Thursday, December 26, 2013

On the Feast of Stephen

 The Feast of Stephen is the second day of Christmastide and a lot of the holiday bustle is behind you. You are free to relax and enjoy!

Specifically you are free to relax and enjoy "Good King Wenceslas."

I like the Irish Rovers' version up above. I also like the song. As we continue to poke and probe into the history of famous Christmas carols, "Good King Wenceslas" was written by  British clergyman John Mason Neale.

There is this one Christmas carol site I will not link to because it describes "Good King Wenceslas" as "a delightful melody with horrible lyrics." What exactly is wrong with these lyrics? I was just wandering the house late last night turning out lights and unplugging the tree and stuff and singing this song to myself and thinking how good it was. I know bad writing. Heck, I have written bad writing. This song's lyrics are fine. Otherwise we would not be singing it, you know?

Well, as someone said the other day, the Internet is full of misinformation. Just on these Christmas carol sites, you read the craziest things.

Here are a few things that have emerged more or less with clarity:

Good King Wenceslas is Vaclav I, the Duke of Bohemia.

John Mason Neale also wrote the English words to "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." He did not write the melody! Some people are claiming he wrote the melody. The melody goes way back.

St. Stephen was the first martyr. He was stoned outside Jerusalem and died praying for his executioners. We celebrate him today, on the second day of Christmas.

As the snow in Buffalo lies 'round about.

Deep and crisp and even!

Monday, December 9, 2013

A gallery of great musicians and their dogs

This morning because of my Pennario project I found myself checking into something regarding the conductor Artur Rodzinski, and I happened on this treasure --

A trove of pictures of musicians and their dogs!

The pictures come from Life magazine. That is Maestro Rodzinski up above, with his wife, Halina. It is great how the dog is jumping into her arms!

Conductor Andre Kostelanetz had a great sheepdog named Puff.

I saved the best for last, tenor Lauritz Melchior -- hmmm, this is cool, all three of this musicians figured in Pennario's life -- and his wife and their Great Dane.

A big dog for a big voice!

The whole gallery is fascinating. There are a lot of actors and actresses I don't know, but just the styles, the elegance of the era draws you in.

Howard and I were laughing at Lauritz Melchior and the other Great Dane, Victor Borge.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

And called it macaronic

There is a wonderful term that means something is part one language and part another language.

It is macaronic!

As in the Christmas carol "In Dulci Jubilo," an ancient song I love, which, as the video's explanation points out, is part in Latin and part in German.

That is a pretty video. I like the pictures of Oberammergau where they hold the passion play. However I also have a taste for an "In Dulci Jubilo" that is more bouncy.

The voices from King's College Cambridge pick it up a little bit. You hear this Pearsall arrangement a lot and I mostly like it, except at the end, I think it goes off the rails a little. I don't like how it trails off and then ends on that questioning note. To me that ending does not work.

 Here is an ambitious and creative treatment by Michael Praetorius for eight voices, performed by the ambitious and creative group Chanticleer. Amazing! This arrangement has energy but also humor. Michael Praetorius was a wonder. Everything he wrote in my experience was vivid and interesting.

Here is a riotous Renaissance version of Praetorius' "In Dulci Jubilo," with the Gabrieli Consort. Wow, this is amazing! Those drums and fanfares!

OK, that does it. Now I have to go put up my Christmas tree.

This macaronic song talked me into it!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Robert Shaw and Two-Buck Chuck

As we continue our research into America's great choral directors -- see Roger Wagner, from a couple of days ago -- there is no ignoring Robert Shaw, pictured above.

Or the fact that he was second cousins with Charles F. Shaw.

That is the Shaw of Trader Joe's Two-Buck Chuck!

Wikipedia says that Robert Shaw would vacation at his cousin's vineyard.

Now we see why the maestro was so good at the Christmas carols.

 Wassail was in his blood!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The master Christmas caroler

 As we gear up for Christmas we should pause in appreciation of the Roger Wagner Chorale.

You do not hear about Roger Wagner as much as you hear about Robert Shaw. Both are choral greats. But Roger Wagner, there was something special about his arrangements. They are like the Carmen Dragon arrangements I have mentioned. They are from the same era and the same wonderful label, Capitol.

Like the Carmen Dragon arrangements the Roger Wagner arrangements are boundlessly imaginative and never cloying. They are better than other people's arrangements. I have tried in vain to find a YouTube video of his take on "Deck the Halls." Other choirs' arrangements are flat-footed in comparison.

I love to listen to the Roger Wagner Chorale this time of year.

 I am a Wagnerian!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

'O Tannenbaum,' Historic Tannenbaum

It is fun to look into the history of Christmas carols. And today, it being the first Sunday of Advent and me struggling with the urge to put up my Christmas tree, I got thinking about "O Tannenbaum."

The tune is a 16th Century Silesian folk song, says Wikipedia. Silesia is where Germany and Poland meet, so naturally great Christmas carols will come from there.

Of course Wikipedia can't wait to tell you that it wasn't really a Christmas carol, that the words were just about a fir tree and its evergreen qualities, that it was about an unhappy love story, blah blah blah. People cannot wait to burst your bubble on stuff like this, you know? For instance they always want to pound it into you that when Mendelssohn wrote the melody to "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" he had nothing about Christmas in mind. That is another story for another day.

This is interesting, says that the Nazis used to promote "O Tannenbaum" as a Christmas song, or shall we say a holiday song, because it did not mention Christ and the Nazis wanted to secularize Christmas. I would like to see sources cited. On the one hand that is believable considering other things I have read about the Nazis and their antipathy toward religion. On the other, doesn't "O Tannenbaum" make you feel pretty warm about Christmas, whether or not it technically mentions Christ? I don't know if it would have helped the Nazis to promote it.

Oh well. Whoever did what, and for whatever reason, "O Tannenbaum" is a dandy song. I love my Christmas tree ...

... and I like how the melody goes back at least to the Renaissance. It is thrilling, the age of some of these Christmas carols.

I have always been partial to the Nat Cole version. And in German. You go, "King" Cole!