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.

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Advent Calendar Day 17: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

We had our Carol Service at Christ Church today, which means I am feeling thoroughly descanted, always a pleasing feeling, and in a mellow sort of mood.  And also as though Christmas really is close, which is definitely where this music fits…

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Advent Calendar Day 21 – O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Tonight’s carol is not the one I originally planned. I was tossing up between some Mendelssohn or some Orlando de Lassus, but getting home from choir practice tonight I was so tired that I just couldn’t face listening to lush harmonies or polyphony. Which is really strange, actually – I had no idea that I could find certain kinds of music – my favourite kinds, even – exhausting to listen to. And I definitely couldn’t cope with new melodies, either. I’ve never had this weirdly over-sensitive reaction to tiredness before, and it’s something I’ll have to ponder sometime when I’m less tired.

So I went looking for Gregorian chant in general and O Come O Come Emmanuel in particular.

And I couldn’t find it.

That is, I found O Come O Come Emmanuel in a variety of languages and voicings and arrangements, but they were all far too lush, far too over-instrumented, far too harmonic (actually, there was one arrangement that I would have absolutely adored in another mood, but all that elaborate harmony and polyphony was just too much right now). And the solo versions were not right, either. And apparently all-female versions were right out, or at least, the ones I listened to were.

Basically, I wanted the sound of monks practicing their evensong chant as I heard it once with my friend Anna at a monastery by a volcanic lake in Germany, and apparently I can’t have that no matter how tired I am right now.

But this arrangement is close. The first verse, at least, has the sound I want, and the unison I want, and the pictures are so beautiful they reconcile me to the harmony, which is not *too* overwhelming even in my current state, except sometimes in the chorus. I think I’ll like this even more after a good night’s sleep.

I hope you like it now.