January 9, 2011

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Adoration of the Magi, Spedale degli Innocenti, Florence, 1488
A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord [NRSV, Isaiah 60:6].

Christ Church Cathedral Choir Notes 

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Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Very Revd J. Paul Kennington will be inducted as Rector of Christ Church Cathedral and installed as Dean of Montreal this coming Sunday, January 9, at 4:00pm.  Music for the Choral Eucharist and ceremony will be by Patrick Wedd and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Ralph Vaughan Williams:

Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn-tunes performed by Christopher Allsop and Andrew Lamb [listen]

The Song of the Tree of Life performances by the Choir of Canterbury Cathedral and the Choir of Ely Cathedral  [text/listen]

Five Mystical Songs performed by Thomas Allen, baritone; BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symhony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin conducting.[text/listen]

Taste and See performed by Ivan Sharpe, boy soprano; James Lancelot, organ; Winchester Cathedral Choir; Martin Neary conducting.[text/listen]


Bethlehem Down by Peter Warlock is the communion  motet for this coming Sunday, Christ Church Cathedral's celebration of Epiphany at 10:00 am.  The motet was also part of this year's BBC programme of Carols from King's College, Cambridge, uploaded onto YouTube

2010 BBC Programme of Carols from King's College, Cambridge

Once in Royal David's City.
The words by Mrs C F Alexander come from a set of 'Hymns for Little Children' (1824).
The tune 'Irby' was written as a Christmas carol by Henry John Gauntlett and published in 1849. Gauntlett became organist at the age of 10 in the church where his father was the vicar, but went on to work as a lawyer for 15 years before becoming a professional musician who wrote over 1,000 hymn tunes.
The descant is by Stephen Cleobury.

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

He came down to earth from Heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

For He is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love,
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in Heav’n above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in Heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.

A Tender Shoot
Music by Otto Goldschmidt (1829-1907). This German composer was a pupil of Mendelssohn and moved to London in 1858 where he became organist of two churches in Wimbledon and founded the London Bach Choir with whom he conducted the first complete performance in English of Bach's B minor Mass.

A tender shoot has started up from a root of grace, as ancient seers imparted from Jesse's holy race; It blooms without a blight, blooms in the cold bleak winter turning our darkness into light. This shoot, Isaiah taught us, from Jesse's root should spring; the Vrigin Mary brought us the branch of which we sing: our God of endless might gave her this child to save us, thus turning darkness into light. 

Words: Otto Goldschidt, trans. W Bartholomew.

This is the Truth Sent from Above

This is a traditional carol from Herefordshire, collected and arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and published in 1919. As is very common, only the first five verses are performed here.

This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love:
Therefore don’t turn me from your door,
But hearken all, both rich and poor.

The first thing which I do relate
Is that God did man create,
The next thing which to you I’ll tell,
Woman was made with man to dwell.

Then, after this, ’twas God’s own choice
To place them both in Paradise,
There to remain, from evil free,
Except they ate of such a tree.

And they did eat, which was a sin,
And thus their ruin did begin.
Ruined themselves, both you and me,
And all of their posterity.

Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose,
And so a promise soon did run,
That he would redeem us by his Son.

And at this season of the year
Our blest Redeemer did appear,
And here did live, and here did preach,
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:

"Go preach the Gospel," now he said,
"To all the nations that are made!
And he that does believe on me,
From all his sins I'll set him free."

O seek! O seek of God above
That saving faith that works by love!
And, if he's pleased to grant thee this,
Thou'rt sure to have eternal bliss.

God grant to all within this place
True saving faith, that special grace
Which to his people doth belong:
And thus I close my Christmas song.

Sussex Carol

A traditional carol from Sussex, also collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The sparkling arrangement is by Philip Ledger, Stephen Cleobury's predecessor as Director of Music of King's College Chapel.

On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King's birth.

Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad,
When from our sin he set us free,
All for to gain our liberty?

When sin departs before His grace,
Then life and health come in its place.
Angels and men with joy may sing
All for to see the new-born King

All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night:
"Glory to God and peace to men,
Now and for evermore, Amen!"

The Holly and the Ivy

The words are a traditional English carol collected in Gloucestershire by Cecil Sharp and published in 1911.
The tune comes from France, and is arranged here by June Nixon, one of Australia's best known organists, choir trainers and composers. Dr Nixon has been Organist and Director of Music at St Paul's Cathedral Melbourne since 1973

The holly and the ivy,
Now both are full well grown.
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

Oh, the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer.
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the quire.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Savior. Chorus

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good. Chorus

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn. Chorus

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all. Chorus

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. Chorus

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir. Chorus

In dulci jubilo

Music: Probably 14th century. This arrangement dates from 1834 and is by the English composer R L de Pearsall (1795-1856), who was originally a lawyer, but moved to a Germany in 1825 and devoted himself to music thereafter. 
Words: from 14th century when they are said to have been taught to a German mystic by angels. Verse 3 was added in the 16th century.
This is a 'macaronic' carol, which means it's in more than one language. The meanings of the Latin phrases are below:
In dulci jubilo: With sweet jubilation
In praesepio: In a manger
Matris in gremio: In your mother's lap
Alpha es et O: You are Alpha and Omega (the beginning and the end)
O Jesu parvule: O baby Jesus
O puer optime: O best of boys
O princeps gloriae: O prince of glory
Trahe me post te: Take me after you
O Patris caritas: O love of the Father
O nati lenitas: O mercy of the Son
Per nostra criminal: For our sins
Coelorum gaudia: The joys of heaven
Ubi sunt gaudia: Where there are joys
Nova cantica: New songs
In Regis curia: In the courts of the King

In dulci jubilo 
Let us our homage show 
Our heart's joy reclineth 
In praesepio 
And like a bright star shineth 
Matris in gremio, 
Alpha es et O!
O Jesu parvule, 
My heart is sore for Thee 
Hear me, I beseech Thee 
O puer optime 
My praying let it reach Thee! 
O princeps gloriae. 
Trahe me post te.
O patris caritas! 
O Nati lenitas! 
Deeply were we stained 
Per nostra crimina 
But Thou for us hast gained 
Coelorum gaudia, 
Qualis gloria!
Ubi sunt gaudia, 
If that they be not there? 
There are Angels singing
Nova cantica; 
And there the bells are ringing
In Regis curia. 
O that we were there! 

Winter's Wait

This is a new carol for 2010 written during the wintry weather in January 2010. The words are by Robert Tear, a former King's College Choral Scholar, and for many years one of British music's most distinguished tenors. Robert Tear is an Honorary Fellow of King's College, Cambridge.
Music by the British composer James Whitbourn, who has a long association with King's College Choir. Whitbourn studied music at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was a choral scholar before starting his career as producer, composer and conductor. Whitbourn and Tear are regular collaborators.

Away in a Manger

Both words and music come from the USA. The origin of the words is uncertain: verses 1 and 2 were published in 1885, and verse 3 in 1892.
The music by the American hymn writer William L Kirkpatrick appeared in 1895. This arrangement is by Stephen Cleobury.

 Away in a manger,
no crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus
lay down his sweet head.

The stars in the sky
looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus,
asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing,
the poor Baby wakes,
But little Lord Jesus,
no crying He makes;

I love Thee, Lord Jesus,
look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle
till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay,
Close by me forever,
and love me, I pray!

Bless all the dear children
in Thy tender care
And take us to heaven,
to Live with Thee there. 

Ding! Dong! Merrily on High

The words by G R Woodward (1848-1934) are from the 20th century, while the tune is a 16th century French dance. The carol first appeared in 1924.
The highly entertaining arrangement is by Dr Mack Wilberg, Director of Music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Ding Dong! merrily on high
In heav'n the bells are ringing
Ding, dong! verily the sky
Is riv'n with angel singing
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis

E'en so here below, below
Let steeple bells be swungen
And i-o, i-o, i-o
By priest and people be sungen
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis

Pray ye dutifully prime
Your matin chime, ye ringers
May ye beautifully rime
Your evetime song, ye singers
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis.

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

This is a traditional hymn / carol from the West Country of England, set to a traditional English tune. The arrangement is by Sir David Willcocks, a previous director of King's College choir.

God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ, our Saviour,
Was born upon this day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy!

In Bethlehem in Jewry
This blessed Babe was born,
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn;
The which his mother Mary
Nothing did take in scorn. Refrain

From God our heavenly Father
A blessed angel came,
And unto certain shepherds
Brought tidings of the same,
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by name. Refrain

'Fear not,' then said the angel,
'Let nothing you affright;
This day is born a Saviour
Of virtue, power and might,
So frequently to vanquish all
The friends of Satan quite.' Refrain

The shepherds at these tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind,
And went to Bethlehem straightway
This blessed Babe to find. Refrain

But when to Bethlehem they came,
Whereat this Infant lay,
They found him in a manger
Where oxen fed on hay;
His mother Mary, kneeling,
Unto the Lord did pray. Refrain

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace.
The holy tide of Christmas
All others doth efface. Refrain

Maria Sitzt am Rosenhag

Words by Martin Boelitz.
Music by Max Reger (1873-1916), a German pianist, organist, teacher and composer. This piece comes from his Simple Melodies, opus 76.

Maria sitzt im Rosenhag Und wiegt ihr Jesuskind, Durch die Blätter leise Weht der warme Sommerwind. Zu ihren Füßen singt Ein buntes Vögelein: Schlaf, Kindlein, süße, Schlaf nun ein! Hold ist dein Lächeln, Holder deines Schlummers Lust, Leg dein müdes Köpfchen Fest an deiner Mutter Brust! Schlaf, Kindlein, süße, Schlaf nun ein! 

Mary sits in the rosegrove and rocks her child Jesus, softly through the leaves blows a warm summer wind. At her feet sings a colorful little bird: Sleep, child, my sweet, just go to sleep! Lovely is your smile, lovely is your joy in slumber, lay your tired little head against your mother's breast! Sleep, child, my sweet, just go to sleep! 

Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day

This English traditional carol was first published in 1833, but the text suggests it was written earlier. There are in fact 11 verses which relate the whole of Christ's story, but only a few are traditionally sung on Christmas Eve. The carol is written in the voice of Christ, and the "True Love" it refers to is may be the soul of each Christian, or, more generally, fallen humanity.
The arrangement is by Sir David Willcocks.

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day 
I would my true love did so chance 
To see the legend of my play 
To call my true love to my dance.

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love
My love, my love 
This have I done for my true love.

Then was I born of a virgin pure
Of her I took fleshly substance 
Thus was I knit to man's nature 
To call my true love to my dance.

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was 
So very poor, this was my chance 
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance.

Then afterwards baptized I was 
The Holy Ghost on me did glance 
My Father's voice heard from above 
To call my true love to my dance.

Into the desert I was led 
Where I fasted without substance 
The Devil bade me make stones my bread 
To have me break my true love's dance.

The Jews on me they made great suit 
And with me made great variance 
Because they loved darkness rather than light 
To call my true love to my dance.

For thirty pence Judas me sold 
His covetousness for to advance 
Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold 
The same is he, who shall lead the dance.

Before Pilate the Jews me brought 
Where Barabbas had deliverance 
They scourged me and set me at naught 
Judged me to die to lead the dance.

Then on the cross hanged I was 
Where a spear my heart did glance 
There issued forth both water and blood 
To call my true love to my dance.

Then down to hell I took my way 
For my true love's deliverance 
And rose again on the third day 
Up to my true love and the dance.

Then up to heaven I did ascend 
Where now I dwell in sure substance 
On the right hand of God, that man 
May come unto the general dance.

Coventry Carol

The words are taken from the 15th century pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors in the English midland city of Coventry.
Music by the English composer Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988), who taught music at the universities of Leeds, Edinburgh and Oxford.

Ancient Text:
Lully lulla, thow littell tine child,
By, by, lully lullay, thow littell tyne child,
By, by, lully lullay!
O sisters too, How may we do 
For 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.

Modern Version:
Lully lullay, thou little tiny child, 
By by lully lullay.
Oh sisters too, how may we do 
For to preserve this day 
This 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.

I Saw Three Ships

Words and music are both English traditional. 
The very lively arrangement is by the distinguished British organist and conductor Simon Preston, who was organ scholar at King's. He went on to take charge of the music at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and in between 1981 and 1987 he was Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey.

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day?
And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas day in the morning?

Our Savior Christ and His lady,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Our Savior Christ and His lady,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Pray whither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day?
Pray whither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas day in the morning?

O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the angels in Heav’n shall sing,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the angels in Heav’n shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the souls on Earth shall sing,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the souls on Earth shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Then let us all rejoice amain,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Then let us rejoice amain,
On Christmas day in the morning.

The First "Nowell"

The words and music both come from the English West Country. This arrangement is by Sir David Willcocks.
Although the BBC receives complaints about misspelling 'Nowell', this is in fact the correct spelling of the English version of the French Noël. The word is either a general Christmas expression of joy, or more technically, a non-liturgical popular verse song.

The first Nowell the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay akeeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far,
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night. (Refrain)

And by the light of that same star,
Three wise came from country far;
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went. (Refrain)

This star drew nigh to the northwest;
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay. (Refrain)

Then entered in those wise men three,
Full reverently upon the knee,
And offered there, in His presence,
Their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense. (Refrain)

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made Heaven and earth of naught,
And with His blood our life hath bought. (Refrain)

Illuminare Jerusalem

This carol with words from the 15th century was written in 1986 for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College by the British composer Judith Weir, who is herself an alumna of the college.

Illuminare Jerusalem,
quia venit lux tua,
et gloria Domini super te orta est.

Et ambulabunt gentes in lumine tuo,
et reges in splendore ortus tui,
et gloria Domini super te orta est.

Shine, Jerusalem,
for your light is come,
and the glory of the Lord is risen over you.

And nations will walk in your light,
and kings in the splendor of your rising,
and the glory of the Lord is risen over you.

Bethlehem Down

Bethlehem Down was written in 1927 by Bruce Blunt (1899-1957) (words) and Peter Warlock (1894-1930) (music). This piece won a newspaper carol competition.

"When He is King we will give Him the Kings' gifts, 
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown, 
Beautiful robes," said the young girl to Joseph, 
Fair with her firstborn on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight, 
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold, 
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music 
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When He is King, they will clothe Him in gravesheets, 
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown, 
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary 
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.

Here He has peace and a short while for dreaming, 
Close huddled oxen to keep Him from cold, 
Mary for love, and for lullaby music 
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

Lux Aurumque

This 21st century piece by the American composer Eric Whitacre was written for the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. The text by Edward Esch was translated into Latin by Charles Anthony Silvestri.

calida gravisque, pura velut aurum,
et canunt angeli molliter
modo natum.

warm and heavy as pure gold,
and the angels sing softly
to the newborn babe.

O Come All Ye Faithful

This is one of the best-known Christmas hymns ever written and probably dates from the 18th century. The words are often credited to John Francis Wade, who also wrote down the tune.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created;

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;

See how the shepherds, summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;
We too will thither bend our joyful footsteps;

Lo! star led chieftains, Magi, Christ adoring,
Offer Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
We to the Christ Child bring our hearts’ oblations.

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.


Fray Nicolás Borrás, The Adoration of the Magi, Private Collection, 1570s


Fra Filippo Lippi and Workshop, The Nativity, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., c. 1445

Online performances of Johann Sebastian Bach, Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, with versions conducted by Diego Fasolis / John Eliot Gardiner / Phillip Ledger /Kurt Thomas / Karl Münchinger) 

Cantata I for the 1st Day of Christmas 

Cantata II for the 2nd Day of Christmas 

Cantata III for the 3rd Day of Christmas 

Cantata IV for New Year's Day 

Cantata V for the Sunday after New Year 

Cantata VI for the Feast of Epiphany



Vittore Carpaccio, Flight into Egypt, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1500

Click to go to an online performance of Hector Berlioz, L'Enfance du Christ with Nicolai Gedda, Victoria de los Angeles, Ernest Blan, Roger Soyer, the René Duclos Choir, l'Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, André Cluytens conducting.

Click here to go to a second performance with Yves Saelens, Miyaghi Osada,  Olivier Lallouette, André Cognet, Gregory Reinhart, il Coro della Radio Televisione Svizzera Italiana (Diego Fasolis, chorus master); l'Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Serge Baudo conducting.