Carols from the Old and New Worlds, Part One – Performance notes, translations etc.

Carols from the Old and New Worlds
Part One

Performance notes, translations etc.

In several places I use the symbol < > (see for example bar 6 in carol 1.) This concerns the whole phrase, not just the notes immediately below it, and is intended to show where the phrase is headed. It is not meant to imply a long crescendo-diminuendo, still less a swell on one note. I hope it will be found useful – it is something I picked up from Frank Martin’s Mass for double choir. The symbol is not explained there, and yet I feel that ‘phrasing’ is exactly what it indicates. (I should be grateful to hear from anyone who can shed more definitive light on Martin’s intentions.) It derives of course from the normal crescendo and diminuendo symbols, and it is true that phrasing often includes both these elements, as well as changing degrees of articulation and weight. But as a visual symbol I find this one a very economical way of indicating the ‘destination’ of a phrase: and certainly much better than placing accents over important notes, when an accent is not always what one wants to hear. 

1. Adam lay ibounden
Composed in 2011. The poem (c.1400) is from Sloane Manuscript 2593 in the British Museum. I suggest that the words be pronounced as in modern English, with the addition of a few archaic syllables. Of these: first syllable of ibounden has the same vowel as bit; the vowel in ne, en, and es should be pronounced like IPA ɛ, but more neutral; but in hevne and clerkes it is closer to ə (schwa); 1st syllable of Abeen is ə; in mun the vowel is IPA ᴧ (as in put); the c in gracias is s. The sign over the soprano solo means diminuendo al niente, like a bell. Bass last note can be falsetto or a wonderful mezza voce!

2. The Cherry Tree Carol
This venerable Anglo-American carol-ballad survives in various forms. The version I have used was collected by Cecil Sharp in the Appalachians and reprinted by Douglas Brice in his ‘The Folk Carol of England’ (London, 1967.) The story it tells is based on one of the Apocryphal Gospels (Pseudo-Matthew, Chapter 20.)

3. Ding! Dong! Merrily on high
The melody first appeared in print in Thoinot Arbeau’s Orchésographie (1589), but the words were concocted by G. R. Woodward for the ‘Cambridge Carol Book’ (London, 1924) with musical arrangement by Charles Wood. This today is its most familiar guise, but I have started over with the same tune and made a new arrangement. In verse 3 the tune should recede somewhat, and ‘Stille Nacht’, with very stiff rhythms and straight tone, be allowed to dominate. The disposition of male voices in the choruses to verses 1 and 2 should be entirely pragmatic. If the choir is seated on two sides, like a cathedral choir, then antiphony can become a useful feature too.

4. Dormi, dormi o bel bambin
From the Ticino region of southern Switzerland and Northern Italy. Without sacrificing the gentle mood of this lovely carol, the bass pedal notes should be sustained for their full length. 

1 Sleep, sleep, O lovely child, king divine, sleep, O my baby. Lullaby dear son, King of heaven, you who are so fair, a gracious lily.

5. Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
1 A tree has sprung up from a tender root. As the ancients sang to us, it comes from the line of Jesse. And it has brought forth a little flower in the cold midwinter, exactly at midnight.

2 The rosebud of which I speak, of which Isaiah tells, has been brought to us by Mary, pure maid, alone. At God’s eternal word she gave birth to a child, remaining a pure maid.

3 That little flower so small, which smells so sweet to us, has with its bright glow driven away the darkness. True man and true God, help us in all affliction, save us from sin and death. 

6. Gaudete, Christus est natus
This song and Personent hodie (9) are both taken from Piae Cantiones, a wonderful collection of medieval Latin songs, many on Christmas themes, that originated in Turku, Finland. Some of these were subsequently given English words by the Victorian hymnodist J.M. Neale, and this has assured them great popularity. In the original only the chorus is harmonized (as here), so my arrangement amplifies the verses by adding parts. I have retained the original written pitch, but choirs with sopranos may find A minor more effective. It should be sung vigorously and rather sostenuto to bring out the harmonic clashes.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

1 The time of grace has come for which we have prayed; let us devoutly sing songs of joy. Rejoice…

2 God is made man, while nature wonders; the world is renewed by Christ the King. Rejoice…

3 The closed gate of Ezekiel has been passed through; from where the has risen, salvation is found. Rejoice…

4 Therefore let our assembly sing praises now at this time of purification; let us bless the Lord; greetings to our King. Rejoice…

7. Heissa Buama
This is a shepherd’s carol from the Pongau region near Salzburg, and the words are in rather heavy local dialect. It was probably made for a Christmas pageant, like the somewhat similar words of number 10a. Pronunciation: as a non-specialist, I recommend that singers who know German follow their instincts, treating the unusual elements as phonetically as possible. (And thanks to Asger Lynge Petersen, who helped with the translation.)

1 Hey-up lads, get up quickly, it’s almost day. Come on, get on with it! Run to your herds -Veitl, drive them towards me. Bring your new fiddle along and I’ll bring my bagpipe, piping away all day to myself. Hey, bagpipe, pipe away all day.

2 Don’t forget to give Wastl a hint that he should drive [the herd] onto the mountain pasture. Tell him to run home quickly and get his old bass fiddle and I’ll bring my bagpipe…

3 And Jodl, the strapping lad with the fife, he’ll join us too, he knows what to do. The lad has skill, never plays a wrong note, and I’ll bring my bagpipe…

4 Hey-up lads, praise God, for he is born, who has saved us all - otherwise we’d be lost. Quickly, lets play together, put on a happy face. And I’ll bring my bagpipe…

8. Here we come a-wassailing
This carol-singers’ song is from Yorkshire. The drinking salutation wassail is of Norse derivation – ves heill – and probably entered England with the Vikings. Chorus and lower voice parts throughout will ideally be sung from memory. I make a small diminuendo in the second bar, and then bring the lower voices up again in bars 11-12. The verses can be characterized in numerous different ways – and this is to be encouraged – but clear diction is essential!

9. The Holly and the Ivy
The familiar version is a folksong collected by Cecil Sharp in Gloucestershire and published in 1917. Some commentators have suggested however that it’s more of a ‘fakesong’. The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford, 1992) tells us that the refrain particularly is “just the kind of ‘Olde English’ trumpery that a canny broadside publisher of 1710 might have strung together…” Be that as it may – and refrains often were oddly related to their verses, even in the real Middle Ages – this very popular carol has its own kind of authenticity (that established by common practice for almost a century now). I have taken liberties with the verse music by elevating subsidiary voice-parts to full melodic status and hope to forgiven.

10a. Liebe Hirten; 10b. Andachtsjodler
10a is from the Steiermark region of Austria, around Graz; 10b is from the Tyrol, further to the west. These two carols are intended to be performed consecutively, without a break, though they can also of course be programmed individually. Both of them, especially the latter, are still enormously popular in southern Germany and parts of Austria.

10a translation
1 Dear shepherds, come with me. Let’s not stay here. Come with me as fast as you can to Bethlehem, where the ox and the ass stand beside the little child.

2 Brother, I’ll go with you. I’ll take my pipe with me, and you bring your shawm. If we can get into the stable let’s greet the little child by playing him a tune.

3 Oh, where the poor child lies, the wind blows in and out. Oh how happy I’d be if I had my house here, which stands down there in the village – and some straw.

11. Leise rieselt der Schnee
The melody is traditional. The original title was “Weihnachtsgruß – 1895 - Ein Kinderlied” in Ebel’s Gesammelte Gedichte (“collection of poems”). Eduard Ebel (1839-1905) was a Protestant pastor and poet.

1 Softly falls the snow, quiet and frozen lies the lake. Christmas-like the forest sparkles. Rejoice! The Christ Child will come soon.

2 In our hearts it’s warm, sorrow and grief fall silent. Life’s worries fade away. Rejoice! The Christ Child will come soon.

3 Soon it’s Christmas Eve. A choir of angels awakes – just hear how lovely it sounds. Rejoice! The Christ Child will come soon. 

12. O come all ye faithful (Adeste Fideles – Portuguese Hymn)
Although there is still much debate about the history of this familiar Christmas hymn, words and music were probably composed by John Francis Wade (1711-1786), and came to England and Ireland through catholic connections (perhaps at Douai) around 1740. It was first published in a two-voice (treble and bass) setting by Samuel Webbe (1740-1818) in his Essay or Instruction for Learning the Church Plain Chant of 1782, and later for four voices in his 1792 Collection of Motetts and Antiphons. Webbe was organist and choirmaster of the chapel at the Portuguese Embassy in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The Duke of Leeds heard the hymn sung at the Portuguese Chapel and in 1785, assuming it to be of Portuguese origin, had it performed at the ‘Ancient Concerts’ (of which he was director) under the title of Portuguese Hymn. Vincent Novello’s’ daughter wrote: “Being a Director of the Antient Concerts, his Grace introduced the melody there, and it speedily became popular under the title he had given it…So widely has its liking spread that Vincent Novello’s arrangement of this favourite hymn has been reprinted in France, Germany and America.” Mary Cowden Clarke (Novello’s daughter), The life and labours of Vincent Novello, 1864, Novello & Co.

My opening verse is modeled on an early 19th-century American version (called ‘Portuguese Hymn’) beginning: ‘Hither, ye faithful, haste with songs of triumph.’ The first verse should be sung in the rather forthright and straight-toned style suited to that music. The later verses then branch out in other directions, and the vocal style should bend with it.

13. O come, O come Emmanuel
The original text is in Latin and is based on the seven ‘O Antiphons’ for Advent. I have used what I believe to be the most familiar version of the English translation by J.M. Neale. 

14. Personent hodie
From Piae Cantiones, like 6. The original is simply a tune without harmony.

1 On this day let the earth resound with the voices of children praising the Lord, who is born to us, given by God, and born from the womb of a virgin.

2 Born in the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in the manger, in the stable with beasts, Lord of above, destroyed the spoils of the prince of hell.

3 The three Magi came to offer him gifts. They searched for the newborn child, following the star. In adoration they offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh.

4 All clerics, and children too, sing with the angels to praise He who has come to earth, Glory to God in the highest.

15. Remember O thou man
The melody is a Danish hymn tune thought to be from 18th-century Sleswig (when Schleswig-Holstein was still part of Denmark). The standard text is a lovely poem by B.S. Ingemann, and in this version it is a popular Christmas song across Scandinavia. My arrangement with the original Danish words is also available separately from TOVE. However, not finding a suitable English translation, I have chosen instead to make a version of Remember O thou man that is a conflation of the different versions of the words used by Thomas Ravenscroft and Thomas Hardy.

16. Rorate coeli
The words are by the great Scottish poet William Dunbar (c.1460-ante 1530), the melody is Scottish traditional. I have used the first and last three verses (the original has seven) and have mostly modernised the words, as few singers outside Scotland will have the necessary experience to use them properly (myself included.) The counter-melodies should be sung with as much verve as the main tune.

Commissioned by Barbara Kallaur in memory of her mother.

17. Still o Himmel
1 Be still, O heaven; peace, O Earth: Jesus closes his eyes Be still, so that his comfortable rest shall not be disturbed. Sleep Jesus, sweetly sleep, and now enjoy your rest.

2 Don’t think of cross or pain, or of the bitterness that shall one day pierce your breast; it is not yet time. Sleep Jesus…

3 When I see you lying here on the straw, on a hard bed, let my heart be your cradle standing ready for you. Sleep Jesus…

18. Still, still, still
1 Quiet, quiet, quiet, for the child wants to sleep. Mary is singing to him, offering him her chaste breast. Quiet…

2 Sleep, sleep, sleep, my dear child, sleep. The angels make music and sing before the child. Sleep…

3 Arise, you children of Adam, arise! Fall down before Jesus’ feet, for he redeems your sins. Arise…

4 We, we, we all cry to thee: open the heavenly realm to us when we some day must die. We…

19. We Three Kings
This is an American carol written and composed by John Henry Hopkins from Pittsburgh, and published in his Carols, Hymns, and Songs, 1863. The original has an accompaniment for an unspecified instrument - probably piano or organ, although it also works nicely on guitar. It also includes a short interlude to link the verses together. I have adapted this interlude for voices so as to make an a cappella version of the whole thing.

20. We wish you a merry Christmas
Another carol singers’ piece, also good to end concerts with! The little solos in the grand finale can be sung either by four singers, or shared between two (a woman and a man) – it depends on having singers who can croon convincingly. 

Paul Hillier