How to cope with the musical rigours of the season.
At this time of year, I get a bit tired of the standard carols.
Or to put that a more truthful way, I find a corner to rock back and forth in, and through clenched teeth vow that the next person to sing “Hark the Herald” will suffocate on a mince pie.
But I still want to feel Christmassy, I really do. So I provided myself with my own compliation tape of other carols which sort of helps.
The carols are carols in the traditional sense (on the whole) – things that were singable by crowds, not polyphony or any of my other joys, but they are ones which have either (shamefully) dropped out of the ever-narrowing popular selection, or are just less well known.
So here is my list of Things You Can Easily Download To Keep You Sane.
1) Masters in this Hall – words written by William Morris (the textile designer) in the 19th Century, but the tune is (reportedly) by Marin Marais, the subject of one of the most moving films, “Tous les Matins du Monde” And is a corker.
There are hundreds of versions: here are two as a flavour: Maddy Prior and A David Wilcocks arrangement.
2) I Wonder as I wander – Like so many of our Christmas songs and hymns, of American origin. People claim that Christmas was either invented by the Germans or by Dickens, but the Americans really took the baton and ran with it. This was an Appalacian folksong collected by John Jacob Niles.He wrote of its collection courtesy of a girl called Annie Morgan:
A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievable dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins…. But, best of all, she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song.
3) The Lord at first did Adam Make
I can’t for the life of me find the tune I have on line, but it’s a jolly site better than this one!
4) Joy to the world is a carol I have always not particularly liked, until John Rutter decided it was written by Handel. It works rather splendidly.
5) Bethlehem Down – Written in a drunken haze by Peter Warlock, and Bruce Blunt, the poetry and wine critic of the Times – he took both aspects of his work very seriously. They got blazing drunk, according to Warlock, and wrote this for the Daily Telegraph’s Carol Competition. Sadly, winning the competition meant they got the prize money but no royalties from what became a very popular carol – which was why Warlock wrote as many different versions as possible. Blunt did not write much poetry, but this is just beautiful.
6) Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
A lovely new tune to go with an old favourite, it is impossible not to have fun with this.
7) Hely HutchinsonCarol Symphony (2nd Mvt) It’s that bit with the Box of Delights theme in. Say no more.
8 ) Remember O Thou Man
Written by Thomas Ravenscroft, or at least collected by him. Ravenscroft was probably a chorister atSt Paul’s Cathedral sometime in the early Seventeenth Century, and has the dubious distinction of giving us “three blind mice” amongst others.
Thomas Hardy mentions this carol as a beautiful and moving one in “Under the Greenwood Tree” which is more or less a fond farewell to the West Gallery Musicians, the amateur orchestras and choir who were largely replaced by the Kist o’ whistles.
A more beardy version here:
9) There is no rose
A traditional carol, the harmonies of which send you right back to a time before hygene or Christmas rush.
This is my favourite version, preceeded by a similar and related piece: Gabriel from heavene came. Lie back and let Christmas come to you, rather than chasing it.
10 See amid the winter’s snow
Shameless plug here, the only recording I can find of this is one I sang in. It is not the “normal” tune, but a shamelessly soupy choir anthem by Victorian composer John West (no tuna/tuning jokes please). It was found by a dear friend, now gone, who wrote his dissertation on it. It’s a gloopy mince pie of a piece.
11) Et Er Un Ros Utsprungen
A fabulous version of the trad German hymn by Jan Sandtrom. Brilliant and serene.
12) Finally, this is where Advent turns into Christmas for me. Josquin Desprez was a composer head and shoulders above his contemporaries. This piece speaks of God coming to earth, starts in the bowels of the earth, and lift us to the heavens. It’s powerful and beautiful and mysterious. I’m going over the top aren’t I? Nevermind, this is best listened to alone, lying on the floor, after a significant amount of gin, in the dark.
Anyhow, that’s how I keep my head over the Christmas season. All versions are available on MP3 download, and I can assure you it is the only way I keep sane. Hope it works for you too.
Blessings on your work and worship over the next few days.