Advent Calendar Day 13: The Crown of Roses (Tchaikovsky)

From one rose to another, and this is a very suitable rose for a Friday, since this carol for Advent has a bit of a Good Fridayish tinge to it.

I first sang this in a school choir in Grade 6 or so, which means that it is embedded in my memory for life.    Though I always thought it was for Easter until I kept on finding it in Christmas Carol anthologies.  Then again, Lent and Advent have a similar (purple!) tinge, to my mind.  (I also can’t help thinking whenever I hear this at Christmas that *of course* it’s a Russian composer who thinks about Christmas and goes straight to the crown of thorns imagery.)

I particularly want to mention the choir in this recording, because their sound is really fantastic – very rich, and perfect for the lushness of Tchaikovsky’s harmonies. The choir of King’s College Cambridge is always excellent, but I think this particular recording is outstanding even for them. And the tenor section is in particularly beautiful voice.

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Advent Calendar Day 17 – The Crown of Roses

Ah, the Russians! You can always rely on them for cheery music and uplifting lyrics! Today’s Advent piece is allegedly Tchaikovsky’s notion of a Christmas Carol. Myself, I would put it in Lent or maybe on Good Friday, but I’m no theologian, and if the Music Director thinks it’’s good enough for Christmas, then I think it’s good enough for Advent.

Besides, it’s gorgeous. I first sang this in Grade 4 or 5 – presumably in a different arrangement, but since I was a soprano at the time, that’s the part I have in my brain forever. But oh dear, those lyrics…. I mean, they really are beautiful, but for Christmas?

(incidentally, this is as close as you are going to get from me to anything by Rutter. He conducts this choir.)

Lyrics:

When Jesus Christ was yet a child
He had a garden small and wild
Wherein he cherished roses fair
And bound them into garlands there.

Now once as summertime drew nigh
There came a troop of children by
And seeing roses on the tree
With shouts they plucked them eagerly.

“Do you bind roses in your hair?”
They cried in scorn to Jesus there.
The boy said humbly, “Take I pray
All but the naked thorns away.”

Then of the thorns they made a crown
And with rough fingers pressed it down
Til on his forehead fair and young
Red drops of blood, like roses, sprung.

(and Merry Christmas to you, too, Mr Tchaikovsky)