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.


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