Music for the Christmas Season
|Once in Royal David's City*||XIVth century English||C. F. H. Alexander/David Willcocks|
|O Come, O Come, Emmanuel||XVIIIth century English||Charles Wesley|
|Lo! How a Rose E're Blooming||XXth century German||Hugo Distler|
|In the Bleak Midwinter||Traditional||Christina Rossetti/Harold Darke|
|Ding, Dong! Merrily on High||XVIth century French||David Willcocks|
|The Truth from Above||Traditional English||Ralph Vaughan Williams|
|Glory to God in the Highest||Italian||Giovanni Pergolesi|
|The Holly and the Ivy||Traditional English||Reginald Jacques|
|Sing We Now of Christmas||Traditional French||Fred Prentice|
|Good Christian Men, Rejoice||XIVth century German||Robert Cundick|
|Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree||Traditional American||Elizabeth Posten|
|Organ Interlude—xxxx||Douglas Bush|
|All Poor Men and Humble||Traditional Welsh||Douglas Bush|
|Hymn: Angels from the Realms of Glory||Traditional French||Reginald Jacques|
|Sussex Carol||Traditional English||Dale Wood|
|Infant Holy, Infant Lowly||Traditional Polish||Craig T. Kingsbury|
|Silent Night*||XIXth century Austrian||Franz Gruber|
* Carols marked with an asterisk are joined by the congregation.
In recent years, this number has been increasingly chosen as the choir's opening number. It has always been the opening and processional for Christmas at King's.
Cecil Frances Humpherys Alexander (1818-1895) captured the essence of important events in the Saviour's birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection for teaching these to children in her many poems and hymns including, here, Once in Royal David's City, but also All Things Bright and Beautiful, There Is a Green Hill Far Away and He Is Risen. Tonight's concert features the world-renown arrangement by Sir David Willcocks.
In the service on which our concert is loosely modeled, a young soprano is chosen by the choirmaster without prior arrangement and the boy sings the first verse solo. Then begins the procession of the choir into the King's College chapel.
Once in royal David's city For He is our childhood's pattern; Stood a lowly cattle shed, Day by day, like us He grew; Where a mother laid her baby He was little, weak and helpless, In a manger for His bed: Tears and smiles like us He knew; Mary was that mother mild, And He feeleth for our sadness, Jesus Christ her little child. And He shareth in our gladness. He came down to earth from heaven, And our eyes at last shall see Him, Who is God and Lord of all, Through His own redeeming love; And His shelter was a stable, For that Child so dear and gentle And His cradle was a stall; Is our Lord in heaven above, With the poor, and mean, and lowly, And He leads His children on Lived on earth our Savior Holy. To the place where He is gone. And through all His wondrous childhood Not in that poor lowly stable, He would honor and obey, With the oxen standing by, Love and watch the lowly Maiden, We shall see Him; but in heaven, In whose gentle arms He lay: Set at God's right hand on high; Christian children all must be When like stars His children crowned Mild, obedient, good as He. All in white shall wait around.
Robert Manookin made this arrangement for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It follows most English translations, but goes beyond most in the rich imagery the additions bring to the text. It is a very popular Advent hymn whose roots date well back reliably to the XIIth century (those original Latin verses inspiring the Manookin text are given on the right; an further verse appears in the appendix).
The text is based on the passage in Isaiah vii.14 that speaks of God giving Isræl a sign of His Coming. Matthew i.23 asserts the fulfillment of this prophecy in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
O come, O come, Emmanuel! Veni, veni Emmanuel, Remember captive Isræl Captivum solve Isræl Who into exile drear is gone Qui gemit in exilio Far from the face of God's dear Son. Privatus Dei Filio ! Rejoice, Emmanuel is come for thee, O Isræl! Gaude ! Emmanuel nascetur pro te, Isræl ! O come, thou branch of Jesse and draw The quarry from the lion's piercing claw, From dreaded caverns of the grave, From nether hell, Thy people save. Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Isræl! O come, O come, Thou Dayspring bright: Veni, veni, O Oriens, Pour on our souls Thy healing Light! Solare nos adveniens, Dispel the long night's ling'ring gloom Noctis depele nebulas And pierce the shadows of the tomb. Dirasque noctis tenebras. Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Isræl! Gaude ! Emmanuel nascetur pro te, Isræl ! O come, O come Thou Lord of David's key, Veni, Clavis Davidica ! The royal doors swing wide and free Regna reclude cælica; Where on the wings of angels' praise Fac iter tutum superum Our hallelujahs loud we raise: Et claude vias inferum. Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to the, O Isræl! Gaude ! Emmanuel nascetur pro te, Isræl ! Rejoice!
Hugo Distler was a remarkable German composer of the first half of the XXth century. He had deep religious roots at a time when religion was fast draining away from Teutonic society, and admired the music of Palestrina, da Vittoria and other Renaissance-era composers. His music is often melismatic—in which a single syllable is held over a range of several notes, a strongly liturgical style less practiced now than it once was.
Distler was at odds with the National Socialists, partly over his music which some Nazis labeled "degenerate" on account of his use of (Renaissance) polyphony, melisma and the pentatonic scale, and partly because he didn’t share an adequate enthusiasm for Germany's contemporary political agenda. Depressed by the death of friends, the incessant Allied bombing, job pressures and the ever-present risk of being conscripted into the Wehrmacht, on All Souls Day in 1942, Distler retired to his Berlin artist apartments and turned on the gas.
In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, his family received notice from the Army only a few days later that by reason of his service to Germany as a composer and artist, he would not be called up to serve in the armed forces. He was 34 years old.
(The original German verse is given at the right.)
Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen From tender stem hath sprung! Aus einer wurtzel Zart Of Jese's lineage coming, Wie uns die Alten sungen, As men of old have sung. Von Jesse kam die Art. It came a flow'ret bright, Und hat ein Blüm'lein 'bracht, Amid the cold of winter, Mitten im kalten Winter, When half spent was the night. Wohl zu der halben Nacht. Isaiah 'twas foretold it, Das Röslein, das ich meine, The Rose I have in mind, Davon Jesaiah sagt, With Mary we behold it, Hat uns gebracht alleine, The Virgin mother kind. Marie, die reine Magd. To show God's love aright, Aus Gottes ew'gem Rat, She bore to men a Savior, Hat sie ein Kind geboren When half spent was the night. Wohl zu der halben Nacht. This Flow'r, whose fragrance tender Das Blümelein, so kleine, With sweetness fills the air, Das duftet uns so süß; Dispels with glorious splendor Mit seinem hellen Scheine The darkness ev'rywhere. Vertreibt's dir Finsternis. True man yet very God; Wahr'r Mensch und wahrer Gott ! From sin and death He saves us, Hilft uns aus allem Leide, And lightens ev'ry load. Rettet von Süd' und Tod.
There are two popular settings of this poem by English poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). An early one (1906) was done by Gustave Holst (1874-1934). The choir has done it in past years. Holst conserves an additional verse whose text you'll find in the appendix to this program.
This year, we return to an arrangement our choir has often done over its 30-plus year history, the one by Harold Darke (1888-1976). He served as a substitute choir director during World War II for King's College and this arrangement then gained in popularity as that choir included it in its radio broadcasts over many years.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago. Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain; Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.
The actual origin of this carol is unknown, but dates at least back to XVIth century France. The English lyrics by George Ratcliffe Woodward are especially clever and richly onomatopoeic.
Ding dong merrily on high, In heav'n the bells are ringing! Ding dong! verily the sky Is riv'n with angel singing: (riven: "split open") Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis! E'en so here below, below, Let steeple bells be swungen (swungen: archaic) And "Io, io, io!" By priest and people sungen: (sungen: archaic) Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis! Pray you, dutifully prime Your matin chime, ye ringers. May you beautifully rime Your eventime song, ye singers: Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!
Ralph Vaughan Williams was a collector of English folk music and song which he used in his many works including symphonies, chamber and choral music as well as film scores. This piece is frequent among English choral repertories including that of the choir at King's.
This is the truth sent from above But they did eat, which was a sin, The truth of God, the God of love And so their ruin did begin, Therefore don't turn me from your door Ruined themselves, both you and me, But hearken will both rich and poor And all of their posterity. The first thing that I do relate Thus we were heirs to endless woes Is that God did man create Till God and Lord did interpose The next thing which to you I'll tell And so a promise soon did run Woman was made with man to dwell That He would redeem us by His Son And after that, 'twas God's own choice And at that season of the year To place them both in Paradise, Our blessed redeemer did appear There to remain of evil free He here did live and here did preach Except they ate of such a tree. And many thousands he did teach Thus He in love to us behaved To show us how we must be saved And if you want to know the way Be pleased to hear what He did say
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) wrote early comic opera, but also worshipful music such as this evening's Baroque piece.
Glory to God in the Highest! And on Earth, Peace! Good will toward Men!
This traditional English hymn has been around since the XVth century. It's full of stark, contrasting metaphors used to highlight the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Holly, with mistletoe, was prized by ancient druids who associated it with the winter solstice because of its great resistance to cold, not changing its green hue so easily. Its berries are a striking red color which stands in contrast to the green. Winter solstice to Christmas feast is a common pagan-to-Christian syncretic evolution.
The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown. Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer, The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir. The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower, And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet saviour The holly bears a berry as red as any blood, And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good. The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn, And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn. The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall, And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
The New Oxford Book of Carols asserts that this carol dates to the early 1500s when it was more a New Year's carol. English versions began appearing as early as the XVIIth century. The French text is Noël nouvelet, which simply means, "news of the nativity" as noël (birth) and nouvelet (new), therefore, "Sing out the news of the nativity."
Sing we now of Christmas, sing we all noel. Noël nouvelet, chantons noël ici : Of our Lord and Saviour we the tidings tell. Sing we noel, for Christ the King is born; Chantons noël pour le Roi nouvelet Sing we now of Christmas, sing we all noel. Noël nouvelet, noël chantons ici ! Angels from on high say, "Shepherds come and see." "He is born in Bethlehem, a Blessed Lamb for thee." Shepherds found the child lying in a manger full. Joseph standing by and mother Mary mild. Magi oriental journey from afar. They did come to greet Him 'neath the shining star. Glory to God for Christ the King is born. Sing we now of Christmas, sing we all noel.
The first publication of this text was in 1784 and its provenance is thought to be a poet of XVIIIth century New England. The imagery of Christ as a nourishing tree can hardly escape our comparison with the tree in Lehi's vision.
The tree of life my soul hath seen, Laden with fruit and always green: The trees of nature fruitless be Compared with Christ the apple tree. His beauty doth all things excel: By faith I know, but ne’er can tell, The glory which I now can see In Jesus Christ the apple tree. For happiness I long have sought, And pleasure dearly I have bought: I missed of all; but now I see 'Tis found in Christ the apple tree. I'm weary with my former toil, Here I will sit and rest a while: Under the shadow I will be, Of Jesus Christ the apple tree. This fruit doth make my soul to thrive, It keeps my dying faith alive: Which makes my soul in haste to be With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This is a carol based on a traditional Welsh tune whose text comes from Katharine Emily Roberts (1877-1962).
All poor men and humble, all lame men who stumble, Come haste ye, nor feel ye afraid. For Jesus, our treasure, with love past all measure, in lowly poor manger was laid. Though wise men who found him laid rich gifts around him, Yet oxen they gave him their hay. And Jesus in beauty accepted their duty; Contented in manger he lay. Then haste we to show him the praises we owe him; Our service he ne'er can despise: Whose love still is able to show us that stable Where softly in manger he lies.
In old England, mystery plays (about the mysteries of God) were done in towns much as we perform pageants today. In an era when Catholicism ill-tolerated vernacular Bible translations, these were one of the primary sources for the common people's knowledge of biblical stories.
This carol takes its name from the region of England (the country on the coast south of London) in which Ralph Vaughan Williams heard it sung and recorded it. He later used it in his Fantasia on Christmas Carols and it has become very popular.
On Christmas night all Christians sing When sin departs before His grace, To hear the news the angels bring. Then life and health come in its place. On Christmas night all Christians sing When sin departs before His grace, To hear the news the angels bring. Then life and health come in its place. News of great joy, news of great mirth, Angels and men with joy may sing News of our merciful King's birth. All for to see the new-born King. Then why should men on earth be so sad, All out of darkness we have light, Since our Redeemer made us glad? Which made the angels sing this night. Then why should men on earth be so sad, All out of darkness we have light, Since our Redeemer made us glad, Which made the angels sing this night: When from our sin he set us free, "Glory to God and peace to men, All for to gain our liberty? Now and for evermore, Amen!"
This carol is a translation from Polish by Edith M. G. Reed. It has received world-wide attention.
Infant holy, infant lowly, for his bed a cattle stall, Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the babe is Lord of all. Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing: Christ the babe is Lord of all. Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new, Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a gospel true. Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow: Christ the babe was born for you.
The choir and congregation end this evening as every year by singing the traditional Silent Night. Austrian priest, Josef Mohr, wrote the text to this carol in 1816 and, two years later, it was set to music by school teacher and organist, Franz Gruber, in an Austrian church whose organ was broken and replaced for the evening's service by Gruber's guitar. The original German lyrics are given here too.
Silent night, holy night! Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, All is calm, all is bright Alles schläft; einsam wacht Round yon Virgin Mother and Child, Nur das traute hochheilige Paar. Holy Infant so tender and mild: Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar, Sleep in heavenly peace. Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh! Silent night, holy night! Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Shepherds quake at the sight, Hirten erst kundgemacht Glories stream from heaven afar, Durch der Engel Halleluja, Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! Tönt es laut von fern und nah: Christ, the Saviour is born. Christ, der Retter ist da! Silent night, holy night! Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Son of God, love's pure light. Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht Radiant beams from Thy holy face Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund, With the dawn of redeeming grace, Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'. Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth! Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Veni, veni Adonai! Qui populo in Sinai, Legem dedisti vertice, In maiestate gloriae.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; But his mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.