Advent Calendar Day 1: Veni, Veni Emmanuel (The King’s Singers)

It’s December, which means it’s musical Advent Calendar time (and possibly also, oh look, I have a music blog, maybe I should stop ignoring it time)!

I’m starting Advent this year with a recording of The King’s Singers, singing Veni, Veni Emmanuel, a Christmas Carol – or, really, an Advent Carol – with medieval origins.

It is well known, I think, that I adore The King’s Singers.  They are, in my view, the best vocal group currently performing, and their harmony and clarity is so perfect that when you hear them in concert, their music often develops extra harmonics from the resonances.  Their work is, quite simply, sublime.

I’m particularly fond of Veni Veni Emmanuel, because of all the ways it has developed over the years.  In its purest form, it’s simply Gregorian chant (and one thing I like about the King’s Singers version of it is that they do start in unison, befitting the music’s origins, before developing the harmonies in later verses); it can also be sung as a big Christmas Carol with organ and descant à la Willcocks.  And in between you get thoughtful, countermelody versions by the Medieval Baebes, or solo versions by Celtic musicians like Enya.  And then there’s the version by Nox Arcana…  All different, and all gorgeous – very few people do this hymn badly, I find.

The text is a paraphrase of Isaiah, and properly belongs in the third week of Advent, but I like it as a starting point, since it is an invitation, after all.  And that is the start of any journey.


Dies Irae, Two Ways! (with a lot of other really weird Gregorian chant stuff)

This sounds rather like a MasterChef recipe, but I couldn’t quite resist.  I was in a bit of a silly mood the other day, and went a-Googling to try to capture a memory of some Gregorian chant I remembered from the 1980s or 1990s which had, if I recall correctly, a disco beat.

I didn’t find it (so far – the quest continues.  I do know it wasn’t Enigma, though I had forgotten about them, and it was fun to be reminded).  But I did find ever so many other things that people have done to Gregorian chant.  Some of them are sillier than others.  And I’m amused that there is an entire band that does Gregorian style covers of everything from Simon and Garfunkel to Rammstein (I am not fully convinced of their actual Gregorianishness, but again, points for silliness, and they certainly sound gorgeous.).

Oh, my, and then there’s this, which is kind of both awful and amazing and has everything.  And I do mean everything.  Including the stuff you wish it didn’t have.

… I get the feeling that I’ve just discovered one of those internet rabbit holes from which there is no escaping…


I found this rather gorgeous jazz remix of Dies Irae, which is filling Andrew with such joy that I really had to post it.  So here it is.

Isn’t it stunning?  I love the Carmina Burana-like start, and all the brass, and then the walking bass in the piano and the movement into polyphony at the end. So much fun.  Apparently it started as a joke and then developed  The original Dies Irae can be found here, if you want to know how it sounded before someone decided to play with it.

Which is your favourite?

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.