For last year’s Advent Calendar, I did 26 sketches of Christmas Carols for class. I’d love to make the album properly one day, but in the meantime, if you would like to use any of these for class, please be my guest. Some are a bit silly, some aren’t in straight sets of 8 bar phrases (that’s Christmas carols for you), and some are a bit rough round the edges, but you might find something in there you like.
It was only last year that I realized that St Stephen’s day, celebrated by the carol Good King Wenceslas (who looked out ‘on the feast of Stephen’), is the 26th December.
To reflect real ballet classes, where enthusiasts ask you if you would mind playing some music for their fouettés and turns in 2nd after the class has officially finished (I never mind, by the way), here’s a coda-by-request that appropriately celebrates St Stephen’s day, the coda or afterthought to Christmas, if you like.
If you’re wondering why I chose to put a pedal G all the way through this piece, it’s because I have a theory about fouetté music, based on two of the most famous ones in the ballet repertoire (Don Quixote and Black Swan) that the less the bass moves, the more of a stable (harmonic) floor the dancer has to turn on. It also ‘desaturates’ the harmony, so to speak, so that your attention doesn’t get distracted, either as performer or audience.
Hold on tight and fly…
I took the picture above on my way home from class (where I got the idea for this post). I’d never really stopped to look properly at this sculpture, but I’m glad I did. There’s so much élan, and vitality in it. Looking for details of the sculptor and the proper name of the statue, I discovered from A view from the mirror – A taxi driver’s London, this great quote from Sir David Wynne, the sculptor:
“the boy is being shown that if you trust the world, the thrills and great happiness are yours… if one meets a dolphin in the sea, he is the genial host, you the honoured guest.”
What more could you wish for 2014? Happy Christmas, and a thrilling, happy 2014 (and now this class really is over). Here’s a sequence of pictures of the statue including some from angles you can’t see from the street.
Happy Christmas. I’m using the term ‘révérence’ in the American sense of ports de bras/cool down, rather than a florid obeisance to real or imagined audiences. I like this tune when I think of it asQuem pastores, dislike it if I think of Jesus, good above all other, the hymn that the tune often used for.
This Advent Calendar has been a meditation on music and copyright. You might not have noticed it except as a little recurring theme in the posts, but it’s there. I was going to write a whole post on that subject today, but my head hurts, I’m tired, and it’s Christmas. But another day, I will. Meanwhile, happy christmas, happy dancing.
Not a lot to say about this really, except that it’s a coda. There’s some really ropey timing in the percussion in the third quarter, but I’m too tired and lazy to correct it. Have a rest during that bit.
The German title of the tune for this is Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, and it’s gloriously old and strange in metre. I’ve ironed it out a bit, so that you at least get 4 phrases which are in six – the real tune goes a bit more all over the place than this. If you want to pin it down to something in terms of a dance rhythm, it’s a cross between a polonaise and a baroque hornpipe, with a little 2/4 in the middle on the line “Repeat the hymn again”.
The tune was harmonised by Praetorius (there’s a link to a file in mensural notation from IMSLP here). Praetorius’s version is quite definitely ‘in 2’, though though the editors of Ancient & Modern (2013) have restructured it in 3, as a means of making sense of the cross-phrasing (or whatever you should call it) in the middle. It’s songs like this that make you realise that being ‘in 2’ or ‘in 3’ is a very woolly and remote concept as soon as you get away from dance music of the last couple of centuries, though there is something very dance-like about this tune. I am very tempted to redo it in 2 after all, except I don’t have time.
Although my arrangement is just a bit of pastiche renaissancery, I do love the excitement of this kind of sound, and the strangely logical irregularity of its rhythms. That love is due entirely to the work of David Munrow, who people who were around in the 70s will remember as the person who enthused an entire generation with early music. We loved him and his music-making, and the novelty of it all. What a legacy to have achieved in about a decade. At the height of his success, very young, he committed suicide, which left us all in shock. Whether we knew him or not, we felt like we did.
I don’t know how popular this hymn is any more for actual singing, but the tune is well known. I’m including it because jumpy things that are in six have a pleasing form to them that I’ve written about in another post about sixy things, which happens to be one of my favourite posts ever on my own blog, though I say it myself.
I wish I could do this to all Christmas carols, but you just can’t (although, as I tried it out on ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, it felt familiarly awful, and I think someone has done it, and achieved the same terrible result). Learning about this carol on Wikipedia, I discovered the wonderful new (to me) term ‘macaronic‘, used of language that mixes up words of different linguistic origins. At first, I thought it was a faintly off-colour, recent term like ‘spaghetti Western’ but it turns out it’s probably 14th century, but related to pasta/dumplings nonetheless.
I guess you could say this is a kind of macaronic music, because it mixes styles in a rather crude way. I owe the idea for the second piano part in the second half to the last movement of Milhaud’s Scaramouche. Any apparent bitonality might sound vaguely Milhaudesque, but is in fact an emergent feature of me not really knowing what I was going to play next.
For the real enthusiast, here is a version for 2 recorders, perhaps more suitable for your least favourite tendu exercise.
Here at last is Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Doing this stuff makes you realise things about songs that are not so evident on the surface – like finding out the sofa you ordered won’t actually go through the front door, even though it looked quite small in the shop. This is one of the most christmassy of christmas carols, and yet there’s not much you can do with it, except sing it like it’s supposed to be sung. Unless, possibly, you turn it into a little pizzicato ballerina variation, because no variation is complete without three little fairy rings on a celeste, and HTHAS has lots of that kind of thing. I still think it’s quite funny that the first line of this in the original is “Vaterland in deinen Gauen”.
I never quite saw the point of this carol – who saw three ships, exactly? And where? And what’s that got to do with the baby in the manger? And if you’re looking after a baby, what are you doing standing by the sea watching ships come in? It sounds a bit like one of those songs you make up in the back of a taxi after a few too many Stellas. But it’s a nice little jiggy thing, all the same.