In this year’s Christmas Number, jet-lag and other matters deprived this programme of our man of great goodwill, Rupert Kirkham’s, voice, at the last link. His fellow exec-types wish him all the best, a very happy Christmas and more fortunate New Year!
CB Christmas 2012
Track One: Pastorale, Heinichen
This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme was researched and written by Mike Burrows, and is of Christmas music or music with a Christmas air.
We’ve just heard a Pastorale per La Notte di Natale by the Leipzig composer, Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729). A Pastorale was a Shepherds’ Dance, usually in 6/8 time and heard as being in an idealized rustic style. This one was written for The Night of The Nativity, and would have evoked the joy of Shepherds at the Adoration. In honour of the occasion and their favoured forebears, in many parts of Europe, Shepherds danced about a crib on Christmas Eve.
Now, let’s hear the first part of Gerald Finzi’s short Christmas cantata for baritone, soprano, semi-chorus, choir and orchestra, In Terra Pax, which sets a poem by Robert Bridges - Forth I Fared Alone, with asides from The Gospel According To Luke (in the King James Version). It is Christmas Eve, and the poet imagines walking abroad on a snowy night and listening to the sound of church bells, seeing and hearing something of the first Christmas of all. Thus Finzi’s choice of the accompanying words from scripture Both Bridges and Finzi were agnostics, powerfully inspired by story and tradition, and the beneficent social effects of Christian ethics and morality. The orchestral introduction of In Terra Pax is obviously leading up to something; uncertainty - and yet also expectancy - are in the cold night air. As the movement develops and the baritone-narrator enters, there are moments when the imagination begins to glimpse what the intellect seeks, the vision to sweep away chill complexities of unbelief in divinely-ordained comfort and the faith and hope of another, ancient, more primitive age. There are hints of The First Nowell in its quiet but, au fond, intent, course. Something of the mighty solidity of earth stands under the evocation of bells, far-flung stars and dark air, and the musings of the soloist. The orchestral dress is sombre, brightened by chill glints of harp and high woodwind. Finzi began the work when young and head-over-heels in love with an aesthetic of polyphony, arioso and Gloucestershire; when he completed it, he knew that he was dying. To a soul like his, death without afterlife did not come easily. The semi-chorus has the last word: “And there were in the same country, shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.”
Track Two In Terra Pax, Pt One, Finzi
Finzi was not only a composer and editor of music and connoisseur of British poetry. He devoted much time to the cultivation of many rare British varieties of apple. The humble apple-tree was for many years the source of cider and apple-jacks - dried apples - and accompaniment to meat and sauce-flavouring, a foundation, with honey and spices, of many a feast; fertility-rites – the wassail - took place in propitiation of the garth at the height of Winter. Here is the carol Jesus Christ The Apple-tree, a Christianization of pagan faith, its words taken from an 18th Century American book of Divine Hymns and set by Elizabeth Poston.
Track Three: Jesus Christ The Apple-Tree
Track Four: Music under: Extract from Carol Symphony, 3rd Movt, Hely-Hutchinson
Christmas has inspired man to his best artistic efforts for two thousand years. It is true that many of what we think of as Christmas traditions are more modern in adoption, or have been toned down; there was a time when the popular celebration of Christmas was viewed with misgivings by the authorities. Carols have been banned from church, mince-pies from the table; carousings and free love from Twelfth Night. Rectors have objected to the ringing of church bells on Christmas morning. The Church’s appropriation of the Winter Solstice from pagans has resulted in many symbols’ and activities’ being carried over into the festival of the Nativity and its forms of worship, as religious fundamentalists and atheists alike delight in telling us.
The very story of the Nativity is bedevilled by apparent inconsistencies in those scriptures that purport to tell us about the birth of our Lord - only two of the four Gospels speak of it, and in them - Matthew and Luke - events and their circumstances and significance require reading between the lines - a synthetic cast of mind - to create a single narrative. Every aspect of Christmas appears a moveable feast, its details telescoped or omitted at will, except that we have the warm symbols of evergreen, spiced, fire-lit life, feasting and riches in spite of material poverty, greatness in spite of secular power, strange magic and licence in spite of Wintry puritanism and rationalistic utilitarianism, generosity in spite of everyday distrust and enmity. It is a time when - thanks to St Paul, rather than the Gospel-writers - true love casts out all fear. At its best, it may bear out Christ’s injunctions to love God with all our hearts and minds and love our neighbours as we do ourselves, and be a time of mutual seeking, peace and happiness.
Track 4 Fades Out
Here is the five-part Hodie Christus Natus Est of the Flemish polyphonist, Jan-Pieterzoon Sweelinck (1562-1621).
Track 5: Hodie Christus Natus Est, Sweelinck
Really, what matters is that God’s son, the King of Kings, was conceived by an unmarried mother and born in a cattle shed: the only shelter available to her. If that doesn’t give us pause in these days of humbug, nothing will. Add to that that Mary was very likely a teenager and Joseph considerably older, and to some, the brew should become toxic, if they are not hypocrites. To whom was the conception announced? Joseph (Matthew) or Mary (Luke)? Why not both? One can admire Joseph’s faith and tact (Matthew), and love the woman-centred meaning of Luke’s poetry. The world needs its centuries of Ave Marias and Magnificats.
Track 6: Ave Maria, Gregorian Chant
That was a Gregorian Plain-Chant setting of Ave Maria.
Track 7: Magnificat,
A Magnificat by Thomas Tallis, the great polyphonist and recusant survivor, whose life and professional career extended through the contradictory religious creeds and persecutions of much of the Sixteenth Century. A recusant, he died in his bed aged 85, having served the church and four tyrannical Tudor monarchs to his utmost.
Was there a Roman census in Palestine (Luke)? Was the Babe laid in a manger, because there was no room for them in the Inn, or was Mary visiting Elizabeth, a kinswoman blessed by late pregnancy, and her husband, Zacharias (as in Matthew)? After the birth of Jesus, was there a forewarned flight to Egypt and massacre of first-born sons, when the Romans’ cat’s-paw, Herod, heard that a rival King descended from David (Matthew and Luke) had been born to a carpenter and his young wife?
The shepherds on the night, according to Luke’s tale, or the wise men - or magicians - somewhat later, according to Matthew - were convinced. They saw freedom, a gift greater than material riches or fear of the boss - or even the shepherd’s care for his flock, which is his pride and ever-called-on proof of his compassion: a love to tear down the authority of a king, an occupying power and rotten priesthood: a child whose face, glowing in the light of a lamp, held them with focusing eyes: eyes that spoke of a love and understanding, a capacity for compassion and logic that needed no speech to awe with a sermon. They were eyes of commonwealth, peace, liberty, equality and altruism: the King was one of us; the King, unelected, told us why we had no need to elect him to be represented - God had come down to live amongst us not in the cool of a mighty palace rich in gold, ivory, silver, precious and semi-precious tones, ebony, high-coloured faience, peacock feathers, but as the son of a Nazarene carpenter.
Track 8: Nowell Tydynges Trew Be Cum New (Instrumental)
Track 9: Coventry Carol (instrumental)
Tyrants and good authorities were left for dead. Simeon, Bethlehem’s old priest saw Jesus when he was brought to the temple for circumcision and sang, “Lord, now letteth thy servant depart in peace.” Here is Geoffrey Burgon's setting of the Nunc Dimittis, for voice, trumpet and strings.
Track 9: Nunc Dimittis, Burgon
Isn’t that preferable to wood magic of evergreens, holly and mistletoe, tinsel and fairy lights, turkey, mince pies, Christmas cake, wines, liqueurs and innumerable hazarded gifts torn from pretty paper to be pristine for a day before they leave a jealously guarded heap and before they join our other possessions? Here is John Gardner’s setting of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.
Track 10: Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, Gardner
You could tell even a child that your love makes presents under the tree utter trumpery: that your love is unreserved and will last not for 24 hours but a life long; that you will serve and - if called-upon - die for him or her, comfort and soothe at all hours; encourage it and praise every wonderful development; never feel envy - and more, scold and punish only what is wrong and never take out a bad day on one who has neither the wit nor the desire to fight back. A child will play happily with that thought - to be loved like that by a fallible adult! Isn’t it as magical a thought of physical objects that are brought out of nothingness?
“How the star shines! Who am I and where am I?”
- “You are a King in a world filled with kings -
You live simply to die -
And were born in a stable.”
“How should I know of love, save that you devise?”
- “I love you now and for your whole life long,
And the love in our eyes
Beyond death shall be well as one.”
(Poem Copyright, Mike Burrows, 21/12/12)
This was Classical; Break, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s script was by researched and written by Mike Burrows, and he joins me in wishing you a very happy Christmas and the best of New Years.
We leave you with the second part of Finzi’s In Terra Pax: the second part, truly a revelation from the angels. In a sense, the agnostic found what he sought after all. He corrected ages of bad Latin to point out that the correct translation of the angels’ song was: On earth peace to all men of goodwill! The entry of the soprano - with the words, “Fear not!” – is unforgettable. At the hushed close of the piece, one is left with the narrator’s awe and after-echoes of the wonder, Winter darkness, stars and chill. A memory of hearing bell-ringing on Christmas Eve gave us this beautiful work. However we feel towards at best bogus Coalitions and complex Austerity, let’s make this Christmas a joy for all who are of goodwill!
Track Eleven: In Terra Pax, Part Two, Finzi
The Production Team at Classical Break – Somer Valley’s outing into the world of classical music – wishes you a Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. Listen to our programme on Saturdays at 9am and Sundays at 8am and 3pm.