The Feast of St. Stephen or Boxing Day

>> Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day is a bank or public holiday that occurs on 26 December, or 27 December, and is observed in Australia, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and in some Commonwealth nations that have a mainly Christian population. In South Africa, the public holiday 26 December is called Day of Goodwill, in Ireland St Stephen's Day or Lá an Dreoilín, and in continental European countries the "Second Christmas Day."

Though not an official holiday in the United States, some Americans use the term "Boxing Day," particularly those who live near the Canada – United States border. In Canada, Boxing Day is listed in the Canada Labour Code as an optional holiday. Only the province of Ontario has made it a statutory holiday where all workers receive time off with pay.

The exact etymology of the term "boxing" is unclear and there are several competing theories, none definitive. The tradition has long included giving money and other gifts to the needy and those in service positions. The European tradition dates to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. Some claim it dates to the late Roman/early Christian era when metal boxes placed outside churches collected special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen.

A clue to Boxing Day's origins appears in the Christmas Carol, "Good King Wenceslas." Wenceslas, who was Duke of Bohemia in the early 10th century, was surveying his land on St. Stephen's Day — Dec. 26 — when he saw a poor man gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. Moved, the King gathered up surplus food and wine and carried them through the blizzard to the peasant's door. The alms-giving tradition has always been closely associated with the Christmas season, but King Wenceslas' good deed came the day after Christmas, when the English poor received most of their charity.

In the United Kingdom, it is a custom for tradesmen to collect "Christmas boxes" of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diary entry for 19th December 1663; and widely in Victorian literature. Another possibility is that the name derives from an old English tradition: in exchange for ensuring that wealthy landowners' Christmases ran smoothly, servants were allowed to take the 26th off to visit their families. The employers gave each servant a box containing gifts and bonuses (and sometimes leftover food). In addition, around the 1800s, churches opened their alms boxes (boxes where people place monetary donations) and distributed the contents to the poor. --Wikipedia


My Favorite Carols: Stille Nacht, Heilege Nacht

>> Friday, December 24, 2010

Of course this is the beloved carol, "Silent Night", sung in the original German. I've always preferred it sung in its original language. There's just something magical about it that the English translation fails to achieve. Frohe Weinachten!


My Favorite Carols: Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant

>> Wednesday, December 22, 2010

This is another delightful little French carol that I became familiar with as a child. I don't recall ever singing it, but I always loved it. This particular performance is by the Vienna Boys Choir.

He is born the divine child,
Play oboe, resonate musette.
He is born the divine child,
Let's all sing his accession.
For more than four thousand years
We've promised by the prophets,
For more than four thousand years
We've been waiting for this happy time.
A stable is his lodging,
A bit of hay is his little bed.


My Favorite Carols: Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella

>> Monday, December 20, 2010

This charming little French carol isn't one that I've actually ever sung, but is one that became a favorite because it was featured on one of our Robert Shaw Christmas albums. Its delightful, playful tune suggests the "skipping" and playing of a child in union with the text.

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabelle (French: Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle) is a Christmas carol which originated from the Provence region of France in the 16th century. The song is usually notated in 3/8 time.

The carol was first published in 1553 in France, and was subsequently translated into English in the 18th century. The song was originally not a song to be sung at Christmas, but rather dance music for French nobility.

In the carol, visitors to the stable have to keep their voices down so the newborn can enjoy his dreams. To this day in the Provence region, children dress up as shepherds and milkmaids, carrying torches and candles to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, while singing the carol. The painter Georges de La Tour painted a nativity scene based on the carol.


The Fourth Sunday of Advent: Vivaldi: Gloria

>> Sunday, December 19, 2010

And suddenly there was with the angel
a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying...


My Favorite Carols: Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

>> Saturday, December 18, 2010

I first heard this elegant setting of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, back in the 1990s when I bought a recording of the Cambridge Choir conducted by John Rutter and it was one of the pieces on that recording. It instantly became one of my favorites. This particular setting of an 18th century poem by an anonymous New Englander was composed by a woman, Elizabeth Poston, who died in 1987. Most of you are probably not familiar with this one, but I assure you, it's worth a listen, especially if you're fond of the more "plainsong" type carols.

The first known publication of "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" was in 1784 in Divine Hymns, or Spiritual Songs: for the use of Religious Assemblies and Private Christians by Joshua Smith, a lay Baptist minister from New Hampshire. It may have been based on an earlier anonymous American poem first printed in London's Spiritual Magazine in August of 1761.

The song may be an allusion to both the apple tree in Songs 2:3 which has been interpreted as a metaphor representing Christ, and to Jesus' description of his life as a tree of life in Luke 13:18-19 and elsewhere in the New Testament including Revelation 22:1-2. Apple trees were commonly grown in early New England and there was an old English tradition of wassailing or wishing health to apple trees on Christmas eve. The song is now performed by choirs around the world, especially during the Christmas season as a Christmas carol
. --Wikipedia


My Favorite Carols: How Great Our Joy

>> Friday, December 17, 2010

How Great Our Joy (The Echo Carol) is another one of the few Christmas Carols that I remember from my childhood church experience. The First Baptist Church of Stillwater has a large sanctuary with a choir loft in the front and a balcony in the back. We had a very advanced music program in our church and our minister of music would put on a lavishly beautiful music program at Christmas, which always included this carol. I remember sitting with the children's choir, wearing our little white cherub drapes with the red collars, listening to the adult choir sing, and wishing that I could sing with them instead of the children!

The Echo Carol is a traditional German antiphonal response, dating back to the 17th century.


My Favorite Carols: Angels We Have Heard on High

>> Monday, December 13, 2010

Angels We Have Heard on High has been one of my favorite carols since I was a small child and sang it in church during the Christmas season. I was especially proud of myself when at the age of eight, I could read and sing the alto line and everyone standing around me in the congregation who heard me sing it, smiled.

"Angels We Have Heard on High" is a Christmas carol. The song commemorates the story of the birth of Jesus Christ found in the Gospel of Luke, in which shepherds outside Bethlehem encounter a multitude of angels singing and praising the newborn child.

The words of the song are based on a traditional French carol known as Les Anges dans nos campagnes (literally, "Angels in our countryside") composed by an unknown author in Languedoc, France. That song has received many adjustments or alignments including its most common English version that was translated in 1862 by James Chadwick, the Roman Catholic bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, north east England. The carol quickly became popular in the West Country, where it was described as 'Cornish' by R.R. Chope, and featured in Pickard-Cambridge's Collection of Dorset Carols.

There is also a Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) translation of the carol which is known as Ainglean chuala sinn gu h-ard (literally, "Angels We Have Heard on High"). This was translated into Gaelic by Iain MacMilan from James Chadwick's English translation.


The Third Sunday of Advent: O Magnum Mysterium

>> Sunday, December 12, 2010

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.


My Favorite Carols: In the Bleak Midwinter

>> Saturday, December 11, 2010

I first became familiar with this lovely British carol when I sang it in a Christmas concert with the Oklahoma Baptist University Chorale. I've always adored it since.

In the Bleak Midwinter is a Christmas carol based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti written before 1872 in response to a request from the magazine Scribner's Monthly for a Christmas poem. It was published posthumously in Rossetti's Poetic Works in 1904 and became a Christmas carol after it appeared in The English Hymnal in 1906 with a setting by Holst. In 2008 Harold Darke's setting was named the best Christmas carol in a poll of some of the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts. --Wikipedia


My Favorite Carols: Sweet Little Jesus Boy

>> Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Okay, so Sweet Little Jesus Boy isn't exactly a carol; it's a spiritual. But it's still one of my very favorites, especially when sung by Mahalia Jackson. This, incidentally, was one of my mother's very favorites, as well, so I'm dedicating this one in her memory.

Sweet Little Jesus Boy is a Christmas song composed by Robert MacGimsey and published in 1934. Its style is similar to African-American spirituals. It has been recorded by many choirs and solo artists. --Wikipedia


My Favorite Carols: Carol of the Bells

>> Monday, December 6, 2010

Leave it to the Russians to create one of the most beautiful and beloved of all "modern" carols. I first heard this particular carol on our Robert Shaw recordings as a child, and I couldn't wait until I was old enough to sing in a choir that performed it. I was thrilled when I started singing in my high school Concert Choir and Carol of the Bells was another one of the choir's Christmas Concert mainstays. To this day I never tire of hearing it, or singing it.

Carol of the Bells (also known as the "Ukrainian Bell Carol") is a choral miniature work originally composed by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych. Throughout the composition, Leontovych used a four note motif as an ostinato which was taken from an ancient pagan Ukrainian New Year's chant known in Ukrainian as "Shchedryk" [the Generous One]. The composer created the piece as an assignment for a harmony course he was taking by correspondence in the use of an ostinato. The original work was intended to be sung a cappella by mixed choir. Two other variants of the composition; one for woman's choir and another for children's choir with piano accompaniment were also created by the composer.

The Carol of the Bells was premiered in December 1916 by a choral group made up of students at Kiev University. It was introduced to Western audiences by the Ukrainian National Chorus during its concert tour of Europe and the Americas, where it premiered in the United States on October 5, 1921 at Carnegie Hall. It was later adapted into an English language version by Peter Wilhousky in the 1930s, and to this day is performed and sung worldwide during the Christmas season. An alternate English version ("Ring, Christmas Bells") featuring more Nativity-based lyrics, written by Minna Louise Hohman in 1947, is also widely performed.


Second Sunday of Advent: Ave Verum Corpus

>> Sunday, December 5, 2010

This second Sunday of Advent happens to coincide with the anniversary of Mozart's death, so I thought it appropriate to feature his Ave Verum Corpus, composed in June of 1791, just a little less than six months before his death in the early hours of 5 December 1791 at the age of 35.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Ave verum corpus in D major (K. 618) was written for Anton Stoll (a friend of his and Joseph Haydn's) who was musical co-ordinator in the parish of Baden bei Wien, near Vienna. This setting of the Ave verum corpus text was composed to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi and the autograph is dated 17 June 1791. It is only forty-six bars long and is scored for SATB choir, stringed instruments, and organ. Mozart's manuscript itself contains minimal directions, with only a single sotto voce at the beginning. --Wikipedia

Hail, true Body, born
of the Virgin Mary,
who having truly suffered, was sacrificed
on the cross for mankind,
whose pierced side
flowed with water and blood:
May it be for us a foretaste [of the Heavenly banquet]
in the trial of death.
Oh dear Jesus, Oh merciful Jesus, Oh Jesus, son of Mary,
have mercy on me. Amen.


My Favorite Carols: Away in a Manger (British tune)

>> Saturday, December 4, 2010

Away in a Manger is one of the carols that I learned in church. However, the tune that I've featured here isn't the tune that I learned (Mueller) but the British tune, which I much prefer.

The song was first published with two verses in an Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School collection, Little Children's Book for Schools and Families (1885), edited by James R. Murray (1841-1905), where it simply bore the title "Away in a Manger" and was set to a tune called "St. Kilda," credited to J.E. Clark.

For many years the text was credited to the German reformer Martin Luther. Research has shown, however, that this is nothing more than a fable. In the book Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses (1887) it bears the title "Luther's Cradle Hymn" and the note, "Composed by Martin Luther for his children, and still sung by German mothers to their little ones." A possible reason for the spurious attribution to Luther is that the 400th anniversary of his birth was in 1883. The words were either based on a poem written for this anniversary or were credited to Luther as a clever marketing gimmick. This song has never been found in Luther's works. The first half of the melody is identical to the beginning of the second theme of Waltz #4, transposed down a fourth, in G'schichten aus dem Wienerwald, Op. 325 by Johann Strauss Jr., composed 19 years earlier.

The third stanza, "Be near me, Lord Jesus" was first printed in Gabriel's Vineyard Songs (1892), where it appeared with a tune by Charles H. Gabriel (simply marked "C"), thus these words are probably by Gabriel. Gabriel credited the entire text to Luther and gave it the title "Cradle Song." This verse is sometimes attributed to Dr. John McFarland, but since the popular story dates his contribution to 1904 (postdating the 1892 printing by 12 years), his contribution is highly questionable.

Tom Jennings, director of worship and arts, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, consider this carol has odd or misleading lyrics, such as 'no crying he makes'. This lyric misses a key aspect of the Incarnation, Jesus entered into our suffering.

Murray's tune, which is the tune most commonly printed in the U.S., is typically given the name "Mueller."

The tune "Cradle Song" was written by William J. Kirkpatrick for the musical Around the World with Christmas (1895). Kirkpatrick, like others before him, attributed the words to Luther.
It is also sung to an adaptation of the melody originally composed in 1837 by Jonathan E. Spilman to Flow gently, sweet Afton.

Thus, there are two different melodies for "Away In A Manger". Each setting has a harmony version for S, A, T, B.

Also, the two tunes actually fit together quite well. An arrangement by Christopher Erskine combining both settings (harmony), first heard in 1996 in Canberra at the annual pair of joint Carol Services in Manuka. Performed by the choirs of St Paul's church (Anglican) and St Christopher's Cathedral (Roman Catholic) both of Manuka, one of the capitals older pre-WWII suburbs. In this version the Kirkpatrick setting is sung by one choir, and the Murray setting by the other choir, alternating through the first two verses. Both settings are sung together for the third verse.


My Favorite Carols: The Coventry Carol

>> Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Coventry Carol is another one that became familiar to me by listening to it every year on our Robert Shaw Chorale recordings. This one always haunted me not only because of the darker modal tune (not in a minor key because the key tonal system had not yet been invented), but also because of the lyrics. It depicts a grieving mother singing a lullaby as she rocks her dead child in her arms.

The Coventry Carol is a Christmas carol dating from the 16th Century. The carol was performed in Coventry as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew. The carol refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod orders all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed. The lyrics of this haunting carol represent a mother's lament for her doomed child. It is the only carol that has survived from this play.

It is notable as a well-known example of a Picardy third. The author is unknown. The oldest known text was written down by Robert Croo in 1534, and the oldest known printing of the melody dates from 1591. The carol is traditionally sung a cappella.


My Favorite Carols: Still, Still, Still

>> Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I was introduced to this charming little Austrian carol when I was in high school and sang with the Concert Choir. It was a mainstay in all of our Christmas programs, and years later, when my own daughter, Heather, sang with the Stillwater High School Concert Choir, the tradition remained as it still does, to this day.

The tune of this charming Weihnachtslied (Christmas Song) is based on an 1819 melody by Süss, with the original words, slightly changed over time and location, by G. Götsch.

The melody has the fetching simplicity of a children's tune. The thrice reiterated word at the beginning of each verse is sung to steady eighth notes of an arpeggiated major chord -- for example, "still" to tones 5 and 8, "still" to 3 and 5, and the final "still" to the single tonic note.

Still, still, still,
For the baby wants to sleep.
The angels jubilate with beauty
[The angels make beautiful music]
Making music by the manager.
[In jubilation by the baby]

Sleep, sleep, sleep,
My dear little child, sleep!
Maria will sing gently
And open her true heart to you.
[and give you her virgin breast]

Great, great, great,
The love is more than great.
God has left his heavenly throne,
To wishes to walk the streets.
Great, great, great,
The love is more than great.

This recording features The Vienna Boy's Choir singing the first three stanzas of Stille, Stille, Stille.


My Favorite Carols: The Holly and the Ivy

>> Sunday, November 28, 2010

Since I grew up in the Evangelical/Southern Baptist tradition, I wasn't raised with many of the carols that have become mainstays in the mainline protestant traditions. In fact, in the 1960s, when I was a child, Baptists were only beginning to openly celebrate the Christmas season within the churches, for then, many Baptists still regarded the Christmas church traditions as "too Catholic". I didn't experience the season of Advent, Lessons and Carols, nor the Hanging of the Green (which wasn't brought into Baptist traditions until the 1970s), or Chrismon trees. (Try explaining to a Baptist that "Xmas" isn't an abbreviation that attempts to remove Christ from Christmas, but rather, originates from an early Christian symbol which infuses into a monogram, the Greek letter Chi (X) which was the symbol for Christ and Rho (P) which stands for Christ's crucifixion.)

I became familiar with many Christmas carols because my parents were extremely fond of music and we had records of almost every kind--from classical to some big band jazz--and among my parents' favorites were recordings made by the Robert Shaw Chorale. They were a mainstay in our home and many of our favorite Christmas albums were by them.

The Holly and the Ivy was one of those carols that we never sang in church, but it was familiar to me because it was one of the ones on our Robert Shaw Chorale records.

The Holly and the Ivy is an English traditional Christmas carol. "Holly and ivy have been the mainstay of Christmas decoration for church use since at least the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when they are mentioned regularly in churchwardens’ accounts". Holly and ivy also figure in the lyrics of the "Sans Day Carol". The music and most of the text was first published by Cecil Sharp.

The symbolism of this anonymous carol relates to ancient fertility mythology and the association of the male with holly and good and the female with ivy and evil. It may have accompanied some sort of ritual mating dance. Oddly, the ivy is never mentioned after the first line – are there some lost verses?

The text was first published in a broadside dated 1710, and may have originated somewhere in the Cotswolds. In 1861, it appeared in a collection of carols edited by one Joshua Sylvester, and the Victorians subsequently took it to heart.

The New Oxford Book of Carols points out that the refrain is ‘incoherent and oddly irrelevant [standing] in the same aesthetic relationship to the verse as does Tower Bridge to the Tower of London, and is just the kind of Olde Englishe trumpery that a canny broadside publisher of 1710 might have strung together from stock to eke out his product.’

The tune, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, was collected by Cecil Sharp who heard it sung by Mrs Mary Clayton of Chipping Campden in 1909.

Other versions, by Allen Percival and Martin Shaw, have failed to supplant it. Several other early carols pursue the holly and the ivy theme. One is found in a Tudor collection, set to a tune attributed to Henry VIII.
--The Story Behind "The Holly and the Ivy"


Veni, veni Emmanuel (O come, O come Emmanuel)

>> Saturday, November 27, 2010

Veni, Veni Emmanuel is a synthesis of the great "O Antiphons" that are used for Vespers during the octave before Christmas (Dec. 17-23). These antiphons are of ancient origin and date back to at least the ninth century. The hymn itself was composed in the 12th century in French and the Latin version of the hymn is from the 18th century. There are several arrangements of this hymn. The one below gives all seven verses in the order in which the antiphons appear during the octave before Christmas.

O COME, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that morns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
R: Rejoice! Rejoice! O Israel,
to thee shall come Emmanuel!

O COME, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. R.

O COME, o come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai's height
in ancient times did give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe. R.

O COME, Thou Rod of Jesse's stem,
form ev'ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict'ry o'er the grave. R.

O COME, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav'nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh. R.

O COME, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death's dark shadow put to flight. R.

O COME, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven's peace. R.


Thank you for the music

>> Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In this season of Thanksgiving it is only appropriate that I offer thanks for the beautiful expression that is music. It's the expression of the soul, the language of the universe, and the one language that we human beings all speak (to one degree or another), and understand. Without it what a dull and lifeless place this would be.

I was a girl when ABBA released this song, but from the first time I heard it, I adopted it as mine. I am the girl with golden hair, and I say thank you for the music, for giving it to me.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


So I'm a Sucker for Baritones: Simon Keenlyside

>> Saturday, November 20, 2010

It was only recently that I discovered this incredible English Baritone; it was when my daughter, Lauren, gave me the DVD recording of the 2003 Royal Opera House production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. Simon Keenlyside sang the role of Papageno in that production and from that point on I was hooked. (If you're interested in reading a biographical sketch, click on his name to the Wikipedia information.)

Today I've featured Keenlyside in the role of Count Almaviva in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. Personally, if I were Susanna, I'd dump Figaro and go for the Count! Oh BABY!


Jacqueline du Pré: Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor

>> Thursday, November 18, 2010

I had heard the name, Jacqueline du Pré, when I was a child but it didn't really mean anything to me. Later on I learned that she was a famous English cellist who died fairly young of MS. It wasn't until I saw the film Hilary & Jackie (which was du Pré's story told from the perspective of her older sister, Jackie, who was a very talented but unsung flutist, and who failed to achieve any real recognition because of her sister's immense and shining talent), that my interest in her life and work was piqued.

Du Pré was particularly famous for her interpretation of the Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor; her interpretation of that work has been described as "definitive" and "legendary". Born on January 26, 1945, she made her formal debut in London's Wigmore Hall in 1961 at the age of 16.

Jacqueline du Pré met pianist Daniel Barenboim on New Year's Eve 1966. Shortly after the Six-Day War ended, she cancelled all her existing engagements (to the enormous annoyance of promoters), and they flew to Jerusalem. She converted to Judaism overnight, and they were married on 15 June 1967 at the Western Wall.

Du Pré’s sister Hilary married conductor Christopher "Kiffer" Finzi, and they had four children. Jacqueline had an affair with Finzi from 1971 to 1972. According to Hilary and her brother Piers in their book A Genius in the Family, which was made into the film Hilary and Jackie, the affair was conducted with Hilary's consent as a way of helping Jacqueline through a nervous breakdown. In 1999, Clare Finzi, the daughter of Kiffer and Hilary, publicly criticized her mother's account and laid out a different version of events. She said her father was a serial adulterer who had seduced her emotionally vulnerable aunt in a time of great need in order to gratify his own ego.

In 1971 du Pré’s playing began an irreversible decline as she started to lose sensitivity in her fingers and other parts of her body. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in October 1973.

She recorded her last studio album of sonatas by Chopin and Franck in December 1971. She went on sabbatical from 1971 to 1972, during which time she performed rarely. In 1973 du Pré resumed her concerts, but by then her symptoms had become severe. In January she toured North America. Some of the less-than-complimentary reviews were an indication that her condition had worsened, although there were brief moments when she played without noticeable problems. Her last London concerts were in February 1973, performing the Elgar Concerto with Zubin Mehta and the New Philharmonia Orchestra.

Her last public concerts were in New York in February 1973: four performances of the Brahms Double Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman, and Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic were scheduled. Du Pré recalled that she had problems judging the weight of the bow, and just opening the cello case had become difficult. As she had lost sensation in her fingers, she had to coordinate her fingering visually. She performed three of the concerts and cancelled the last. Isaac Stern stepped in for her, performing Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.

Information: Wikipedia

Du Pré died in London on 19 October 1987, aged 42. She is buried in Golders Green Jewish Cemetery.

The following is a performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto with her husband Daniel Barenboim, conducting.


Made in America: Deep River

>> Monday, November 15, 2010

Deep River is without a doubt, my very favorite spiritual and this version sung by baritone Bryn Terfel is about as close to perfection as it gets.


A "Random Act of Culture" in Philadelphia

>> Monday, November 8, 2010

Calling it a "random act of culture", 650 members of the Philadelphia Opera Chorus in "flash mob" fashion suddenly broke out into the "Hallelujah Chorus" on Saturday, October 30, 2010 in a crowded Macy's department store in downtown Philly. Just look at the people's faces!


Happy 67th Birthday, Joni Mitchell. You're more beautiful than ever.

>> Sunday, November 7, 2010

This isn't classical music, but it is most certainly a classic, and this 2000 live performance reveals a depth and maturity that Joni didn't have back in the late 60s and 70s when she first sang it. You do know life now, Joni, and you're all the more beautiful for it. Thanks for all you've meant to us.


Forget the Pig; this is just glorious music!

>> Saturday, November 6, 2010

Yeah, yeah, I know, whenever you hear the main theme of this movement you automatically think of the movie, Babe. But now it's time for you to get over the pig and just listen. Listen to the majestic, glorious sound of this magnificent Maestoso Finale of Camille Saint Saens' Symphony No. 3 in C minor. Picture the orchestra and the organ, and Saint Saens conducting it himself in London's St. James Hall in May of 1886. Close your eyes and put yourself there in the audience. You're one of the very first people on earth to hear it. Let the sound take you in, envelope you. Revel in it.

This is far from pig music.

The Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, was completed by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1886 at what was probably the artistic zenith of his career. It is also popularly known as the "Organ Symphony", even though it is not a true symphony for organ, but simply an orchestral symphony where two sections out of four use the pipe organ. The French title of the work is more accurate: Symphonie No. 3 "avec orgue" (with organ).

Of composing the work Saint-Saëns said "I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again." The composer seemed to know it would be his last attempt at the symphonic form, and he wrote the work almost as a type of "history" of his own career: virtuoso piano passages, brilliant orchestral writing characteristic of the Romantic period, and the sound of a cathedral-sized pipe organ. The work was dedicated to the memory of Saint-Saëns's friend Franz Liszt, who died that year, on July 31, 1886.

This symphony was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society in England, and the first performance was given in London on 19 May 1886, at St James's Hall, conducted by the composer. He also conducted the French premiere in January 1887.

Information: Wikipedia


Made in America: Shenandoah

>> Monday, November 1, 2010

There is absolutely nothing about this that isn't gorgeous! And Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel sings this tender American classic so sweetly it's difficult not to shed a tear or two.


The Best of the 31 Days of Halloween Series: Commendatore Scene from Don Giovanni

>> Saturday, October 30, 2010

Now what kind of a Mozart lover would I be if I failed to include the Commendatore Scene from Don Giovanni in a Halloween series? After all, this has been described as one of the most terrifying scenes in opera, and in Mozart's day was considered so dark and disturbing that Mozart and Da Ponte were forced to write an additional "happy ending" finale for the Viennese audience to soften it for them.

This clip features the legendary Sir Thomas Allen as the wayward Don Giovanni, baritone Stafford Dean as his side-kick Leporello, and bass Gwynne Howell as Il Commendatore's ghost, from a 1988 Royal Opera House production with Sir Colin Davis conducting.


The Best of The 31 Days of Halloween Series: Karl Jenkins Requiem: Dies Irae

>> Friday, October 29, 2010

Released in 2005, Requiem is an album by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. In this work, Jenkins interjects movements featuring Japanese death poems in the form of a haiku with those traditionally encountered in a Requiem Mass. At times, the Latin text is sung below the text of the haiku.

A far cry from the Verdi Dies Irae that I featured a few days ago, the Jenkins Dies Irae uses a driving, repetitive beat and a choral chant to create an unsettling mood and sinister feel, and combined with the deviant art chosen for this particular presentation, it really sets the listener on edge.


The Best of the 31 Days of Halloween Series: Der Erlkönig by Franz Schubert

>> Thursday, October 28, 2010

As a freshman music student I was first introduced to Franz Schubert's Lied (German for "song"), Der Erlkönig (The Elf King), in my freshman music appreciation class. It was presented to us as one of the finest examples of the German art song ever composed, and among Schubert's vast collection of Lieder, it is considered by most, his greatest.

From Wikipedia:

Franz Schubert composed his Lied, "Der Erlkönig", for solo voice and piano in 1815, setting text from the Goethe poem. Schubert revised the song three times before publishing his fourth version in 1821 as his Opus 1; it was cataloged by Otto Erich Deutsch as D. 328 in his 1951 catalog of Schubert's works. The song was first performed in concert on December 1, 1820, at a private gathering in Vienna, and received its public premiere on March 7, 1821, at Vienna's Theater am Kärntnertor.

The four characters in the song — narrator, father, son, and the Erlking — are usually all sung by a single vocalist; occasionally, however, the work is performed by four individual vocalists (or three, with one taking the parts of both the narrator and the Erlking). Schubert placed each character largely in a different vocal range, and each has his own rhythmic nuances; in addition, most singers endeavor to use a different vocal coloration for each part.

The Narrator lies in the middle range and is in minor mode.
The Father lies in the low range and sings both in minor mode and major mode.
The Son lies in a high range, also in minor mode, representing the fright of the child.
The Erlking's vocal line undulates up and down to arpeggiated accompaniment resulting in striking contrast and is in the major mode. The Erlking lines are typically sung pianissimo.
A fifth character, the horse, is implied in rapid triplet figures played by the pianist throughout the work, mimicking hoof beats.


Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He has the boy well in his arm
He holds him safely, he keeps him warm.

"My son, why do you hide your face so anxiously?"
"Father, do you not see the Erl king?
The Erl king with crown and tail?"
"My son, it's a wisp of fog."

"You lovely child, come, go with me!
Many a beautiful game I'll play with you;
Many colourful flowers are on the shore,
My mother has many golden robes."

"My father, my father, and don't you hear
What Erl king is quietly promising me?"
"Be calm, stay calm, my child;
The wind is rustling through withered leaves."

"Do you want to come with me, dear boy?
My daughters shall wait on you fine;
My daughters will lead the nightly dance,
And rock and dance and sing you to sleep."

"My father, my father, and don't you see there
Erl king's daughters in the gloomy place?"
"My son, my son, I see it clearly:
The old willows they shimmer so grey."

"I love you, your beautiful form entices me;
And if you're not willing, I shall use force."
"My father, my father, he's grabbing me now!
Erl king has done me some harm!"

The father shudders; he swiftly rides on,
He holds the moaning child in his arms,
is hardly able to reach his farm;
In his arms, the child was dead.

I have recently been introduced to a new baritone (actually, he's not new, only new to me), who in my humble opinion rivals the great German baritone, Fisher Dieskau. Romanian baritone, Dan Iordachescu, was in his prime at the same time as Dieskau, but because of the political situation in Romania at the time, his opportunities for world recognition were extremely limited. Through the miracle of Facebook, I have recently met one of his lovely daughters, Cristina, who is quite a singer in her own right and when she first sent me this YouTube video of her father singing Der Erlkönig, I was simply blown away.


The Best of the 31 Days of Halloween Series: Pavane by Gabriel Fauré

>> Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Using the key of F-Sharp Minor (considered to be the saddest and most emotional key in Western harmony), the late 19th century French composer, Gabriel Fauré, evokes a hauntingly pensive and mournful feel to his Pavane, which is actually a type of dance. Combined with the sensual Neo-Gothic images of the stones and crypts at the cemetery in Staglieno, Italy, this particular presentation is among the most disturbing, yet hauntingly beautiful performances I've ever experienced.


The Best of the 31 Days of Halloween Series: The Black Riders from The Lord of the Rings

>> Monday, October 25, 2010

I remember back to the days when I was a teenager and I read J.R.R. Tolkien's Ring Trilogy. His description of the Ringwraiths or Black Riders was terrifying enough, but many years later when I saw the film, they nearly gave me nightmares. I'm sure much of the credit for the frightening effects goes to Howard Shore for his amazing score.


Opera 101 for those who think they hate opera

>> Sunday, October 24, 2010

How many times have I heard someone say to me, “Oh you’re an opera singer? No offense, but I can’t stand opera.” My standard reply is always, “Oh really? Well have you ever been to an opera?” Invariably the reply will be “no” they haven’t ever actually seen one, but they just know from some of the clips and parodies that they’ve seen on television that they wouldn’t like it. Yes, the good old Loonie Toons Bugs Bunny-does-opera cartoon parodies, although hilariously pointed and funny (and some of my very favorites), didn’t do opera’s reputation any favors with the general public, and in the era where America’s Got Talent winners get all the breaks and pop music celebrities rule, respect and popularity for classical music and musicians is down to zilch. That was all too apparent when only a few weeks ago we lost one of opera and classical music’s greatest, the Australian soprano, Dame Joan Sutherland. When I posted news of the 94-year-old Sutherland’s death at her home in Switzerland on my Facebook profile, the response was limited to a few of my friends with whom I had gone to college or graduate school in music. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Sutherland was practically a household name in the United States, and one of the Metropolitan Opera’s brightest stars, but very few today even know her name, much less who she was or that she was one of the finest Verdi sopranos opera has ever known.

So you think you hate opera, but you’ve never even seen one. So just how do you know you hate opera? (This is a variation on the same annoying question that my mother always used to ask me whenever I was challenged to try a new vegetable.) Well, just like the popular music you listen to on the radio today, there are a variety of different kinds of opera, and if you like music and singing, then there is probably an opera out there that you would enjoy. For instance, did you know that what we term “musicals” like Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar are really opera? No kidding--they’re rock operas. And then there are the different light, comic operas of the late 18th century, (that are really hilarious), the best and most popular by Mozart including The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan Tutte, and The Magic Flute. And I would be remiss not to include the light operas or operettas, some of the best being by the late 19th century English team of Gilbert & Sullivan including The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, and the always-popular The Mikado. (It’s interesting to note here that in the early 1980s, Broadway did a successful revival of The Pirates of Penzance starring none other than the then wildly popular pop music singer, Linda Ronstadt as Mabel and Kevin Kline as The Pirate King.)

For your first opera I would highly recommend seeing a production of any of the ones I have mentioned in the above paragraph. And if you have a local college or university that is producing one of these shows, those performances are most generally high quality, and the ticket prices much lower. Plus, you get the added benefit of supporting your local college or university’s music department. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with going to see an opera that would normally be sung in another language, performed in English. If you like it, and decide that you want to see another, then perhaps later on you’ll be more ready for one say, in Italian or German. And now, English subtitles are always flashed on a screen above the stage, making it easier for the audience to keep up with the story without having to have their heads buried in the translations in the program.

Before you go, educate yourself about the opera. Learn about the plot, the characters, the composer, and the history behind the opera. The best and easiest place to do this is to look it up in Wikipedia. They have a page for the most popular to the most obscure operas that include history, characters, plots, and even a list of the most popular arias and pieces contained within each. After doing just a little homework, when you get there you won’t have to concentrate so hard on keeping up with the plot and the characters, and you can just sit back and enjoy the show.

There are some operas, or rather operas by certain composers that probably should be avoided if you’re a first-timer. Heavy, long, dramatic operas by late Romantic era composers such as Richard Wagner or Richard Strauss should probably wait until one’s taste and palate for opera has been more developed. And anything by the mid to late 20th century composers where the music and stories are a bit avant-garde might be a bit much as well. I would also wait on operas by Puccini and Verdi, although Puccini’s operas like La Boheme or Madame Butterfly might make a nice transition from the lighter operas and operettas into the heavier Italian operas by Verdi.

So if you think you hate opera, but you’ve never actually seen an opera, I challenge you to go see one. If you’ll keep to the suggestions above, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and it won’t be too long before we’ll have you hooked!

Update: 11/19/10  This is now a featured article on Betterfly!


World Class Tenor, Arnold Rawls, in Recital

World Class Tenor, Arnold Rawls, will be in recital at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, October 26th, at 7:30. He will be singing selections from Verdi & Puccini.

"When tenor Andrew Richards cancelled due to indisposition, Arnold Rawls (who was scheduled for three performances) took over the role of the Egyptian warrior Radames for the entire run. Rawls possesses a firm, pliant lyric tenor with ringing high notes that easily dominated the ensembles. His Celeste Aida was distinguished by sweetness of timbre and emotional fervor." (There is a long history of lyric tenors singing this role - Bergonzi, Gigli, Bjoerling. Rawls follows that tradition.)
- Entertainment News & Views

Arnold and I were dear friends & classmates at OBU, and I'm proud to announce this event. I'll also be presenting a signed copy of my book So Faithful a Heart: The Love Story of Nancy Storace & Wolfgang Mozart to Arnold, who has graciously offered me a space at his CD sales table to take orders for my book.


The Best of The 31 Days of Halloween Series: Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem

>> Saturday, October 16, 2010

Who can deny that the Day of Wrath is upon us when one hears the sounds of thundering tympani, blaring trumpets and a massive wall of choral sound raining down in angry, terrifying torrents?

The following is from Wikipedia regarding the creation of Verdi's Requiem:

When Gioachino Rossini died in 1868, Verdi suggested that a number of Italian composers should collaborate on a Requiem in Rossini's honor, and began the effort by submitting the conclusion, Libera me. During the next year a Messa per Rossini was compiled by 13 composers, famous at the time, of whom the only one well known today is Verdi himself. The premiere was scheduled for 13 November 1869, the first anniversary of Rossini's death.

However, on 4 November, nine days before the premiere, the organising committee abandoned it. Verdi blamed the scheduled conductor, Angelo Mariani, for this. He pointed to Mariani's lack of enthusiasm for the project, even though he had been part of the organising committee from the start, and it marked the beginning of the end of their long-term friendship. Verdi never forgave Mariani, although Mariani pleaded with him.[citation needed] The piece fell into oblivion until 1988, when Helmuth Rilling premiered the complete Messa per Rossini in Stuttgart.
In the meantime, Verdi kept toying with his Libera me, frustrated that the combined commemoration of Rossini's life would not be performed in his lifetime.

In May 1873, the Italian writer and humanist Alessandro Manzoni, whom Verdi had admired all his adult life and met in 1868, died. Upon hearing of his death, Verdi resolved to complete a Requiem—this time entirely of his own writing—for Manzoni. Verdi travelled to Paris in June, where he commenced work on the Requiem, giving it the form we know today. It included a revised version of the Libera me originally composed for Rossini.


Absence makes the heart grow fonder

>> Sunday, October 10, 2010

It has been brought to my attention that I have been missed. It actually feels good to know that. It often gets lonely in the blogosphere, especially when the comments aren't coming in and you're not sure that people are even reading (or in this case, listening). To be quite honest, I have been otherwise occupied with the marketing of my book and with the blog that accompanies it. It's a lot of work maintaining a blog, especially one of this nature. Much time, thought, and research goes into each and every post, and now that I am concentrating so heavily on my book (I actually think that the marketing aspect is much harder and more time-consuming than the research and writing of it!), I have little or no energy left to contribute anywhere else. In addition to the above, I was taken quite ill in early May with an acute gallbladder attack that very nearly robbed me of my life. I wasn't even aware that I had gallbladder disease, but I ended up in the hospital with a badly infected gallbladder and a liver that was near shutdown. I had emergency surgery and my recovery has been full and swift, but I was robbed of several weeks of energy and concentration as a result of the entire ordeal. After that, I fell out of the habit and when my energy returned, I had to devote it to my book. However, since it has been expressed that my absence is being felt, I will see if I can work in some time to post something at least once a week. That's a reasonable place to start, I think.

That being said, I have nothing prepared for this particular post, and since I've spent the past couple of weeks working on the new video trailer for my book, I'll share that with you.


Resurrection Sunday: I know that my Redeemer liveth from Messiah

>> Sunday, April 4, 2010

I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth!


Palm Sunday: Chorus, "Lift up your heads" from Messiah

>> Sunday, March 28, 2010

On Palm Sunday, in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as many Anglican and Lutheran churches, palm fronds (or in colder climates some kind of substitutes) are blessed with an aspergilium outside the church building (or in cold climates in the narthex when Easter falls early in the year). A procession also takes place. It may include the normal liturgical procession of clergy and acolytes, the parish choir, the children of the parish or indeed the entire congregation as in the churches of the East. In Oriental Orthodox churches palm fronds are distributed at the front of the church at the sanctuary steps, in India the sanctuary itself having been strewn with marigolds, and the congregation processes through and outside the church. In many Protestant churches, children are given palms, and then walk in procession around the inside of the church while the adults remain seated.
The palms are saved in many churches to be burned the following year as the source of ashes used in Ash Wednesday services. The Roman Catholic Church considers the palms to be sacramentals. The vestments for the day are deep scarlet red, the color of blood, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering the city who welcomed him to fulfill- his Passion and Resurrection in Jerusalem.


Music for the Lenten Season: Pergolesi's Stabat Mater Dolorosa

>> Friday, March 26, 2010

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (4 January 1710 – 16 or 17 March 1736) was an Italian composerviolinist and organist. It is his Stabat Mater (1736), however, for male soprano, male alto, and orchestra, which is his best known sacred work. It was commissioned by the Confraternità dei Cavalieri di San Luigi di Palazzo (the monks of the brotherhood of San Luigi di Palazzo) as a replacement for the rather old-fashioned one by Alessandro Scarlatti for identical forces which had been performed each Good Friday in Naples. Whilst classical in scope, the opening section of the setting demonstrates Pergolesi's mastery of the Italian baroque 'durezze e ligature' style, characterized by numerous suspensions over a faster, conjunct bassline. The work remained popular, becoming the most frequently printed work of the 18th century, and being arranged by a number of other composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, who used it as the basis for his psalm Tilge, Höchster, meine SündenBWV 1083.  Information: Wikipedia

1. Manuscrit d'Ostuni (Plain chant).

Stabat mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem lacrimosa,
Dum pendebat Filius.

2. Stabat Mater dolorosa.

Stabat mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem lacrimosa,
Dum pendebat Filius.

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.

Patrizia Bovi (Soprano).
Pino de Vittorio (Tenor).
Bernard Arrieta (Basse).

Dir. Olivier Schneebeli.


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