Scarlet Letters Christmas “Concert” 2015

Hello again readers. In case you were wondering, no, Scarlet Letters is not dead or closed! Though, for various reasons, I have not had much time or energy for posting and research these past few months. Rest assured, my Botkin series is still important to me (and, I think, important for current and potential readers) and I will continue it as I am able. But in the mean time, I wouldn’t want to skip wishing my readers a merry Christmas with the annual “concert” I’ve posted every year since this blog began, so let’s get started.

First is In the Bleak Midwinter…though not the familiar setting by Gustav Holst that you may know. (If you don’t, you can hear it here.) For full disclosure, I suppose I ought to admit that I am a big Holst partisan, and have been since I was about 5 years old (thank you, squeaky old cassette of The Planets!) I was, however, introduced to this other setting by Harold Darke this year, and it has grown on me a bit the more I’ve listened to it. So in the end, I suppose I enjoy both versions for different reasons. And yes, I know the weather in this particular carol may ring a bit hollow for any readers who may be listening in from Australia. ๐Ÿ™‚

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, heav’n cannot hold Him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heav’n 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,
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

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;
But what can I give Him –
Give my heart.

Next up is a little setting of In dulci jubilo (or Good Christian Men, Rejoice) by renowned French organist Marcel Dupre. I’ve often used this piece for service music around Christmastime. It’s an especially nice example of the voix celeste, a deliberately (slightly) out-of-tune stop meant to simulate the sound of strings.

On a darker note, here is a performance of Coventry Carol by the Raleigh Ringers (arrangement by Sandra Eithun). Coventry Carol, originally from a medieval English mystery play, is a lullaby for the children slaughtered by Herod, from their mothers’ perspective. Technically this is a bit early, as Holy Innocents’ Day isn’t until the 28th, but I like this arrangement (and Raleigh Ringers) so much that I simply had to include it.

Finally, I know I included The Holly and the Ivy last year, but 1) holly and ivy symbolism is one of my favorite Christmas carol themes, and 2) this recording by the 1970s British folk rock band Steeleye Span came to my attention this past year and I love it. It’s also a tune I’d never heard before; I still don’t know if it was composed by the band, or if it’s a traditional tune that I missed.

Enjoy, and merry Christmas all! ๐Ÿ™‚


2 comments on “Scarlet Letters Christmas “Concert” 2015

  1. tamtam says:

    It’s good to see you back. I look forward to reading more of your analysis of the batty Botkin sisters books

  2. fiddlrts says:

    Great stuff! I can fill in a few bits for you:

    1. Don’t forget that the lyrics to In the Bleak Midwinter are by Christina Rossetti. Since she is one of my favorite poets, I had to get a plug in for her.

    2. The “alternate” tune for The Holly and the Ivy is indeed an old folk tune – from Herefordshire in this case. The better known melody became popular after it was included in a 1911 carol book. I believe you could sing this one to any number of “round” tunes, and there are at least three that were used enough to warrant mention by folk tune sites.

    3. The basic idea behind the voix celeste is used in modern music too, using an effect called “chorus” and was particularly (though not exclusively) popular in the 80s. (Just about anything by The Police used it, for example. Or Prince’s Purple Rain.) The idea is the same: add a second (or more) voice slightly out of tune and out of phase with the main voice. I find it interesting that it seems to be more associated with strings than with other instruments, as nobody has completely perfect pitch or perfectly synchronized vibrato when playing in unison. I suppose it is just more obvious with a section of 8-12 unison voices. ๐Ÿ™‚

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