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Saturday Chorale: Christmas Carols On Christmas Eve 2012 Edition

11:44 am in Uncategorized by

Actually Christmas Eve is still Advent so I’m kicking off with a modern arrangement of ‘Veni, veni, Emmanuel’ if you don’t know the Latin version you’ve still definitely heard it in some form or another, ‘O Come, o come, Emmanuel’ is one of those pieces of music that just about every singer has covered. I love the original Latin version, I sang it as a child and this year I’ve had the pleasure of hearing three of my grandsons sing it first in Latin and then in Danish. As a surprise treat for me they hid the fact that they’d learnt it in English too and regaled me with it this afternoon. It has a long and distinguished history it’s a lyrical paraphrase of the famous ‘O’antiphons that dates from the 12th-century and is based on Isaiah 7:14: “Propter hoc dabit Dominus ipse vobis signum : ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium, et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel”. The melody is French and is about 800 years old the hymn as it is now sung is just over 300 years old and comes from the Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum published in 1710 in Cologne. (You can hear it sung by the Choir of Queens’ College, Cambridge, on my site). The version below is sung by the English boys’ choir Libera singing their musical director Robert Prizeman’s setting of the hymn, it’s just the first two verses alas followed by the first verse of the English version of the hymn but it’s no less beautiful for being all too short, the soloist is Daniel Fontanaz:

The next carol “Maria durch ein dornwald ging” (“Maria walked through a forest of thorns”) is late medieval German. Like much medieval music it’s not known when exactly it was composed or by whom, but it is known to have been sung in Thuringia (Thüringen) during the fifteenth century. It’s got a very simple almost child-like melody and its lyrics, which to modern ears sound no less naive, tell of a Christmas miracle. Of how as Mary was wandering through a forest, thorny rose bushes that hadn’t flowered for seven years burst into flower as she passed by clasping the Infant Jesus to her breast. The image of the rose as a metaphor for womanly beauty and purity was very popular in medieval poetry and carols so it’s not surprising that it should appear in a fifteenth-century German folk carol. I was a bit torn which version to embed here as I like both the Dresdner Kreuzchor‘s version and the Thomanerchor’s version eventually I plumped for the Thomanerchor on the basis that this year they’re celebrating the 800th year of their founding. If you want the lyrics and a translation to English I have them here.

Whenever I’m in Madrid I make strenuous efforts to listen to the Escolanía del Escorial this is their performance of the beautiful old Castillian carol “Brincan y bailan” (“They jump and dance”) it’s a charming piece that tells of how fish in the rivers jump and dance for joy in the water at the news of the coming of Christ. This performance was given during their 2009 series of Christmas concerts. The soloist is the very talented Jesus Manuel Carnicero.

When I was drafting this post I had a certain amount of trouble deciding whether to embed the Nidarosdomens Guttekor singing “What Child Is This?” or to introduce you to the talented  young American singer Sean Holshouser. I keep a close eye on Sean’s YouTube channel and have corresponded with him from time to time. He’s a 13 year-old tenor/baritone from Houston, Texas, who up to last year was a boy soprano. If you want to hear a really talented young singer singing a variety of songs including such American classics as “Shenandoah” then Sean’s channel will delight you. In the video below he’s singing “What Child Is This?” with his mother (who has a very pleasing soprano) accompanied by his father.

I’ll end with Sabine Baring-Gould’s “Gabriel’s Message”, a carol that I loved to sing as a child and that I love singing to this day in my YouTube video below it’s sung by the Choir of Westminster Cathedral. Happy Christmas to all my readers and listeners.



Saturday Chorale: Music on the massacre of innocents

2:43 pm in Uncategorized by

Massacre of the innocents Cogniet 600x581

This year for the first time in many years instead of celebrating Christmas with some of the children in one of our orphanages in Irak I’ll be in Denmark celebrating it in the company of my grandchildren. I’m in Denmark at present and heard the news of the mass murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on the radio. One of the reports spoke of a child relating how she and one of her teachers hid from the gunman and of how her teacher comforted her and held her.

We bandy about words like “terror” and “anguish” but rarely are we confronted with what they truly mean. If you want to know the meaning of “terror” then the emotion felt by the parents with children at Sandy Hook elementary school as they made their way to the school to learn of their children’s fate is terror. If you want to know the meaning of “anguish” then the emotions being felt today by the parents and families of the murdered children and adults is anguish. Burying your child as I and most my colleagues in “The Guides” can testify is a miserable experience and neither the memory nor the hole in your heart ever quite goes away.

I’m sure that everyone reading this was shocked, grieved, and yes angered, by the news and each of us in our own way seeks consolation. For me part of what made my life bearable are my love of paintings and of choral music. Paintings and music help us to endure the unendurable and express the inexpressible. I first saw Cogniet’s “Massacre of the innocents” more than 40 years ago, I’ve never forgotten that day and even now it’s one of my referents for the words “terror” and “atrocity”.  Can anyone doubt looking at that poor woman’s face that she is experiencing terror? Can anyone look at her face and not feel compassion?

As it happens when the news of the multiple murders and mass infanticide at Sandy Hook elementary school came through I was busily engaged writing about a piece of music that deals directly with the slaughter of children and that consoled me greatly during that dark and dreadful time in my life. I’m sure many of you have heard the “Coventry Carol” and I’m equally sure that quite a few of you who know the carol don’t know its story.

The Coventry Carol is nearly 500 years old and was sung during the Nativity plays put on over Christmastide as part of the celebrations by the Guild of Shearmen and Tailors in Coventry, England. The first written record for these plays the “Coventry Plays” dates from 1392 and it’s known they were performed for at least forty years before that. The Coventry Plays continued for nearly two centuries after 1392 and were so famous and prestigious that English royalty were among the numerous pilgrims who undertook the difficult and unpleasant winter journey to watch them being performed. They were seen by Henry VI’s queen Margaret in 1456, by Richard III in 1484 and by Henry VII in 1492 the plays were finally suppressed by Queen Elizabeth I in 1579. The lyrics to the Coventry Carol deal with the anguish and despair of a mother as she tries to hide her child from the marauding soldiers during the Massacre of the Innocents. They’re believed to be by Robert Croo  and date from 1534. The melody dates from at least the early 1580s and may have been sung during some of the last performances of the Coventry Plays. It’s a beautiful piece of music with a haunting child-like melody and a simple refrain it’s sung below by the English boys’ choir Libera the soloists are Josh Madine, Ralph Skan, and Stefan Leadbeater. I post it here in the hope somebody in need of comforting will hear it and be consoled.


 Lyrics: Coventry Carol

Original Lyrics: Modern English
Lully lulla, thow littell tine child,By, by, lully lullay, thow littell tyne child,By, by, lully lullay!O sisters too, How may we doFor to preserve this day

This pore yongling, For whom we do singe

By, by, lully, lullay?

Herod, the king, In his raging,

Chargid he hath this day

His men of might In his owne sight

All yonge children to slay

That wo is me, Pore child, for thee,

And ever morne and [may]

For thi parting Neither say nor singe,

By, by, lully, lullay.

Robert Croo (fl 1534)

Lully lullay, thou little tiny child,By by lully lullay.Oh sisters too, how may we doFor to preserve this dayThis poor youngling for whom we sing

By by lully lullay.

Herod the king, in his raging,

Charged he hath this day

His men of might in his own sight

All children young to slay.

That woe is me, poor child, for thee,

And ever mourn and pray.

For thy parting, neither say nor sing,

By by lully lullay.

Picture Source:All sizes | Massacre of the innocents Cogniet 600×581 | Flickr


Saturday Chorale: Conclusion

12:30 pm in Uncategorized by

For my final posting I’ve picked five pieces of music that I particularly enjoy, each of them has had a considerable impact on my life. The first is Thomas Tallis’ 40 Part motet ‘Spem in Alium’ the text is from the Book of Judith. I particularly admire the Chapelle Du Roi’s performance of this piece of music and greatly prefer it to others. My first encounter with Tallis’ motet came nearly fifty years ago. To this day when I close my eyes I can still feel the thrill and the awe that I felt, I can still see and hear every moment of my first encounter with transcendent beauty.

Tallis: Spem in alium

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Herning Kirkes Drengekor: Salvator Mundi – Thomas Tallis

12:30 pm in Art, Culture by

For this week’s "Saturday Chorale" I’ve picked Thomas Tallis’ "Salvator Mundi" sung by «Herning Kirkes Drengekor» (‘Herning Church Boys’ Choir’) in Berlin Cathedral . They performed the piece in connection with the filming of a documentary about the choir «En Stemme For Livet» ("The Voice of Life") .

I enjoy this performance whenever I listen to it. I also enjoy contemplating the phenomenon of a choir of Danish boys from a Lutheran church, singing in Latin for a German audience in a German cathedral the music of a centuries dead English composer. A composer moreover who was — rightly, suspected by Elizabeth I’s government of being a crypto-Catholic. Such an unlikely combination of circumstances but oh how marvellous the result. They sing Tallis’ music with passion and conviction, the resulting sound is very beautiful.

Play it twice, the first time close your eyes, play it just for the music. The second time you play it listen to the music and watch the audiences’ faces as they listen.  The video, the lyrics and a translation to English are all below the fold. Enjoy :-)


Video Source: Salvator Mundi – Thomas Tallis – HKD – YouTube 




Salvator mundi, salva nos,

qui per crucem et sanguinem redemisti nos,

auxiliare nobis, te

deprecamur, Deus noster.

O Saviour of the world, save us

who by thy Cross and precious blood hast

redeemed us; help us,

we humbly beseech thee, our God.

Notes: This is a slightly altered version of a posting Herning Kirkes Drengekor: Salvator Mundi – Thomas Tallis | Saturday Chorale published on September 3, 2011 over at my place.


Birthday Earwigs

6:30 am in Art, Culture by

Birthday girls get an earwig for each ear.

Hamba Nathi

Kwangena Thina Bo

For Twain — Happy Birthday :-)



HOPE 9/11 Stopford

12:02 am in Art, Culture, Uncategorized by

Hope (2007) was composed by Philip Stopford for the dedication of the Spire of Hope at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. The service, held on September 11th, was attended by the Bishop of New York. A link was formed through the 9/11 tragedy and the ‘troubles’ of terrorism in Northern Ireland. The words are by Dr Carl Daw, and were written in response to the 9/11 tragedy. The sheet music and CD is available at The choir is Ecclesium, and the composer is the conductor.

Source Stopfords notes to to “Hope 9/11″ posted on: ‪HOPE 9/11 Stopford‬‏ – YouTube

Crossposted from Saturday Chorale



Byrd: Nunc Dimittis: Choir of Magdalen College Oxford

12:30 pm in Art, Culture, Uncategorized by

It’s not certain when Byrd wrote his Great Service employing ten voices in seven sections. But it can’t have been before the late 1580s. Kerman suspects that Byrd used it as he used much of his Anglican music as a way of establishing his mastery of its genres and having done that “cultivated them no further”. . That may very well be true the Great Service is certainly a distinctly Anglican work that follows Merbecke’s rules rather than a Catholic one.

An unusual feature of this performance is the use of viols to to accompany the singing rather than an organ. I was a bit dubious about this notwithstanding the fact that it’s Fretwork doing the accompaniment. But I have to say that my doubts were quickly dispelled as I listened. There’s a sound historical basis for using viols and Fretwork’s accompaniment provides a depth and warmth of sonority that I have rarely experienced listening to recordings of Byrd’s music. Lyrics and notes are below the video. Enjoy :-).


Lyrics Read the rest of this entry →


Libera: The fountain – Soloist – Ralph Skan

8:30 am in Art, Culture, Uncategorized by

Thirteen year-old Ralph Skan is the soloist in this enchanting recording of “The Fountain”. This solo recorded in 2010 for Libera’s album Peace (UK) (USA) was Skan’s first recorded solo, he has gone on to become one of Libera’s lead soloists and has carried several solos during their most recent tours. The song itself was co-written by Robert Prizeman and Libera alumnus Ben Crawley and speaks to the human need for comfort and strength in adversity. It’s quite a feat for a twelve year-old (he had his thirteenth birthday a few days ago) to sing with the musical maturity that Skan achieves in this recording. His singing matches the lyrics very well, it’s mature, strong, and concise with admirably clear diction and emotional depth.

This is just as true of the choir as a whole who sing  each note of each harmony with the same confidence, strength and concision achieved by the soloist. Nor is their singing let down by the recording you can hear the choir, you can hear the lyrics, and you hear the individual voices making their contribution to the musical whole. The album as a whole is a pleasure to listen and I’ll be writing about several of the pieces sung on it. But I think it needs to be said from the outset that it’s not just the choir who’ve grown. The album as a whole demonstrates greater musical maturity on both Prizeman’s and Crawley’s parts. Prizeman’s settings (in this case Frédéric Chopin Prelude op.28 no.20 in C minor) are now far defter than some of his earlier work and provide settings that are not only more confident in and of themselves but which provide a perfect vehicle for these talented and well-trained boys to express themselves.

lyrics below the video. Enjoy :-)


Video Source: Libera: The fountain – Soloist – Ralph Skan – YouTube

Lyrics Read the rest of this entry →



8:30 am in Art, Culture, Uncategorized by

All too short alas. Enjoy – they did! :-)


Notes: Cross posted from a posting published August 17, 2011 over at my place.


Stopford: Nunc Dimitis

8:30 am in Art, Culture, Uncategorized by

Philip Stopford’s beautiful setting of the Song of Simeon, recorded by Ecclesium in Belfast Cathedral 2009.

Lyrics below the fold. Enjoy :-).


Notes: Cross posted from a posting published on July 14, 2011 over at my place.

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