Advent Calendar Day 11 – El Cant Dels Ocells

I was going to post this song later in the week, but given my accidental Basque theme, I couldn’t resist adding some Catalan to the mix.  This piece is a traditional Catalan carol which I found by accident when looking for a different bird-related carol in honour of my sister-in-law’s birthday tomorrow.  (Happy pre-birthday, Tan!)  It’s hard to find a perfect arrangement of this one, but I think my favourite one is this one, sung by a Catalonian boys’ choir. I love their soloist, and the gentle harmonies of the arrangement.

If you are partial to a more operatic / romantic version of this piece, then here’s a version in English, sung by the Robert Shaw Chorale. Lyrics are below. It’s rather a lovely translation, but obviously the demands of scansion kept it from being a very literal one. There is, however, a pretty good translation on Wikipedia.

“When in the Eastern skies the wondrous star did rise and fill the earth with splendor, came birds in joyful throng to sound their dainty song in a carol sweet and tender. Hosanna to the child and to his mother mild, full reverently to render! 

The kingly eagle came to praise his holy name in mighty proclamation. The sparrow then replied, “tonight is Christmastide, a night of jubilation.” Then robin redbreast sang , “now death has lost its sting, in Christ is our salvation.” 

The nightingale sang sweet, the lovely babe to greet, in Mary’s arms he’s lying. The cuckoo and the quail flew over hill and dale in admiration vying. The barn owl’s eyes were dim, such radiance blinded him, and homeward he went flying.”

And if you’d just like an instrumental version on cello with pretty pictures of birds, try this one. It’s pretty gorgeous.

Except that actually, that last one has a bit more to it than that.   I didn’t realise this when I started hunting for bird-related carols, but this particular song – and particularly the version by Pau Casals – became emblematic of both peace and of Catalonian independence.  You can read what he had to say about it here.

(Nope, I wasn’t expecting politics on this blog either.  Sorry.  But it was turning into a rather large elephant in a very small room, and not acknowledging it seemed worse…)




Advent Calendar Day 2 – Wachet! Betet! (J.S. Bach)

I am in the midst of a fairly intense obsession with Bach’s oratorios and cantatas, which is currently manifesting itself in me learning every alto (and sometimes soprano) aria I can get my hands on from any Bach aria (it turns out I can get my hands on quite a bit), and badgering any choir directors I have dealings with to do some Bach.

I thought I was going to get my wish this week, with this lovely (and, admittedly somewhat frenetic) opening movement of Bach’s Cantata 70 “Wachet betet, betet wachet”, which means “Watch and pray, pray and watch”.  But alas, it was not to be.  Since I had already spent some quality time with Youtube and various recordings of this cantata and bonded with it, I wasn’t going to let go quite so easily… which is one reason you are getting a musical advent calendar from me this year, as it happens.

The word ‘wachet’ here really means ‘watch’ in the sense of ‘stay awake’, and it can also mean ‘awaken!’ (see also ‘Wachet auf!’ for a cantata in which it gets this meaning).  Listening to the extremely lively pace of this piece, I’m pretty sure Bach was thinking about this when he wrote it.  From a choir perspective, you need to be very wide awake and on the ball to sing this music – and from the congregation’s point of view, I’m pretty sure the trumpet would do a good job of finishing anything the alarm clock left undone.

This piece also continues the theme of waiting that is fitting to this early part of Advent.

Friday Fun: Carmina Burana for Sleep-Deprived Parents (Carl Orff / Matthew Hodge)

This one’s a bit silly, I must admit, but when it showed up on one of my feeds a couple of days ago, I couldn’t resist.  It’s Carmina Burana, toddler style.

I think my favourite line is “Why do you look so happy?”, though “Where are your pants?” comes a close second.  I’m not a parent myself, but I’ve definitely heard conversations along these lines when visiting friends with small children…

(it’s very well-sung, too.  Kudos to the Sydney Philharmonia Choir, who are not *really* local, but still pleasingly Australian!)

Of course, one can’t possibly show this clip without acknowledging the spectacular beer ad which inspired it…

Happy Friday!

Monday Music: El Vito (Joaquín Nin y Castellanos) sung by Patricia Petibon

Really, how gorgeous is Patricia Petibon?  I mean, first there is that impeccable, light coloratura voice, full of personality, and then there is her amazing, almost outrageously expressive face.  I wish there were more videos of her singing live, because I could watch and listen to her for hours.

Actually, I kind of have been.  But I’m saving some of those other posts for later.  And swooning a little.

Anyway, here she is, singing El Vito, a Spanish folk song that was, if I understand correctly (I do not have her Melancolia CD – yet! – so I can’t tell you based on the notes) set by Joaquín Nin y Castellanos.  The lyrics are a little concerning, translating to “An old woman is worth a silver coin and a young girl two copper coins, but as I am so poor I go for the cheapest. On with the dancing, on with the dancing, ole! Stop your teasing, sir, else I’ll blush!”

But I don’t really care about dodgy lyrics, because Petibon is just so utterly gorgeous when she sings them. I’m sorry, I know I keep saying that.  One of the other things I really love about Petibon’s work is her choice of repertoire – her CDs tend to be a combination of baroque arias with the sort of folk songs that are halfway to being dances – full of lively percussion. To me, that’s the perfect mix… or perhaps it’s just the way Petibon sings?

Because I am now officially a Petibon addict, I’m going to leave you with a couple more of her songs.  Here’s her version of the Doll Song from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, complete with strange doll-like noises, broken creaks, and random attacks of Queen of the Night.  And for contrast, here she is, singing ‘Lascia ch’io pianga‘ (let me weep), from Handel’s opera, Rinaldo.

Can I be her when I grow up?

Friday Fun: Rude Mozart

… because even I have certain qualms about putting rude words in German into the title of my page.

I have a rather wonderful picture book called Faithfully Mozart (currently buried behind stacks of boxes), which is more or less his biography shown through the letters he wrote throughout his life and through a CD of music referred to in his letters.  The letters are full of music gossip and opportunities that haven’t worked out and compliments paid to his music and the loveliness of his dearest wife, Constanze, and also fart jokes.  Mozart did love a fart joke.  In fact, he enjoyed jokes of all sorts, and he even wrote a quite lengthy symphonic musical joke, which was apparently hilarious at the time, but doesn’t make much sense to modern ears, as a lot of the rules he was gleefully breaking are pretty much ignored in much romantic and later classical music.  (It does sound kind of bizarre and unbalanced and not quite right, I think, just not especially funny.  Maybe one has to know a lot about music theory to recognise all the things he shouldn’t be doing?  Oh, alright.  The minuet is fairly amusing.).

You can tell I’m not coping with the weather – I can’t stick to a point to save myself and keep getting distracted.  I blame the heat, which is making my brain melt out of my ears.  Anyway, Mozart also wrote a number of silly and/or rude songs, and, much like those written by Henry Purcell and his baroque drinking buddies, they still sound like rather gorgeous classical music, despite their lyrical content.

A case in point: Continue reading

Monday Music: Ouvre ton coeur (Bizet)

Here’s something bright and bouncy to make you dance on a Monday morning!  It’s by Bizet, who is best known for the opera Carmen, and is clearly fond of Spanish musical styles – this one is a Bolero, and utterly gorgeous, and it must be said, I am terribly cross that one of my fellow singing students found and laid claim to this before I could – I really covet this piece of music!

Continue reading