
That is so hye,
    Ther shall I be,
Man to restore,
Naylid full sore
    Vppon a tre.'

Very seldom do I have the pleasure of researching a carol, and coming across the kind of intelligent and in-depth analysis that can be found at the blog 5:4, which is written by Simon Cummings, a composer based in the Cotswolds.  A lover of contemporary music, Cummings describes the pieces he chooses to review as "...the most beautiful ugly sound in the world."  Truly, I could not have put my initial feelings about The Fayrfax Carol into any better words than that.  The first time I laid ears on it, I couldn't decide whether it was troubling or transfixing...  It turned out, upon reading through the lyrics, that I wasn't far off of the mark in either respect.

Writes Mr. Cummings:

"The text describes a dream featuring the Holy Family.  The recurring refrain, as spoken by Mary, is a touching lullaby to her son, but this is interspersed with some terse comments between Mary and Joseph.  Mary's feelings are ambivalent--  "She sang lullay/And sore did wepe"-- and she seems to find the context in which her son (no less than "a Kyng/ That made all thyng") has been brought into the world to be unfitting of his status.  Yet the infant himself intercedes, imploring his mother to "Amend your chere", explaining that not only is it his Father's will, but that he is destined for very much worse, remarkably described as "Derision,/ Gret passion/ Infynytly, infynytely".  The child's words end with clarification, that his dreadful end will achieve something utterly triumphant:  "Man to restore".

Ades subjects these words to an immensely subtle treatment, emphasizing their simplicity but colouring them with piquant harmonic shifts that gently sour the sweetness.  The main verses are, initially at least, set to a light, even playfully up-beat triple metre:  the words pass by quickly, their narration only pausing at poignant cadential points, emphasizing the cold, Mary's dissatisfaction and the humility of Jesus lying in the hay, mentioned before.  The latter portion of the text, Jesus' rebuttal/rebuke, at first continues in a similar vein (with a prominent solo treble) but almost immediately breaks down-- its rhythms destroyed and the harmonies completely askew-- at the description of the crucifixion.  Some ebullience returns at the mention of humanity's restoration, but that too is dissipated in the final lines.  At each end and at the centre of the piece is the refrain, Mary's lullaby, which becomes slower and more texturally thin at each appearance.  The final refrain bears practically no resemblance to its predecessors  the rich opening tutti dissolving into a tear-stained coda, the words "lawghyng chere" sounding utterly hollow."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

December 10

For us Monday Grouches everywhere...

"I Hate Christmas"
performed by Oscar the Grouch

Saturday, December 8, 2012

December 9

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,
performed by the City of London Symphonia
and The Cambridge Singers

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".

December 8

"O Christmas Tree"
played by Canada's very own
Oscar Peterson

"...I have to do quite a bit of trimming
for it's Christmas Eve tonight
trim trinkles and drinkles and sklinkles of glass
Trim everything in sight.

We hang everything on our Christmas tree
Ornaments big and bright
and all of these sparkling icicles
and twirling balls of white.

I always hang a star on top
with angels in between
Here's how many lights we have--
Thirty-seven and sixteen...

Then I must lie down and smell the pine
and gaze at the Christmas star
Perchance to feel in these piney pine needles
just where
my presents are..."

--excerpt from "Eloise at Christmastime", by Kay Thompson
illustrated by the ingenious Hilary Knight

Thursday, December 6, 2012

December 7

The ceiling of Bell Harry tower, at Canterbury Cathedral

"Carol of the Bells"
performed by The St. Olaf Choir

Hark how the bells,
sweet silver bells,
all seem to say,
throw cares away

Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer,
to young and old,
meek and the bold,

Ding dong ding dong
that is their song
with joyful ring
all caroling

One seems to hear
words of good cheer
from everywhere
filling the air

Oh how they pound,
raising the sound,
o'er hill and dale,
telling their tale,

Gaily they ring
while people sing
songs of good cheer,
Christmas is here,

Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,

On on they send,
on without end,
their joyful tone
to every home

Ding dong ding ding... dong!

"Carol of the Bells" (also known as the "Ukrainian Bell Carol") is a Christmas carol adapted from the Ukrainian "Shchedryk" by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych, which was first performed in December 1916 by students at Kiev University.

"Shchedryk" tells the tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful year that the family will have. The title is derived from the Ukrainian word for "bountiful." In the Ukraine, the song is sung on the eve of the Julian New Year.

The English language lyrics were written in 1936 by Peter Wilhousky. The song reminded Wilhousky of beautiful ringing bells, and he captured that imagery in his lyrics.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December 6

Madonna and Child circa 1827-30, by William Dyce

"A Maiden Most Gentle"
trad. French, arranged by Andrew Carter
performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

A maiden most gentle and tender we sing,
Of Mary the mother of Jesus our King.
Ave Maria

How bless’d is the birth of her heavenly child,
Who came to redeem us in Mary so mild.
Ave Maria

The archangel Gabriel foretold by his call,
The Lord of creation and Saviour of all.
Ave Maria

Three kings came to worship with gifts rich and rare,
And marvelled in awe at the babe in her care.
Ave Maria

Rejoice and be glad at this Christmas we pray,
Sing praise to the Saviour sing end-less.
Ave Maria

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

December 5

"The Nativity at Night" 
by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, about 1490

Sweet Little Jesus Boy

Words and Music by Robert MacGimsey (1898–1979),
and performed by Jessye Norman

Sweet little Jesus Boy
They made You be born in a manger
Sweet little Holy child
Didn't know who You was.

Didn't know You'd come to save us, Lord
To take our sins away.
Our eyes was blind;
We couldn't see
We didn't know who You was.

Long time ago You was born
Born in a manger low,
Sweet little Jesus Boy.

The world treat You mean Lord,
Treat me mean too.
But that's how things is down here,
we didn't know t'was You.

You done showed us how,
we is trying.
Master, You done showed us how,
even when you's dying.

Just seem like we can't do right,
look how we treated You.
But please, Sir, forgive us Lord;
We didn't know 'twas You.

Sweet little Jesus Boy
Born long time ago,
Sweet little Holy child
And we didn't know who You was.

Robert MacGimsey wrote this carol after walking past crowded speak-easies in New York City on Christmas Eve, 1932. Intended as an art song, it became one of many quasi-spirituals.

MacGimsey explained to Robin White in 1966, "This is not so much a song as just a meaning. You have to imagine an aging Negro standing off in the middle of a field just giving his heart to Jesus in the stillness."

"He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, 
and the world knew Him not.
He came unto His own,
and His own received Him not."

John 1:10-11

Web Analytics