Advent Calendar Day 25: Four Carols and an Oratorio

Merry Christmas!  I always find it impossible to choose just one beautiful piece of music for Christmas Day, and this year, I’m not even going to try!  Instead, you are getting four carols and an oratorio – and it’s all I can do not to add more, because there are SO MANY carols that I love.  Really, SO VERY MANY…

I love all the things that are going on in this arrangement of In Dulci Jubilo by David Willcocks – fugal bits, little floaty descants, you name it.  It comes together just beautifully, and I love the wistfulness of the ending.

You can’t have Christmas without a big descant, and Hark the Herald Angels does have, objectively, the very best of all the descants (even if it’s a bit of a pig to sing if you are only a part-time soprano like me). Also, who doesn’t love a good trumpet fanfare at Christmas?  (The choir who is trying to sing descants against it without ruining their voices, that’s who…) (but seriously, it’s pretty glorious).

The Holly and the Ivy has always been a favourite carol of mine, and didn’t fit into my playlist this year, so here it is, in a particularly lavish arrangement by Henry Walford Davies, and conducted by John Rutter.

You will not often find me approving of a Rutter Christmas carol, but I make an exception for this lovely version of Joy to the World.  I think Rutter is at his best when arranging existing carols, and when given someone lets him have trumpets, and here he has both of these things, with excellent results.

Last of all, something which isn’t a carol but is yet another Christmas Oratorio, this one by Camille Saint Saëns.  I’ve shared this before, because I love it, especially the Alleluia and the Consurge.  It’s very pastoral and sweet, and is quite short by oratorio standards – 40 minutes, so just about right to wind down to on Christmas night.

And that brings us to the end of our musical journey through Advent!  I hope you’ve enjoyed the music I’ve shared, and that you have a joyful and stress-free Christmas and a healthy and happy 2019.


Advent Calendar Day 12: Det är en ros utsprungen (Sandström)

I was looking for a good recording of the beautiful old German carol, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, when I found this.

It’s sort of the same carol, if you slowed it right down and made it strange and reflective and echoey and much more haunting and wistful.

Looking at Jan Sandström’s biography, he is apparently a contemporary composer – born in 1954, in fact – from Sweden, and his compositions include the Motorbike Concerto for trombone and orchestra.  Already, that sounds promising.  In fact, that sounds so promising, I had to go and find a recording of it, and because I love you, I am going to share it.  Here you go.  Don’t you feel better for listening to it?  It really does sound very motorbikish.  I’m not sure how much it sounds like a concerto, but I am 100% sure that Andrew, at least, is going to love this.

Anyway, it’s pretty clear that Sandström’s specialty is writing music that sounds like a picture of what he is writing.  (I keep on wanting to call it music that is like a soundtrack, or sound effect, because to me that’s what it reminds me of, but this sounds as though I’m being dismissive, which really isn’t my intention)

Back to the carol, what you probably really want to know is that this composition was based on the version by Praetorius, written in the late 16th or early 17th century.  If you want to know how the carol usually sounds, here’s a rather lovely recording by the Cambridge Singers, directed by John Rutter, no less, which should give you the idea…

Maundy Thursday: Ubi Caritas et Amor (Mariano Garau)

We had the Maundy Thursday service this evening at Christ Church Brunswick.  It’s a truly stunning piece of liturgy, particularly when the priests and servers stripped the altar and its surrounds of all decoration – first putting out the candles, then removing the candles and candlesticks themselves, then removing the altar cloths and all other accoutrements, and changing their decorated golden vestments for plain ones, while we spoke Psalm 22 (O God, my God – why have you forsaken me).

Priests and choir then exited silently through the side door, rather than processing, leaving the alter bare and empty, and the congregation were invited to hold silent vigil at the side chapel for a few minutes or until midnight if they chose.  Next year, I may do the full vigil.

Anyway, after all that, I really couldn’t go and write up a post for Friday Fun this week.  So instead, you get one of the pieces we sang this evening during the foot-washing part of proceedings.

I love how archaic this sounds.  I don’t think it is a medieval arrangement, but it does have that sort of feel to it.  All those parallel 5ths and octaves. We sang it more slowly and softly, which I think suited it better for this occasion.

The lyrics are in Latin and are traditional for Maundy Thursday.  The English translation is:

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.


I’ll be singing these lyrics again tomorrow, as a Taizé chant for the Way of the Cross.  Not such beautiful music, but still a good sentiment, and perhaps one that holds more meaning when sung by a large, ecumenical congregation rather than a small choir.  Trying to fund the Garau version on YouTube, I realised I’ve also sung the Duruflé version at some point.  It’s much lusher, and very gorgeous, but I think the simplicity of the Garau suits this service better.

And, while we’re on Maundy Thursday music, here’s the final hymn for today, Pange Lingua Gloriosi, or Of the Glorious Body Telling (we sang it in English, but the lyrics I know kicked in at about verse 5, and start Therefore We Before him Bending) (also this recording claims to be by Benedictine Nuns, but I have my doubts.  Most nuns I’ve met don’t have those bass notes…).  This is another text that keeps getting set in beautiful arrangements (some texts just seem to consistently inspire magnificent music), but the Gregorian chant – which we sang – is still, to my mind, the most beautiful.

Advent Calendar Day 21 – Thou Knowest Lord the Secrets of Our Hearts

I was going to give you Josquin Des Prez today (O Virgo Prudentissima), and I actually got as far as finding the recording and putting it in here, but then found that I had absolutely nothing to say about it except that it is pretty (which it is), and that you should certainly listen to it (which you should).

So instead we are having more funereal music today, but since I have it on excellent authority that Advent is also a time for contemplating our ends, I’m not going to feel guilty about this.  We can have Rorate Coeli tomorrow.  This fits my mood today.

We sang this for the first time right before the start of Advent this year, possibly because our choir director shares the views of Tree on this subject.  We rehearse most of our music twice before performing it, and at the second rehearsal we learned that a member of the congregation had died quite suddenly that day – one of those women who volunteers all over the place and organises readings and is on the tea roster and the flower roster and the church council and the English conversation group, and so forth.  Suddenly, the piece was very appropriate.

I’ve spent the evening figuring out sheet music and organising a time to tape an accompaniment for the songs I will be singing at Nonno’s funeral.  I won’t be singing this, but it’s what’s in my head right now.  And it is, I think, a beautiful piece of music.