Musical Advent Calendar – 11.Riu, Riu Chiu

Today’s carol is a Spanish villancico (effectively the Spanish equivalent of a carol) attributed to Mateo Flecha the Elder, who died in 1553, and which has been performed by musical groups as diverse as the choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the Monkees.

The chorus and translation is as follows:

Ríu, ríu, chíu, la guarda ribera,
Dios guardó el lobo de nuestra cordera.

Riu, riu, chiu, the guard [shepherd] by the river: God protected our Ewe from the wolf.

‘Riu, riu chiu’ was a traditional call of Spanish shepherds when guarding their flocks by a riverside fold – in fact the catchy chorus may derive from a shepherd-song.  The chorus refers to God protecting Mary (the ewe) from the bite of the wolf, the lobo rabioso [Satan] , infecting her with original sin – a theme elaborated in verse 1.

As a good Baptist I am not a fan of the doctrine of the immaculate conception (although it’s clear Mary was a young girl of great faith!), but apart from that the carol is a pretty good summary of the Christmas story, as in verse 2:

Aunque era infinito Finito se hiziera – he was who was infinite became finite.

This performance is from the American group Chanticleer.

Advertisements

A Musical Advent Calendar – 10.For Unto Us a Child is Born

For the 10th day of Advent how about a movement from that most famous of all oratorios, Messiah, by George Frideric Handel.

So much has been written about Messiah. Composed as it was in just 24 days, Handel did what many composers of the time routinely did – re-worked music he had written previously.  In this case he adapted a love duet from a secular Italian cantata of his entitled Nò, di voi non vo’fidarmi, which explains the slightly strange word stress.

Never mind… it is a wonderful piece full of joy and excitement, especially in this performance!

A Musical Advent Calendar – 9.This is the Record of John

In style, this piece for Advent is not a carol at all. It’s a verse anthem by the great Elizabethan and early Jacobean composer Orlando Gibbons, alternating tenor or alto soloists and choir. It was written sometime before 1620 for Archbishop Laud and his college, St John’s, Oxford – the college being dedicated to John the Baptist.

Gibbons sets verses from the gospel of John (John 1:19-23) from the Geneva Bible – a translation widely used at the time while the Authorised Version was still in its infancy.

This is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed and denied not, and said plainly, I am not the Christ.

And they asked him, What art thou then? Art thou Elias? And he said, I am not. Art thou the prophet?  And he answered, No.

Then said they unto him, What art thou? that we may give an answer unto them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? And he said, I am the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.

The text is a simple, almost prosaic narrative as the Jewish priests seek to find out and challenge who John the Baptist really is and why he is out in the desert doing what he is doing.  The setting is straightforward although beautiful and very effective, not without the odd moment of near comedy (“and he answered, ‘no’!!”), and it’s not until the climax of John’s declaration that he is “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness” (taking his cue from the prophet Isaiah) that the the piece really takes flight and Gibbons shows his true genius. That moment really makes the piece for me – making it probably my favourite Advent anthem.

In this version it’s performed with tenor soloist and a consort of Viols rather than just organ.

 

 

 

A Musical Advent Calendar – 8.Ding! Dong! Merrily on High

Time for a jolly carol – an arrangement of the traditional carol Ding! Dong! Merrily on High. 

In fact it’s not that traditional, because although the tune is an old French dance tune, Branle de l’Official, the words are from the  English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934), and the carol was first published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book.  It’s a good example of a macaronic carol (and that’s nothing to do with mac’n’cheese).

This version is an arrangement by Mack Wilberg, the current music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Check out the talented organist, Ben-San Lau, organ scholar at King’s back in 2010, particularly when he plays the Gloria on the pedals!

A Musical Advent Calendar – 7.Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day

You might not immediately think of this carol as one that belongs in your Church’s carol service,  whether with the traditional tune, or in my favourite arrangement by John Gardner, which dances along with the words. The refrain seems to reflect feasting and merry-making, rather that the real Christmas story. But as I have rehearsed it and sung it with choirs over the years it’s changed for me from being the sort of carol which you might want to sing at a carol concert, to one which encapsulates the heart of the gospel.

You might be familiar with the words…

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play
To call my true love to my dance.

What on earth does that mean? What is the dance?

 

The dance is, I think, a picture of what the Revelation calls the marriage supper of the lamb – you can read about it in Revelation chapter 19:

 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out “Hallelujah! 
For the Lord our God 
the Almighty reigns.
 Let us rejoice and exult
 and give him the glory, 
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
 and his Bride has made herself ready;
 it was granted her to clothe herself
 with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

And again in Rev 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

You’ll remember perhaps another parable in Matthew where we are called to be ready for Jesus to return, as a Bridegroom for her husband. I’ve already written about that when we listened together to Bach’s cantata Wachet Auf on Day 2. It’s a recurring Advent theme.

 

So it’s clear that each of us, as part of the Church as a whole, is called to be the bride of Christ, and one day we will be united with Jesus at his second coming. That’s the dance that we are being called to – the dance of Jesus’ second advent when we will be with him for ever and those wonderful promises of Revelation 21 will be fulfilled.

But back to our song. The original song Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day has eleven verses, which tell the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.  We’ll only hear the first four in this arrangement, but each concludes with the refrain.

Sing Oh! My love, oh! My love, my love, my love. This have I done for my true love.

Who is singing?  Well what immediately springs to mind for me is that beautiful passage in the Song of Songs chapter 2 which over the centuries has been interpreted as being the song of Jesus calling his bride the Church.

 My beloved speaks and says to me:
 “Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
11 for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
 The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
 The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one, 
and come away.

What moves me so much each time I sing this, is the wonderful news contained in this simple (and seemingly rather unspiritual) refrain, that everything in Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection and ascension was done for the glory of God and for his true love – and that’s us.   This is truly the heart of the gospel – God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. Now we can know that truth in part (and how we need to keep reminding ourselves of it) and one day when He comes again we will see him face to face.

A Musical Advent Calendar – 6.No Small Wonder

Our carol for today first appeared in the Jubilate Hymns publication, Carols for Today, in 1986. It has since been picked up by a number of publications, and finally achieved the ultimate accolade of featuring at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Cambridge on Christmas Eve, 2000.

Paul Wigmore, who wrote the words, is sadly no longer with us, but has written about the origins of the carol, which started with him waking up one morning with the words “Small Wonder” going around in his head – an earworm that could not be tamed. He described the carol that resulted as follows.

I wrote the three short verses about the wonders of the Christmas story. The crowd of singing angels! The strange star seen by the three wise men! The shepherd being told by the angels where the baby, Jesus, could be found! However, all through these three short verses there is a ‘but’. All these wonders were small wonders when you consider the astonishing fact that God himself was coming to Earth as a human being! Over all these lesser wonders came that one truly enormous wonder; no small wonder indeed.

With a beautiful setting and some jazz-inspired harmonies by composer Paul Edwards, this carol deserves to be much better known.

1 Small wonder the star.
small wonder the light,
the angels in chorus,
the shepherds in fright;
but stable and manger for God –
no small wonder!

2 Small wonder the kings,
small wonder they bore
the gold and the incense,
the myrrh, to adore;
but God gives his life on a cross –
no small wonder!

3 Small wonder the love,
small wonder the grace,
the power, the glory,
the light of his face;
but all to redeem my poor heart –
no small wonder!

Paul Wigmore (born 1925)
© Paul Wigmore/Jubilate Hymns

A Musical Advent Calendar – 5.E’en so, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

One of my favourite carols of recent years is E’en so, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come, which I first heard as part of the Advent Carol Service from St John’s College Cambridge, broadcast each year on BBC Radio 3.

It’s a simple enough carol, with four verses, written by Paul Manz, but very moving, with wonderful words by his wife Ruth.

But the story behind the carol perhaps explains why the piece carries such an impact. One of the Manz’s children, their 3 year old son, John, came down with a childhood illness that threatened to end his life. At one point he was so ill that Paul and Ruth Manz took turns at their son’s bedside – Ruth by day, Paul by night.

During their vigil Ruth brought her husband some words she’d written based on a text in Revelation including verses from Revelation 22, which speaks of the longing of the Advent, and the coming of the Christ.

 

In a report from Minnesota Public Radio, Ruth Manz comments: “I think we’d reached the point where we felt that time was certainly running out so we committed it to the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus quickly come,'”  Paul Manz sketched out the carol at his son’s bedside and, as they report, “miraculously through prayer by a lot of people John survived.”

So in many ways this beautiful piece is a testimony to the faith of a young couple (their son is now in his sixties) and the power of a prayer for the Lord Jesus to come into their situation. 

Peace be to you and grace from him
Who freed us from our sins,
Who loved us all and shed his blood
That we might saved be.

Sing holy, holy to our Lord,
The Lord, Almighty God,
Who was and is and is to come;
Sing holy, holy, Lord!

Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein,
Rejoice on earth, ye saints below,
For Christ is coming, is coming soon,
For Christ is coming soon!

E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come,
And night shall be no more;
They need no light nor lamp nor sun,
For Christ will be their All!