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ClassicsOnline Home » CHRISTMAS (THE MYSTERY OF)
By David Mellor
The Mystery of Christmas
For almost two thousand years people around the world
have been gathering to celebrate the Christmas season. These celebrations are
as varied as their countries of origin but share at least two common threads - the
birth of Christ, and a desire to celebrate this event in music.
In the town of Elora, in the Canadian province of Ontario,
people usually find themselves gathering amidst snowdrifts and impending winter
to celebrate the Christmas season. Music is always a centrepiece as they draw
upon many centuries and vocal traditions, all celebrating the wonder and
mystery of this season.
Carols such as Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful
or Hark! the Herald Angels Sing are sung throughout the world and
need little introduction. Other music on this disc is less well known. The
Huron Carol has the distinction of being one of the first pieces of Christmas music
written in North America. It was composed by the missionary Father Jean de Brebeuf
in about 1641 as he was working among the Huron Indians in Ontario, not so far
from where many of the Elora Festival singers now make their homes.
At the other end of the timeline, we have several beautiful
celebrations of the season by composers living and working in the twentieth
century. John Tavener wrote God is With Us at the request of Winchester Cathedral
in England, where it was first performed in 1987 The text is adapted from the
Orthodox Great Compline for Christmas Eve and shows the profound influence of
the Orthodox Church on Tavener's music.
Ring-a the News was written by the Canadian composer
and Elora resident Robert Evans in 1989 and can be performed with the choir
together with organ or brass quintet. Elizabeth Poston composed her lovely Christmas
hymn Jesus Christ the Apple Tree in 1967 but uses words taken from a
book of hyms and spirituals published in New Hampshire in 1784.
Arthur Honegger and Francis Poulenc both used Latin texts
as the basis for their Christmas works. It is interesting to note that while
Francis Poulenc had a troubled and sometimes ambivalent relationship with the
church throughout his life, the Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel are
among his most spiritual compositions. Perhaps music offered Poulenc a unique road
to his own spiritual understanding.
Other music on The Mystery of Christmas includes traditional
hymns and carols from across Europe, music brought to North America with
successive waves of immigrants. King Jesus hath a Garden is from Holland,
Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day from England, The Linden Tree Carol
from Germany, and Star in the South from Poland.
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CHRISTMAS (THE MYSTERY OF)