Christmas Day: Traditional Carols for Christmas and the New Year
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Much of the music on this disc is from the turn of the 20th century, a time when the English holiday “traditions” created by the Victorians began to take on new meaning and depth for contemporary artists who were exploring the medieval customs and art of their people. They were simultaneously reviving the works of the past and composing new music inspired by their research. A rich past-meets-present repertory developed.
No work is more representative of this effort than Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols, assembled in 1912 using folks carols retrieved through field research. Vaughan Williams gave the tunes a grand symphonic setting, featuring baritone solo and choir. The work has been become a classic of English holiday fare.
Gerald Finzi’s In terra pax (On earth peace) was written in 1954 and revised for full orchestra in 1956, just before the composer’s death. The musical language is firmly rooted in the English pastoral tradition, a style based on lyricism that shunned the dissonant developments of the Second Viennese School of composition favored by academia throughout the mid-20th century. That the music is tinged with melancholy comes as no surprise to those familiar with Finzi’s musical output. Having lost his father at a young age, and three brothers and his beloved composition teacher in the First World War, Finzi’s music regularly explores loss of innocence, a by-product of adulthood often accompanied by nostalgia and regret. These emotions are deeply felt particularly during the holidays, and composers of sensitivity, at least a number of those represented herein (including Holst in his Christmas Day), have tended to balance the festivity of the season with the trouble of human experience. This characteristic of concurrent wonderment and sobriety (or, realism) is one that modern composers have shared with the anonymous musicians and poets who penned chants and carols in the Middle Ages. One era that seems to have exempted itself from this dichotomy, at least with regard to its holiday music, is the period encompassing the late-17th and 18th centuries— western Europe’s “classical” era. Country carols of this period (here, A virgin most pure and God rest you merry, gentlemen) revel in the long-standing musical influence of Handel’s Messiah and effuse unfailingly good-natured optimism.
But I am convinced that the trends of the early-20th century English artistic community are those that continue to resonate with early-21st century life. And the movement was not limited to music and poetry. The decorative arts underwent a similar renaissance in what was largely a response to everincreasing industrialization and the threat (and eventual manifestation) of worldwide cataclysm. Appreciation was renewed for the handcrafted, the well-made, for personalization and pragmatism, with an idealized view of the Middle Ages (the “Gothic”) as inspiration. The oft-times bitter reality
of finite humanity is mitigated by opportunity for beauty.
Tidings of comfort, tidings of joy.
CD Booklet (Christmas Day)
THE TUDOR CHOIR
Doug Fullington, director
1. arr. Charles Wood - Ding dong! merrily on high
2. Peter Warlock - I saw a fair maiden
3. Ralph Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on "Greensleeves"
4. arr. Henry Walford Davies - The holly and the ivy
5. Peter Warlock - "Pieds-en-l'air" from Capriol Suite
6. Peter Warlock - Lullaby my Jesus
7. Ralph Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on Christmas Carols
8. arr. Charles Wood - A virgin most pure
9. Gustav Holst - Christmas Day
10. Benjamin Britten - A New Year carol
11. Harold Darke - In the bleak midwinter
12. Gerald Finzi - In terra pax
TOTAL TIME: 70 minutes