Advent Calendar Day 10: The Record of John – Gibbons

I really had intended to leave The Record of John out of my Advent calendar this year, especially as I have more Gibbons planned for you later in December, but then I made the mistake of listening to it again, and I just couldn’t.  I really do think this is one of the most amazing pieces of Advent music ever written, and it just doesn’t feel like Advent to me until I’ve sung the part about the voice that crieth in the wilderness.

(Which is sad, because I haven’t actually had the opportunity to sing this piece for some years now, and I miss it quite desperately.)

Like the Michael Wise piece from last Thursday, this is a verse anthem, but where other composers use music to paint a picture of the words, Gibbons takes the approach of using the music to capture the natural inflections of speech, at least in the solo line.  It makes him very easy to sing with feeling, and I think also heightens the emotional impact of the music.

But really, you don’t need me to tell you why this is beautiful.  You would be far better off just listening to it, and finding out for yourself.

PS – So I just went and had a look at Gibbons’ biography, and he apparently died of an apoplexy aged only 41.  Spookily, this is the same age at which Michael Wise died (though he died while brawling with a night watchman).  The moral of the story: don’t write verse anthems, or you will die young.  And let’s not even get started on Purcell, who only made it to 36.  Come to think of it, he wrote verse anthems, too.  Really, don’t write verse anthems if you want to grow old…


Advent Calendar Day 8 – The Record of John (Orlando Gibbons)

I make no apology for including this piece of music again, even though I include it in my Advent Calendar every year.  I’ve sung the alto solo (really a countertenor solo) in The Record of John on the first Sunday of Advent every year for the better part of a decade, and to me, it doesn’t feel like Advent until I hear those opening bars on the piano.  The song has a real weight of expectation to it, and the melody is crafted so perfectly to the natural inflections of speech that the lyrics are incredibly easy to sing expressively.  I love it dearly.

Very sadly, I won’t be singing this piece in 2015, either as soloist or as choir member, which was one of the reasons I decided to revive the Advent Calendar after a year’s hiatus.  It’s a melancholy pleasure listening to it instead of singing it, but this is an excellent recording.  I’d love to find a good recording with a female soloist, but so far the internet has failed to provide.

Maybe next year…

Advent Calendar Day 1 – The Record of John (Orlando Gibbons)

All the cool kids are doing Advent Calendars, and since I’ve been raving to everyone in sight about how wonderful Advent music is, perhaps I should demonstrate.

So, for December 1 (a mere two days late), we will start with my absolute favourite piece of Advent music, which is of course The Record of John, by Orlando Gibbons. I absolutely love Gibbons’ work – he has an absolute gift for writing musical lines that mimic the intonations of speech, and this is part of what makes him such a joy to sing. He makes it so easy to convey meaning, because his inflections are so natural, and he is one of those composers who makes you believe the words when you sing them.

When he writes for duets or trios or even quartets in his verse anthems, he is unparalleled. I am hoping to find a recording of ‘Behold, I bring you glad tidings’, which is his other Advent piece, but haven’t had any luck so far. Gibbons also has the charming habit of giving the altos all the best solos, which would make me feel kindly towards him even if he wasn’t such a magnificent writer – really, I have sung any number of his works, and every one has been glorious.

This is the best recording of The Record of John I could find on YouTube. The countertenor is so beautiful I can even forgive him for not being an alto…