Ave Maria (Angelus Domini), Candelight Carol, For Unto Us A Child Is Born, Franz Biebl, George Fredrich Handel, Hallelujah Chorus, I know That My Redeemer Liveth, John Rutter, Karen Carpenter, Merry Christmas Darling, Messiah, The Carpenters
I normally post each day’s article around 1700 the previous evening. But I have some final Christmas gifts for you, gentle readers, and it’s appropriate that you get them on Christmas Day. I apologize in advance that some of these videos are marred by ads, but that’s the way of things circa 2020. Suffer through them—it won’t take long—and I promise the rewards are great. There are so many wonderful works of music, inspired works that elevate us beyond daily cares and turmoil. Allow me to share some of them with you now.
Older readers know and think fondly of The Carpenters. They were known as “one take wonders.” Unlike most musicians, particularly of their time, they could, and usually did, lay down a perfect recording the first time. Others would require innumerable takes and usually, studio musicians to play their parts. Karen Carpenter, who left us too soon, was the warmest, most beautiful female voice in pop music, then and now.
The Carpenter’s Merry Christmas Darling has always been one of my favorite songs. After you hear it, it may be one of yours too.
Franz Biebl, 1906-2001 was a German composer. He wrote an Ave Maria (Angelus Domini) in 1964, and it became the single work by which he is know. It was first performed in American in 1970, and was originally written only for male voices, but after it became popular, Biebl rescored it for mixed choirs, and we are all the better for it. It’s one of my favorite pieces to perform because the First Tenor part is surpassingly beautiful; actually, every part is. This video is performed by VOCES8—eight singers—which is appropriate as the work is written for eight parts. It’s not specifically a Christmas piece, but it is about the mother of Christ, and you’ll be better for knowing it.
Another extraordinarily beautiful work is O Magnum Mysterium by American Composer and teacher Morton Lauridsen. This particular performance was recorded live in 2015 by the St. Jacob’s Youth Choir at St. Jacob’s Church in Stockholm, Sweden. There are about 36 singers, and they perform this glorious piece wonderfully.
John Rutter is the most prolific, important choral composer of the last century. He is retired from active composing now, but Candelight Carol,has always been one of my favorite of his many Christmas compositions. This performance of the Cambridge Singers, directed by Rutter himself, was released in 2020.
I conclude with three works from Messiah, George Fredrich Handel’s masterwork. Originally performed at Easter, it has, over the centuries, become a Christmas staple. If performed in its entirety—it rarely is—the Oratorio is more than three hours long. It’s a combination of 50+ solos, choruses, two orchestral interludes and even a seldom performed, but lovely, duet. The Hallelujah Chorus is the best known of its parts, and for good reason.
We begin with one of my favorite choruses: For Unto Us A Child Is Born. This recording is performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a very large organization. In Handel’s time, orchestras and choirs were small, on the order of 20 musicians in each, which allowed for great clarity and brisk tempos. Contemporary Messiah performances tend toward big choirs and orchestras. This particular recording is nicely up tempo, and despite the size of the choir and orchestra, clarity is not a problem.
When the Hallelujah Chorus is performed, audiences rise and remain standing until its conclusion. The story is when it was first performed for the king of England, he stood, and when the king stands… It has remained tradition since, and considering the text, it’s entirely appropriate. This recording too is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Here’s a somewhat different treatment of the Hallelujah Chorus from a 2010 video by the Opera Company of Philadelphia. It was billed as “A Random Act Of Culture,” and surprised the patrons of a massive Macy’s when more than 650 singers from more than 27 other choirs, dispersed throughout a central atrium, performed the Hallelujah Chorus. The audience’s reaction is priceless, and demonstrates “classical” music is much more than diversion for music snobs and culture snots.
And I leave you, gentle readers, on this Christmas day and day after Christmas, with one of the most beautiful of the Messiah solos: I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, beautifully sung by Amanda Powell. The orchestra is true to Handel’s original numbers, so you’ll have a sense of how he intended it to be performed and heard.
Despite our many trials and tribulations, knowing that our Redeemer lives gives us all hope and succor.
Godspeed, gentle readers, and I’ll see you with Sunday Funnies, oddly enough, on Sunday!