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Saturday Chorale: Christmas Carols On Christmas Eve 2012 Edition

Actually Christmas Eve is still Advent so I’m kicking off with a modern arrangement of ‘Veni, veni, Emmanuel’ if you don’t know the Latin version you’ve still definitely heard it in some form or another, ‘O Come, o come, Emmanuel’ is one of those pieces of music that just about every singer has covered. I love the original Latin version, I sang it as a child and this year I’ve had the pleasure of hearing three of my grandsons sing it first in Latin and then in Danish. As a surprise treat for me they hid the fact that they’d learnt it in English too and regaled me with it this afternoon. It has a long and distinguished history it’s a lyrical paraphrase of the famous ‘O’antiphons that dates from the 12th-century and is based on Isaiah 7:14: “Propter hoc dabit Dominus ipse vobis signum : ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium, et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel”. The melody is French and is about 800 years old the hymn as it is now sung is just over 300 years old and comes from the Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum published in 1710 in Cologne. (You can hear it sung by the Choir of Queens’ College, Cambridge, on my site). The version below is sung by the English boys’ choir Libera singing their musical director Robert Prizeman’s setting of the hymn, it’s just the first two verses alas followed by the first verse of the English version of the hymn but it’s no less beautiful for being all too short, the soloist is Daniel Fontanaz:

The next carol “Maria durch ein dornwald ging” (“Maria walked through a forest of thorns”) is late medieval German. Like much medieval music it’s not known when exactly it was composed or by whom, but it is known to have been sung in Thuringia (Thüringen) during the fifteenth century. It’s got a very simple almost child-like melody and its lyrics, which to modern ears sound no less naive, tell of a Christmas miracle. Of how as Mary was wandering through a forest, thorny rose bushes that hadn’t flowered for seven years burst into flower as she passed by clasping the Infant Jesus to her breast. The image of the rose as a metaphor for womanly beauty and purity was very popular in medieval poetry and carols so it’s not surprising that it should appear in a fifteenth-century German folk carol. I was a bit torn which version to embed here as I like both the Dresdner Kreuzchor‘s version and the Thomanerchor’s version eventually I plumped for the Thomanerchor on the basis that this year they’re celebrating the 800th year of their founding. If you want the lyrics and a translation to English I have them here.

Whenever I’m in Madrid I make strenuous efforts to listen to the Escolanía del Escorial this is their performance of the beautiful old Castillian carol “Brincan y bailan” (“They jump and dance”) it’s a charming piece that tells of how fish in the rivers jump and dance for joy in the water at the news of the coming of Christ. This performance was given during their 2009 series of Christmas concerts. The soloist is the very talented Jesus Manuel Carnicero.

When I was drafting this post I had a certain amount of trouble deciding whether to embed the Nidarosdomens Guttekor singing “What Child Is This?” or to introduce you to the talented  young American singer Sean Holshouser. I keep a close eye on Sean’s YouTube channel and have corresponded with him from time to time. He’s a 13 year-old tenor/baritone from Houston, Texas, who up to last year was a boy soprano. If you want to hear a really talented young singer singing a variety of songs including such American classics as “Shenandoah” then Sean’s channel will delight you. In the video below he’s singing “What Child Is This?” with his mother (who has a very pleasing soprano) accompanied by his father.

I’ll end with Sabine Baring-Gould’s “Gabriel’s Message”, a carol that I loved to sing as a child and that I love singing to this day in my YouTube video below it’s sung by the Choir of Westminster Cathedral. Happy Christmas to all my readers and listeners.


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