Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas music

Current work: Medical Christmas Duo
Listening to: Christmas compilation

My guitar lessons this month have been fabulous because we’re doing arrangements of Christmas carols. Generally, this involves harmony and the fact that I need a lot more practice at being able to write down things from my head without resorting to playing the notes on the guitar to check the intervals. This week, we were talking about how early music was written, i.e. before staff notation and bar lines – all very interesting stuff, especially because in religious music the lyrics were more important than the melody. Apparently the belief was that a beautiful melody could distract from the words. There is a story that Mozart heard a piece of music at the Vatican that was ‘too beautiful’ to be written down – so that’s what he did when he got home. Note perfect. Eight minutes of it. After one hearing. Amazing.

Anyway… then it was time to choose this week’s carol. It seems that my taste in Christmas music is, um, weird. Jim ended up asking me a somewhat rhetorical question, exasperated and amused at the same time: ‘Why can’t you choose a well-known carol like anyone else?’

The short answer is because my taste in classical music and carols mirrors my taste in art. I like medieval and 19th century. (Actually, it’s slightly wider in music – but my big loves musically are Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart (who, had he not died so tragically young, would have written in the 19th century) and Haydn (who died in the 19th century). I rest my case.)

I probably shouldn’t be a bad puppy and soundtrack this book… but as I’ve just done a compilation for the car, I probably will. We’ve gone through the compilation and picked out our favourites (interesting that the kids like the Brat Pack stuff… I was after a jazz compilation this year but couldn’t find the one I was after), and I’ve added a couple of my own favourites.

My favourite carols are:

  • ‘The Angel Gabriel’ (translated by the Victorian academic and writer of ghost stories, Sabine Baring-Gould)
  • Gaudete (I like the version by the Mediaeval Baebes – it’s 16th century so strictly speaking it’s probably more Renaissance than late medieval)
  • Coventry Carol (15th century… except Madam objects hugely to this one and I need to talk her round a bit)
  • In the Bleak Midwinter (again, Victorian, written by Christina Rossetti; my favourite artworks are by her brother and his friends)

I also like something that was originally a Breton carol – ‘Mortal Flesh’. I have a version by Christian Forshaw (saxophone) and Aimée Green (soprano) and it’s incredibly haunting. Close your eyes and you can see people walking through a forest in the depths of winter, with the sun setting – oh, and they’re wearing medieval dress and they’re on some kind of quest. It would work brilliantly in several historical films. It’s the kind of music that gives you goosebumps.

As for life: yesterday was Christmas lunch at the Red Lion (beautifully presented and very scrummy). We exchanged gifts and I am incredibly fortunate that my friends know me well: choccies from my fave place (which I shared with DH so am not completely greedy) and crème brulee bubble bath… Happy sigh. And then I was a bit naughty and bought myself something for Christmas. Jazz. DH is not going to like this… but I like Diana Krall. And Ella Fitzgerald. And this is the time of year when a bit of food for the soul is very necessary for me. Thought about buying DK’s Christmas album, but decided against it as the last track would make me bawl.

Plan for today: Madam’s nativity at school. This will be her last one, as they don’t do it at junior school. Must take tissues. Lots of. Am hoping DH will be able to make it – otherwise I’m in charge of the camera. And then I’m coming home to work.

Edit: the nativity was fabulous. I think because I had to be camerawoman, it stopped me bawling. But my baby did so well – she sang beautifully and acted out the songs and I was just so PROUD of her.

Just checked on YouTube – I can’t find the versions I really wanted, but here are links to the following:

  • Mortal Flesh – this version is by Helma Sawatzky (beautiful voice – I may have to find her albums)
  • Gaudete – this one’s the Steeleye Span version (I do like Maddy Prior’s voice)
  • The Angel Gabriel
  • Coventry Carol - this is Aled Jones and it’s fabulous
  • In the Bleak Midwinter – well, it has to be Bert Jansch, doesn’t it? :o)



Amy Andrews said...

Will I sound like acomplete philistine if I say I've never heard of any of those carols?

Joy to the World is more my scene. My daughter has learnt Jingle Bell Rock (yes,I know its not a carol)on the piano so it's also nice hearing that being belted out.

Jan Jones said...

In the Bleak Midwinter is my favourite too.

And the descant bit in Noel, Noel

Oh, and Silent Night always gets me going.

Actually, anything this time of year is liable to have me warbling away to it!

Ray-Anne said...

Ah. Ella Fitzgerald. Jazz. Carols. There must be something in the air - just the sort of music I like.
One piece of trivia for you. As I mentioned on my blog, I was very fortunate to attend a Convent High School. We had plain chant EVERY DAY , even though there was a pipe organ in the church - and this was well after the RC Mass moved away from latin. I believe many RC religous orders still use plain chant as their daily service. When you have 120 all female- or all male- voices singing in cloister, it does create something so simple - but amazingly special. And yes, as you say, these beats came from a time without musical notation when the choir had to learn and pass on by rote.

Thanks for that -I feel suitable inspired. On the day that our central heating boiler is turned off so it can be repaired. :-(

Nell said...

I love the Coventry Carol too but my favorite is Good Christian men rejoice but you're only supposed to sing that on Christmas day so you don't hear it much. I noticed when I went to the carol service with the Salvation Army band that on the song sheet they'd altered it to Godd Christians all rejoice - political correctness??? bah humbug.

Anonymous said...

I must be a philistine too. I don't know them at all. The Frog Chorus is more my thing ( all together now, "dum, dum, dum, ai-ee-ai")

Enjoy Madam's last play. I'm directing my daughter's at the school and she plays the lead part of Babushka. It's amazing and totally tissue-worthy.

Oh, and PS, again many thanks for recent advice!


Kate Hardy said...

Amy - no, I'm just weird *g* - cool that your daughter has learned it on piano. I can pick out Rudolph with one hand (and Frosty) but can't quite manage the bass with them yet! (Hey - she can play it to us, the year after next...)

Jan - yep, you have to sing to music...

Ray-Anne - the plain chant at school sounds amazing.

Nell - I don't know that one so I'll have to go looking.

I found the piano/guitar version of all my faves (except Mortal Flesh) last night on at - good for chords and lyrics :o)

Bailey Stewart said...

In the Bleak Midwinter was my mother's favorite.

Kate Hardy said...

Nicolette - am really impressed - DIRECTING your daughter's play? Wow. (And any time on the advice.)

Bailey - hugs. My mum's was Silent Night. I have lovely memories of singing it with her in the car. And now I'm making new ones of singing Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph and A Spaceman Came Travelling with the kids.

Son and I are plotting a jam session. Son on violin, daughter on vocals, DH on guitar and me on piano. Yay. House band. (It's probably not going to come off because my piano playing isn't quite up to it and son will claim he can only do Jingle Bells, but we'll give it a go...

Kate Hardy said...

Nell - was looking in my Christmas sheet music and it's in there - I know the tune under a different name but the words are lovely. Thanks for the heads-up.