© 2006 Fruia Musica (837101128865)
Record Label: Day Job Records
Release date: 18 August 2006
|01||O Come, O Come Emmanuel||2:26|
|02||Angelus Ad Virginum – The Blessed Virgin’s Lullaby||2:42|
|03||The Bagpipers’ Carol – The Snow Lay on the Ground||2:27|
|04||The Wexford Carol||2:07|
|05||The Salutation – In Bethlehem||3:27|
|06||While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks – Furry Day Carol – Il Est||3:27|
|09||Let All Earthly Flesh Keep Silent||2:45|
|10||I Saw Three Ships – Good Christian Men Rejoice||3:07|
|11||What is This Fragrance?||3:33|
|12||Es Ist Ein’ Ros’ Entsprungen||2:25|
|13||A Virgin Most Pure – The Holly and the Ivy||2:42|
|14||The Boys’ Carol – Patapan – Noël Nouvelet||2:50|
|15||The Virgin Gives Birth||3:24|
This collection of carols arranged for guitar solo brings together melodies that have had broad appeal through the ages. They were a spontaneous expression of musical joy that occurred over much of northern Europe in the fifteenth century, coinciding with the dawning of the modern age and the ending of the long medieval night. The selections include universal favorites, some tunes which are popular in their native lands and reasonably well-known elsewhere, and others which are unfamiliar even in their homelands.
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The idea of making a Christmas record was proposed to me by a record producer during the late 70’s. He was thinking in terms of something that might have a chance at reasonable sales, but my reaction to the idea was complex.
I remembered the carols I had heard as a child, some of which had a melodic depth that was almost painfully joyous. I thought of the ancient, mysterious feeling of “O Come, 0 Come, Emmanuel” and of the carol I knew as “Sing We Noel,” as lovely a folksong as one could ever hope to hear, and the simple melodic perfection of ” I Saw Three Ships.” I caught a glimpse of something that was expressed in these carols when the old northern midwinter rites that vouchsafed the spring’s return were still fresh in the collective memory, and thought that this might be a project I could really get my teeth into. The idea grew on me over time; I remember attending a Christmas concert at my daughter’s school, during which one of the classes sang a beautiful song I had never heard , called “The Apple Tree.” I tried unsuccessfully to get the music afterwards, but the seed was planted, as it were.
It must have been in late 1981 that I actively started looking for material. That year was a very difficult one, personally. I had a very painful breakup that was followed by a sort of breakdown. Between the two I was graced with an extremely powerful spiritual experience. With one thing and the other, I was, as one might imagine, receptive to the symbolism of winter, Christmas, and returning spring. I remember walking into a bookstore off Charing Cross Road in London, picking up a marked-down copy of The Second Penguin book of Carols by Elizabeth Poston, and finding, to my delight, “The Apple Tree” (which, I later learned, Poston had appropriated from the shape note tradition and considerably improved). In my state of mind, it was like finding a sign .
Over the next several years, collecting books of carols became a hobby with overtones of obsession. I remember long walks in Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne, London, and Paris looking for book stores and record stores, trying to find carols I had never heard. I discovered that there are relatively few really serious collections of carols, and that most of those are English and American. I learned there that the folk carols which had so appealed to me (and everyone else) were a spontaneous expression of musical joy that occurred over much of northern Europe in the fifteenth century, coinciding with the dawning of the modem age and the ending of the long medieval night. If such a reading seems overly poetic, it nevertheless conforms to the accepted view.
One of the first things one realizes when making a serious approach to the carols is that they are, by far, the oldest songs that most people know. (By comparison, Irish folk tunes, which many modem listeners assume to be quite ancient, cannot be dated back more than three or four hundred years, according to the best scholarship.) The carols were driven underground in England by the Puritans, bur survived in the countryside until an awakening of interest during Victorian times in ballads, dances, and folk customs of all kinds. This 19th century renaissance led. naturally, to the composition of newer songs, many of which are lovely. But the basic feeling we associate with Christmas carols is that of the folk songs of Northern Europe in response to the arrival of the real “New Age,” more than half a millennium ago.
I began recording The Salutation in 1987, after I had moved back to the US from Europe. Bob Fisher, who was managing me, arranged the recording and then tried to to find a company interested in releasing it. They all kept asking, basically, “Where’s ‘Frosty the Snowman’?” So we released it as a cassette. Then Bob got out of the business, and in an ugly turn of events, the master tape was lost. In this digital age, however, such disasters are not always the final chapters that they used to be. I had always figured I would have to redo The Salutation, but fortunately a pristine copy of the original surfaced and in 2001, William Day of Mel Bay publications thought it was time to get it back in circulation as a book/CD, and now it is released for the first time on it’s own as a CD, just eighteen years after it was recorded!
The reader will have gathered that this project is dear to my heart. In fact, The Salutation is easily my favorite of all my records, the only one that I actually enjoy listening to. Not that there aren’t little mistakes that bug me, but for once I feel that I managed to do what I set out to, and captured something of the ancient feeling I had glimpsed.
It’s certainly surprising to me that more musicians, especially in America, haven’t taken an interest in reviving the lesser-known carols. Every year witnesses the release of dozens of acoustic Christmas records of all sorts (including that wondrous anomaly, the “Celtic Christmas” record!), but one is far more likely to find a really interesting program at a church choir recital. Professional musicians are all too inclined to serve up only the most familiar songs. This criticism can certainly not be aimed at English traddies, who pride themselves on singing carols for every season, the more obscure the better. But they naturally tend to favour English songs. Who will perform all the beautiful but forgotten melodies from France, Wales, Spain , Sweden? For every tune on this record, I know of two more that no one is singing or playing.
If I can gain the interest of just one young musician with this last statement, the purpose of these notes will have been served.
Like many who consider themselves folk musicians, I feel that it’s important to seek out and present forgotten music.
Given a choice between a familiar and an unfamiliar song, your true traddie has usually opted for the latter, feeling that, like Frost’s road less traveled, it was grassy and wanted wear. Nonetheless, many of the tunes, like “I Saw Three Ships,” “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” and “The Holly and the Ivy,” are quite well-known. Others, like “A Virgin Most Pure,” “The Bagpipers’ Carol” and “Noël Nouvelet” are popular in their native lands and reasonably well-known elsewhere. At the other end of rhe spectrum are pieces like “Trettondedagsmarschen,” ” In Bethlehem” and “The Virgin Gives Birth,” which arc unfamiliar even in their homelands. It should be noted that the words to carols like “Away in a Manger,” ” Angels from the Realms of Glory” and, here, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” have been set to many different tunes, often with one being preferred in England and another in America. A couple of these tunes were adopted from classical sources by carol arrangers of the fairly recent past, while others were taken from folk tunes. This is all standard practice for hymnodists, who have always considered any tune from any source as being fair to their purposes.
O COME, O COME EMMANUEL
This plainchant tune is quite old, dating from the 13th century or possibly earlier. It has found its way into many hymnals and is one of the most popular Advent hymns. Of the millions of people familiar with this song, how many know any other melody of comparable antiquity?
ANGELUS AD VIRGINUM – THE BLESSED VIRGIN’S LULLABY
“Angelus Ad Virginum” is a 14th century Advent hymn, widely known through Europe in its day and very popular in England. It is sung in Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale by Nicholas, the clerk of Oxenford. “The Blessed Virgin’s Lullaby” is set to the well-known 16th century dance tune “Sellenger’s Round”; William Byrd also wrote variations on this theme.
THE BAGPIPERS’ CAROL – THE SNOW LAY ON THE GROUND
The “Canzone di Zampognari ,” which Handel borrowed to use in “The Messiah,” is the only widely known Italian folk carol. It is played to this day by street musicians all over Italy around Christmas time but originated in the south, probably near Naples. “The Snow Lay on the Ground” is a Victorian English carol. This song is not as popular as other period pieces like “Once in Royal David ‘s City,” but is every bit as charming.
THE WEXFORD CAROL
Carols of all sorts are rare in Ireland. In fact the very concept of the folk hymn is alien to Irish singers. But a small region of County Wexford has a carol tradition that is the subject of an excellent study (The Wexford Carols, edited by Diarmuid O’Muirithe with commentaries by Seoirse Bodley, Dufour Editions, 1982). This spectacular melody is found in The Oxford Book of Carols and has therefore popped up in various places over the years, but the version that inspired me to learn it was a recording by pianist Michael O Suilleabhain (Gael Linn LP 046).
WHILE SHEPHERDS WATCHED THEIR FLOCKS – FURRY DAY CAROL – IL EST NÉ
I remember singing this melody to “While Shepherds Watched” in church as a child, though the Episcopal hymnal of the time doesn’t include it, but two others. It is certainly known by many tunes. The “Furry Day Carol” is set to a Cornish melody usually associated with spring carols and commonly played by brass bands at that time of year. ” Il Est Né” is one of the best- known French carols. Various translations have had some currency, including the one I remember hearing, “Now is Born the Divine Christ Child.”
Like the Irish. the Scots are poor in carols, but this song set to an old Scottish tune works well. I am unsure whether the tune is actually traditional, as the Oxford Book implies, though it seems likely enough. I have been told that it is a borrowing from an early Scottish composer, which is also easy to imagine.
WHAT IS THIS FRAGRANCE?
Here is another beautiful French carol (“Quelle est Cette Odeur Agreable”) that has been translated variously. This is probably the most ambitious arrangement on the record.
When working on this project I asked Tom Paley if he knew of anything that might help me, since in addition to being one of the finest revivalist American musicians Tom has a good grounding in Swedish fiddle music and an incredible memory. He wrote out and sent me this one, which means “Thirteenth Day March” (evidently the Swedes are among those whose celebration falls on the original gift-bearing day of Epiphany). As Tom quickly pointed out on hearing this, I play it far below the march tempo, but I just couldn’t resist prolonging this beautiful, typically Swedish tune.
LET ALL MORTAL FLESH KEEP SILENCE
This somber and striking melody is in the Episcopal Hymnal I grew up with, not as a Christmas but as a Communion Hymn . It appears in the Christmas section of the Moravian Hymnal, however. Its inclusion there led me to wonder whether the tune might be German or even Czechoslovakian, but the Episcopal hymnal lists it as 17th century French, and at some point I remember hearing it played by musicians who told me it was a French dance tune (what kind of dance, something out of Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal?”).
I SAW THREE SHIPS – GOOD CHRISTIAN MEN REJOICE
Here are two very well- known tunes. ” I Saw Three Ships” is a classic example of the early English folk carol, and “Good Christian Men Rejoice” goes so well with it that one mjght assume a similar background, but it is a 14th century German carol often denoted by its original Latin title, ” In Dulci Jubilo.” No less a personage than Edward Heath has pointed out that the “Good Christian Men” version that most of us know requires the melody to do considerable violence to make the words fit. Would that latter-day politicos gave their attention to such things.
ES IST EIN’ ROS’ ENTSPRUNGEN
This is a straight transcription of Michael Praetorius’ adaptation of this 15th century German song, another leading entry in the “most attempted translations” category. I decided to arrange it after hearing my daughter, Saana, sing it in a school recital.
A VIRGIN MOST PURE – THE HOLLY AND THE IVY
Here are two very famous English folk carols that can apparently be traced back to about the seventeenth century but are likely enough even older. “The Holly and the Ivy” would seem to be a pagan reference. Holly always is, as is mistletoe.
THE BOYS’ CAROL – PATAPAN – NOËL NOUVELET
The first carol is usually sung in it’s Latin form “Personent Hodie” which dates from medieval Germany. The tune may be slightly later and may be Scandinavian. “Patapan” is an excellent Burgundian carol whose text is the prototype of the little drummer boy theme. “Noël Nouvelet” is another well- loved French carol that has had many translations. Can a stronger melodic phrase than the first two measures of this tune be found anywhere?
THE VIRGIN GIVES BIRTH
This beautiful Provençal folk carol was learned from my favourite recording of Christmas music, Provençal Christmas (Arion) by Les Musiciens de Provence. The title on the record is “La Vierge s’es Acouchado,” which is apparently dialect as it certainly isn’t standard French.