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.
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.
OK, I confess – I made such a different arrangement of this song that I convinced myself I was playing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, so I mean it, this really is once again in Royal David’s City. But let’s pretend it’s one of those classes where you do one exercise in the centre, and then you say ‘Now let’s do it again with….’ Go on, please pretend that, so I don’t have to start all over again.
What I was going to say about Hark the Herald Angels Sing (which I haven’t recorded yet, but you can get the blurb anyway) is this:
Considering that both Movable Type (the first blogging platform I ever used, back in 2003) and Gutenberg are such key names of the internet age, perhaps we should do a new version of the words to celebrate the Internet.
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.
To most English people, Santa Lucia isn’t a carol. But if you live in Sweden (and some other places, I think) you’ll be singing this today, as it’s St Lucy’s day, and that’s what you sing. After you’ve put a crown of candles on your head and marched through the town. Read more on St Lucy’s day celebrations in Sweden.
And as it’s St Lucy’s day, and this is a ballet blog, let me introduce you to a very special Lucy from the ballet world, Daria Klimentová’s cat. Lucy’s not only very pretty, but she also eats her food by picking it up with her paw, and then putting it in her mouth, which is something I’ve never ever seen a cat do before. A huge thank you to Daria for sending me the pictures so obligingly.