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)