I had such good intentions for this Advent Calendar, truly I did. I thought it would be nice to share with you some of the more beautiful Advent music out there, and I have. But this is Friday, which means that even beautiful music must have an edge of silliness to it.
This is another medieval carol, and it’s actually very gorgeous both in lyrics and tune and I really love it. And this arrangement is spectacular.
There’s just one little problem with it: it has an orgasmic alto line.
No, really. I can’t listen to this one without giggling, no matter how good my intentions. It’s fairly absurd even if one doesn’t have a dirty mind, but if one does, oh dear. See (or rather, hear) for yourself.
I honestly can’t imagine what Wilcocks was thinking. He’s usually a pretty reliable arranger of music, if somewhat in the Rutteresque tradition (Rutter has, of course, arranged this one too, and his version is, unsurprisingly, pretty and insipid), but clearly when he heard this tune, a mad light went into his eyes – a mad red light, perhaps – and he decided to write a Christmas Carol that no chorister over the age of twelve would be able to sing with a straight face (actually, these boys do fairly well. I wonder what their choirmaster threatened them with?).
I first enc0untered this arrangement nearly twenty years ago (ouch), back when I was doing professional Christmas carolling as a Uni student. We’d carol our way all over shopping centres in quartets, singing everything in the Green Book and everything in the Orange Book and a few things that weren’t in either. And then we’d get to this one, and a group of hardened singers who could carol through piped music, in front of fountains and in crowded food courts, and while being yelled at or chattered to by random passers-by would get about two lines into the chorus before collapsing in hysterical giggles. And then we’d go on to the next carol, in which we informed people that This did Herod sore affray and grievously bewilder / so he gave the word to slay and slew the little childer. / Of his love and mercy mild this the Christmas story, which was also something that might have been thought through a little better than the arranger.
So there you have it. How to make mincemeat out of a perfectly lovely carol. I feel obliged, now, to provide you with a taste of the beauty this carol is actually capable of when someone comparatively sane arranges it, so here’s a rather stunning quartet version (sadly with rather poor quality recording), and here’s a totally different tune and arrangement, which is rather gorgeous, though I still have a preference for the first tune.
But without the orgasmic alto line, please.