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.
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.
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.
Like a lot of Christmas carols, this is a folksong requisitioned for Christmas. Since we still put trees in our houses for a month of every year, despite the cost and the mess, I guess that makes us by default more on the pagan side than the godly, which is a nice thought.
It was only last week that the teacher I was playing for drew my attention to the fact that this is a little mazurka (by mazurka-ing around the studio gamely while I was playing it). I was going to make this into a huge, comedy mazurka like the one from Jerome Robbins The Concert, but then after hearing an advert on TV with every musical christmas decoration going (harps, celestas, glockenspiels) I thought maybe this tune needed the mazurka taken out of it a bit, rathen injected into it like one of those water-injected Christmas turkeys, so here it is, a Tannenbaum decorated as tastelessly as the tree in your local pub.
It’s taken me this long to realise that this carol, and ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ both begin with an anacrusis in the notation. The reason must be a dancey one, I think, because it doesn’t do the words any favours in either case. The original German of Mendelssohn’s chorus that gave us the tune for Hark the Herald Angels Sing begins ‘Vaterland in deinen Gauen’, and if you’re going to sing Vaterland, surely you want a big Vat- on 1, you don’t want to dissipate it in some dainty gavotte-like anacrusis. But respecting the anacrusis rather than trying to force it back on to ‘one’ gives the music rather a nice lilt, I think, and suggests a different kind of movement.
Update, Nov. 2018: In the years since writing this post, I’ve understood that this probably has everything to do with what William Nathan Rothstein refers to as “national metrical types” and I’m wrong to talk about ‘Gavotte type anacruses.” It’s a long story. 7,500 words long, as it happens, which is the length of the article I’m preparing on this for an Oxford Handbook.
Henry Gauntlett, who wrote the tune, is a much bigger name in the history of organs and hymns than you might suppose from this example. He apparently had a Lambeth Doctorate, a phrase I hadn’t heard before. It sounds like a euphemism for something involving drugs and violence, but it isn’t. Read more here.
This is scraping the bottom of the carol barrell a bit, because there’s nothing more unlike a Christmas carol, it seems to me, than a tendu and pirouette in the centre. One very well-spoken, lady-like ballet teacher once told me, referring to a class she’d taken of young boys at a famous elite ballet school “They all want to show me their pirouettes. I don’t WANT to see their f***ing pirouettes!”. That’s christmas all over. You think it’s all tidings of joy and sparkly stuff, but carols are still quite sedate, and no place for f•••ing pirouettes.