Monday, January 6, 2014

All from Sheba Shall Come, Bearing Gold and Frankincense, and Proclaiming the Praises of the Lord.

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, the last day of the twelve days of Christmas. It marks the day of the visitation of the Three Kings to the Infant Jesus, and the first time that our Lord revealed Himself to the Gentiles. The Liturgy for Epiphany is very like to that of Christmas day itself. You can read about some of the traditions particular to this feast day here.

I missed posting yesterday, because I was too busy to sit down and do it properly, so I am finishing off with two songs today. The first is from Handel's Messiah, and is far more fitted to Christmas-time than the more popular Hallelujah Chorus. Besides, I have posted a lot of old, very traditional and largely folk-ish carols this year, so it seemed fitting to include this quite magnificent classical piece:


And to complement it, here is a beautiful, timeless carol, based on Christina Rosetti's poem. It has some of the most lyrical descriptions of winter you are likely to find - I particularly like the phrase "snow had fallen, snow on snow" because, as people in snowy climates know, that is exactly what it is like. The ending verse seem particularly fitting for today:


Today is also Sherlock Holmes' birthday - at least, according to this article. So, many happy returns of the day, Sherlock! You are not expected to come for dinner, as there are likely going to be people there, but hopefully someone will provide you with a cake that looks like this:

Saturday, January 4, 2014


This post was a hard one for me. I knew that I wanted to post a dual-language song here, as there is a huge, rich tradition of 'macaronic' Christmas carols from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Probably the best know of these is In Dulce Jubilo, which is a great song. I considered just posting that one for a while, but it is hard to find a version which is not beautifully sung by choirs in four part harmony. Mind you, I have nothing against choirs - I sang in one for a brief period during high school - but these earlier sort of carols tend to benefit from a certain roughness around the edges; a little less perfection, and a little more enthusiasm. 

I spent most a good portion of this evening looking for a song that fit my pre-conceived idea of what I wanted to post. Connie Dover does an extremely satisfying cover of Personent Hodie, in both English and Latin, as part of a medley of songs she calls Cantus. Unfortunately, Cantus as a whole is more suited to Lent than to Christmas, so that one went out. The Boar's Head Carol is mighty good fun, but I had sort of had my heart set on something a bit more religious. There is a really, really wonderful old song, originally written in German, called Maria Wanders Through the Wood, which would have been ideal. We used to sing when I was growing up, and it is beautiful:

Maria wanders through the wood,
Kyrie Eleison!
Through a barren wood of barren thorn
That for seven years no bloom hath born.
Jesus and Maria!

What 'neath her heart doth Mary bear?
Kyrie Eleison!
A little Child doth Mary bear
Beneath her heart He nestles there.
Jesus and Maria!

And as the two are passing near,
Kyrie Eleison!
Lo! Roses on the thorns appear,
Red roses on the thorns appear.
Jesus and Maria!

Unfortunately, I could not find a single version of that which I would want to listen to, so I let that one go very reluctantly. I nearly gave up at that point, because, in between the songs I really wanted, I was playing 'click the link' with youtube suggestions, on the off chance that something fantastic would appear, and becoming quite despondent when nothing did.

That is how I ended up settling on this tune: Psallite, Unigenito - a song in Latin and German, by the Weaverly Consort. This was really quite the thing at home for a while. I checked out a CD of Renaissance Christmas music from the college, and this was everyone's  favourite. My sisters and I - all of us rather light-voiced and soprano-ish - sort of faked as many of the parts as we could, including the bass, and sang it with a good deal of enthusiasm. It is probably the first 'ancient music' carol I ever owned, and I still have a particular soft spot for it

The translation of the Latin and the German runs something like this:

Sing your psalms to Christ,
the begotten Son of God,
sing your psalms to the Redeemer,
to the Lord, the little Child
lying in a manger bed.
A small Child lies in the manger.
All the blessed angels fall before Him
and sing.
Sing your psalms to Christ,
the begotten Son of God,
sing your psalms to the Redeemer,
to the Lord, the little Child
lying in a manger bed.

(As a side note, I rather think my sisters and I ought to get our hands on some of these old songs, and give them a proper cover, the poor things.)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dear Tolkien

From Middle Earth News

I just had to get that out there first. Today is Tolkien's Birthday Tolkien was born during Christmastide - seems rather fitting, doesn't it? And since we are in the middle of a series of Christmas posts, I am going to take a moment to put in a plug for Tolkien's Father Christmas Letters. It is such a entertaining and delightful book, full of the Professor's humour, and calligraphy and illustrations. Just look at how much fun it is:

If you want to see a few more picture, go to The Tolkien Bookshelf. (And you really should click there.)

So, since it is Tolkien's birthday, and since Tolkien was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English, I am posting a Middle English carol called Adam Lay Ybounden. This version retains the original pronunciations, and has a very wandering-minstrel feel about it:

Here are the lyrics, for to better understand what they are singing:

Adam lay ybounden, bounden in a bond,
Four thousand winter thoughte he not too long;
And al was for an apple, and apple that he took,
As clerkes finden writen, writen in thire book.
Ne hadde the apple taken been, the apple taken been,
Ne hadde nevere Oure Lady ybeen hevene Queen.
Blessed be the time that apple taken was:
Therfore we mown singen Deo Gratias.

And for a bit more information on the tune itself, wikipedia's entry is actually quite good.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas in the New World

One of the most unique Christmas carols you are likely to hear, is the Huron Carol. It was composed by the Jesuit missionary and martyr, Fr. de Brébeuf, who worked amongst the Hurons in Canada in the early to mid 1600s. It is the first North American carol ever written, and, though Fr. de Brébeuf, adapted the melody from an old French tune, the original lyrics were in Huron, and he adapted the traditional imagery to reflect the culture of his Indian converts.

These are the English lyrics that are most commonly sung to the tune. It is inaccurate to say that they are a translation of the original, even taking into account poetic license. However, they are rather beautiful, and the imagery poignant, so accurate or not, I have a great fondness for this version. (There is a more accurate translation to be found here.)

Twas in the moon of wintertime
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wond'ring hunters heard the hymn:
Jesus, your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapp'd His beauty 'round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high:
Jesus, your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime
Is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on
The helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before Him knelt
With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus, your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou,
The Holy Child of earth and heav'n
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy;
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
Jesus, your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

And here is a really cool cover of the song by Heather Dale, which features lyrics in Huron, French and English.  I find it very fetching:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Old Year Now Away Is Fled...

... The New Year it is entered
        Then let us all our sins downtread
            And joyfully all appear....

Well, there is 2013 all gone and past, and 2014 is upon us, and I, for one, am glad. The year just gone was a considerable improvement over the one before it, but it was sufficiently trying that I have sort of mentally grouped the last two years together into a single unit, which I am very pleased to see the back of. Oddly enough, I am rather grateful for the last couple years, and think that, hard as they were, I am better for having lived through them. Still, I am delighted to be through with that part of my life, and am looking forward to this coming year with genuine pleasure and hopefulness. So, here's to the New Year - may it bring blessings and happiness with it!

In addition to being New Year's Day, January 1st is also the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord as well as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. That being the case, I am posting a really beautiful tune, sung by the Clancy Brothers:

You are getting this version, both because I love the simplicity of the arrangement, but also because the video that accompanies it is very lovely. As far as the song is concerned, I cannot tell you much about it. The only information I can find for its origin, comes from a website called Mainly Norfolk, which has this to say about  it:

According to the New Oxford Book of Carols, John Jacob Niles claimed to have collected this carol in Mayfield, Kentucky, in 1933 and published it in 1948 in The Anglo-American Carol Study Book. This would appear to be a near-miraculous survival of the fifteenth-century English carol text I sing of a maiden that is makeless. Maddy Prior sang this carol on Steeleye Span's CD Winter. She commented in the album's sleeve notes: What a beautiful medieval carol this is. Every word and every note perfectly written.

It would not be too far-fetched for a medieval song to survive America in this manner. There are areas around the Appalachians which, due to their isolation, have retained a decidedly Elizabethan mode of speech, though that is no doubt less common now than it was even 30 years ago.