Advent Calendar Day 23 – Magnificat (Telemann)

This is not, perhaps, entirely an Advent, or even Christmas piece, but I can never resist including it despite that, because it is just so very lovely. I think this close to Christmas, it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of all the things you need to get done at the last minute and completely lose track of any sense of Christmas at all. I find that I feel very Christmassy for the first two weeks of December, and then pretty much get consumed by Christmas Admin until Christmas Eve, at which point, if I’m lucky, I get a good midnight Mass and it’s all OK again… (and if I’m particularly sleep-deprived and stressed and exhausted I start having mild sort of out of body experiences and hallucinating angelic choirs, which was certainly interesting that one time, and certainly in the correct Christmas spirit, but once was definitely enough for that experience).

All of which was a long way of saying that I’m including this peace largely for its peacefulness.  I love the illustrations from the Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry, too, but one of the loveliest things about this music is the bell-like chimes made by one of the sopranos, which to me are the aural equivalent of drops of clear water – this piece is strangely cooling.

Speaking of hallucinations, I could have sworn that I read somewhere that I have now established that despite being called Magnificat (which is Mary’s song at the Annunciation, and thus very appropriate for Advent), this piece actually uses a text by Francis of Assisi called the Canticle of the Sun – or parts of it, anyway.  I have no idea where I found this, but when I went back and listened very closely, I was able to identify some (though not all) of the lyrics from this canticle.  This song praises God through all his creatures, and the verses I was definitely able to identify are as follows:

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Perhaps not Advent material, but not a bad choice for the summer solstice, or for a time of year when patience and peace are in short supply…

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Advent Calendar Day 20: Magnificat (Telemann / Ensemble Planeta)

I seem to come back to this one every year, but there’s something compelling about the combination of the Book of Hours illustrations and the almost ethereal sound of the Ensemble Planeta’s voices.  And I do love the way they sing all the accompaniment bits in bell-like voices.

The Magnificat is Mary’s song from the Gospel of Luke when she is told by the angel Gabriel that she will conceive and give birth to the Son of God.  The full lyrics and translation can be found here, but the Magnificat takes its name from the first line ‘Magnificat anima mea Dominum’ (My soul shall magnify the Lord).

I honestly do not know *what* lyrics the Ensemble Planeta are singing here.  I can tell you that they are riffing on Telemann’s German Magnificat (which you can here some of here), but they definitely are not singing in German, and the few words I can pick out sound more like Italian than anything else.  They definitely are not singing the Latin words.  It’s a mystery.  But it’s also very beautiful, so I can live with it quite happily.

Advent Calendar Day 24: Magnificat (Arvo Pärt)

Those of you who know me in real life are probably scratching their heads right now and wondering how on earth a piece of classical music written in 1989 found its way onto my music blog, and above all onto my music blog for Christmas Eve of all times.

The thing is, for me Christmas Eve is all about Midnight Mass – about the waiting in candlelight late at night, singing words that were written hundreds of years ago and have been sung every year since they were written, about the sense of mystery and immanence that comes before the rejoicing.  And I wanted a piece of music that reflected that – a piece with archaic words and melody – plainchant, for preference, and the Magnificat, or an Alleluia, or something of that nature.

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Meine Seele Erhebet Den Herrn, from Telemann’s Magnificat (Ensemble Planeta)

I was going to do something light and funny for Friday, but it’s been a very long week and I’m tired and headachey and in the mood for something soothing.

Hence, we have this rather unusual interpretation by the Ensemble Planeta of an aria from Telemann’s German Magnificat.  They’ve slowed it right down, given the tenor solo to a soprano, and transformed the bouncy string accompaniment into a trippy, drifting vocal one – it’s the Magnificat, Telemann, but not as we know it, not as we know it, not as we know it…  And just to make it more gorgeous, someone has added a collection of medieval illuminations to the music.  It’s possibly the prettiest thing you will see on YouTube this year.

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Advent Calendar Day 24 – Magnificat (Telemann)

We aren’t doing Chris’s lovely Magnificat tonight, so I thought I’d go looking for one, and when I ran across Telemann, who I know only as that guy who wrote baroque recorder concertos, I thought I’d give him a try.

Well.

I’ve never heard anything quite like this piece of music, to be honest.  I can’t decide what I think of it.  It’s like a human clockwork music box.  With illustrations from the Très Riches Heures Du Duc De Berry.  And I’m not even sure if I like it, but it’s strangely compelling and not as insipid as I thought it was and I have to keep listening to it.  I’m also not entirely sure what language it is in – I suspect (from external evidence) that it might be in German – this is, apparently, his German Magnificat – but I can’t pick out a single word of German, and the group singing it is the Japanese Ensemble Planeta, so I’m beginning to wonder if it is in fact in Japanese instead.  Surely not? I also strongly suspect they have arranged it themselves, as Telemann is usually rather more orchestral in a somewhat Handelian style – I think they have grabbed all the instrumental parts and given them to the other voices.

Edited December 2017: Having listened to this quite a few more times by now, I still can’t make out most of the lyrics, but there is definitely a ‘laudate signore’ at the start, which suggests Latin, but not very traditional Latin?  But I think attempting to discern the words is probably not the point of this exercise – best to just let the music wash over one…

I think I like the effect.  I know I like the images.  And it’s certainly something a bit different.  Also, I keep having to listen to it again, so maybe I do really like it after all… Enjoy!

Advent Calendar Day 2 – Magnificat (Purcell)

I was trying to find a version of Purcell’s ‘Thy Word is a Lantern’ for today, but given a choice of excessively mannered male alto * or pleasing but very quiet female alto with lots of background rustling, I was less than inspired (I’m not sure why this particular search string also brought me up the Alto’s Lament, but that is a question for another day).

Fortunately, it also brought up this gorgeous verse anthem by Purcell, which is ever so much more appropriate for Advent anyway, being as it is a Magnificat. This is Mary’s song early in the book of Luke, after the Angel tells her that she will conceive and bear a son and all that. I believe I’ve expressed the opinion before that Advent is All About Mary, and we might as well start early on this one. You’ll be seeing a lot more Magnificats around here before Advent is over.

I’ve never actually heard this piece before, but already I want to sing it – I have a weakness for verse anthems (anthems which alternate between a soloist or group of soloists and the full choir) and particularly love the way Purcell alternates between full choir and trios composed of lower and then upper voices. I strongly suspect that this is an all-male choir, and I do wish it wasn’t, but it is a very good one for all that.

And you really can’t ever go wrong with Purcell (despite the evidence beside the asterisk below).

No embedding for this video – hie thee to YouTube and watch it there!

Magnificat, composed by Henry Purcell, and sung by the choir of Christ College, Oxford

* seriously, I was waiting for him to start singing the No Kissing At All song. That’s how mannered he was. And yes, he was really that camp.

Edited to add: In fact, I did get to sing this at Christ Church Brunswick, a few years later, and I couldn’t figure out why it seemed so familiar – now I know.