A Lesser-Known Christmas Carol . . .

By Charles Ives:

Ives rhythms (and the almost requisite accompaniment) make this a wee tad off for carolers going from door-to-door, but the music and lyrics are simply beautiful.

Ian Howell, Countertenor.
Douglas Dickson, Piano.

In the Bleak Midwinter

This isn’t the James Taylor rendition that convinced me CRANHAM could–just–work with the Christina Rossetti words, but it still has enough of the elements of the one that did to make it to this year’s posting:

It’s not CRANHAM (and I don’t know offhand just what the tune is), but Sarah McLachlan offers a really nice treatment:

It’s so very characteristic of McLachlan’s work that, especially since I cannot find any other notation even on her own website, I have to believe the tune could well be her own. Any reader who knows more about the tune, please chime in, mmK?

Both artists, of course, modify the words to suit their selected tunes, but not in ways that are disservice to the Rossetti text, even including McLachlan’s inexplicable–to me–alteration of “the” to “a” in the title and first and fourth lines.

The Rossetti text, of course, follows the Northern Hemispheric, European conceit of a “midwinter” birth of Christ–snow and all that–but that doesn’t detract from the words’ impact:

In the bleak midwinter
By Christina Rossetti

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.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

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.

Two of the WORST Christmas Songs

This may surprise you. Two of the worst Christmas songs are extremely well-written pieces, and the iconic performances of these songs are extremely well performed. They’re just darned good songs, but NOT as Christmas songs,
because they have nothing to do with anything that’s genuinely about Christmas. That makes them subversive and destructive of genuine Christmas observation.

Angel Carol

I really like this piece, but the only recordings I can find of it are just a wee tad too “bright”. The scores I have seen call for no more than 70bpm (2/2 time sig), and most take the piece at ~80bpm–or even faster. *meh* Personally, I’d prefer it a very wee bit slower than the tempo marking on the score. Just a very wee tad. *sigh* Oh, well, it’s still a nice piece.


The song sung in the video below can be found here: Weihnachslieder: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. The video includes an additional work, “Über die Geburt Jesu,” by Andreas Gryphius (11 October 1616 – 16 July 1664). The song sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the video (accompanied by Jörg Demus) is, “Es senkt sich hehr und leise die heil’ge Nacht herab” by Karl Heinrich Carsten Reinecke (1824-1910).

Über die Geburt Jesu
Andreas Gryphius

Nacht, mehr denn lichte Nacht! Nacht, lichter als der Tag,
Nacht, heller als die Sonn’, in der das Licht geboren,
Das Gott, der Licht; in Licht wohnhaftig, ihm erkoren:
O Nacht, die alle Nächt’ und Tage trotzen mag!
O freudenreiche Nacht, in welcher Ach und Klag
Und Finsternis, und was sich auf die Welt verschworen,
Und Furcht und Höllenangst und Schrecken war verloren!
Der Himmel bricht, doch fällt nunmehr kein Donnerschlag.
Der Zeit und Nächte schuf, ist diese Nacht ankommen
Und hat das Recht der Zeit und Fleisch an sich genommen
Und unser Fleisch und Zeit der Ewigkeit vermacht.
Der Jammer trübe Nacht, die schwarze Nacht der Sünden,
Des Grabes Dunkelheit muß durch die Nacht verschwinden.
Nacht, lichter als der Tag! Nacht, mehr denn lichte Nacht!

Karl Heinrich Carsten Reinecke

Es senkt sich hehr und leise die heil’ge Nacht herab,
die Nacht, die uns vor Zeiten der Welten Heiland gab;
und Orgelton und Glockenklang ertönen weit und breit
und bringen uns die Kunde: “Christ wurde uns geboren heut!”

Und Scharen sel’ger Kinder umstehn den Weihnachtsbaum,
der jetzt im Glanz der Kerzen verklärt manch schlichten Raum;
und in der Glocken Töne mischt Kindersang sich ein:
“Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehre und Frieden soll auf Erden sein!”

Music for Xmas 2013. . . and Notsomuch

Working, in a somewhat desultory fashion, on my 2013 Xmas Playlist and ran across “Michael Bublé Christmas”.

Michael Bublé Farts on Christmas

Completely unbiased *cough* comment (FAIR USE!) added to the album cover art. “Michael Bublé Christmas” is kinda like a thinner-voiced Bing/Sinatra-lite Xmas album, complete with mispronounced vowels, but without the heart one would expect from Bing or Old Blue Eyes. Standard selection of pop Xmas tunes, including the execrable and much to be disdained, “Santa Baby,” and inexplicably sprinkled with a couple of genuine Xmas songs (Silent Night, Ave Maria).

(Confession: no, I did not buy the album. What, ME buy a Michael Bublé album of pseudo-Xmas music? Get outa here! I “listened” to it on YouTube, for review. Michael Bublé performances on my Xmas playlist is simply not on. Thank you, no. If it HAD been any good, I would have bought it as I did with the album below. . . )

Josh Groban–Noel

OTOH, Josh Groban’s 2007 “Noel,” aside from a few little bobbles (“’round yon virgin –PAUSE, BREATHE– mother and child” in “Silent Night” *sigh* and a few inexplicable pure vowel and diphthong choices) is a real delight and well worth the price on Amazon ($6 mp3/$10 CD). Oh, heck, even the patented Groban melodic variations are pretty good. *heh* A few unobjectionable pop Xmas songs, but mostly real Xmas songs. Eh, besides, he has such a much, much better instrument and music sensibility to work with than Bublé. Did I say, “much”? No, more than that.

Added to this year’s playlist.