The carol is one of the hardy annuals of the musical repertory and one which has managed to hold its own against the twin ravages of time and taste which together dispatch most everything to the dustbin of history. That the carol has so far out-witted fickle fashion through the ages is down to its mutability, its ability to absorb the cross-currents of religious observance and popular taste and turn them into a devotion or a diversion for both the religiously inclined and the reveller. After all, what other music is routinely heard, year in, year out, in the most solemn cathedrals, on street corners, in humble homes and rough-and-tumble bars the world over?
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Each age has its favourite texts and tunes and decorates them accordingly. Whether with a simple organ accompaniment, four-part harmony or sophisticated choral arrangements complete with descants, their essence remains.
That essence is of a religious song with popular appeal. More often than not a simple melody, as easily sung by the amateur as the professional, is allied to a text that celebrates, describes or briefly meditates on Christmas themes such as the coming of Christ, aspects of the Nativity scene itself, or the Virgin Mary.
The carol repertory has grown through contact with church plainchant, mediaeval song and dance, drama, motets, Lutheran chorales, American shape-note music, Victorian revivalists and continues to inspire today’s composers and arrangers to inject some of their own age and thought into the tradition. Richard Marlow reflects the diverse nature of the carol in a programme which takes us from mediaeval plainchant to sophisticated arrangements and freshly-minted examples from the modern era. In each case, they retain the carol’s trump card through the ages – a huge emotional pulling-power through their simplicity and directness of utterance. Summoning-up the spirit of Christmases past, moistening the eye and gladdening the heart of even the most agnostic scrooge.
© Martin Ross
Read the Song Texts for the Carols.
Director, Richard Marlow writes:
'Sweet singing in the choir' and 'the playing of the merry organ' are very much part of the Christmas scene - and have long been so. A wonderfully rich and varied repertoire has been built up over hundreds of years.
"The present selection of festive music for the nativity season actually begins with some traditional Advent hymns and concludes with some Epiphanytide favourites. The compositions, spanning several centuries and nationalities, range from intimate carols for vocal duet to sonorous eight-part works for antiphonal double choir, with colourful organ solos interspersed. The sequence of items is so arranged as to present frequent contrasts of style, period and texture.
"The choir recorded this music during a hot, sunny spell in July. To create an atmosphere more appropriate to the 'bleak mid-winter' customary in the northern hemisphere, the singers imaginatively decorated the chapel with festoons, lights, trees, and candles, making the sessions even more enjoyable and memorable."
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