Saturday, December 25, 2010

"So fill to me the parting glass . . ."

The Parting Glass is a traditional Irish/Scot folk song that made it's first appearance in print in the 1770s in a Broadside Ballad book called Scots Songs. It was also recorded in the Skene Manuscript which is a collection of Socttish airs written between 1615 and 1635. Ot was also in Playford's Original Scots Tunes which is dated 1700.

Part of the first stanza of The Parting Glass appears in the early 1600s in a farewell letter as a poem now known as "Armstrong's Goodnight" by a prisoner who was executed in 1605 for the murder of Sir John Carmichael in the year 1600. This early lyric appearance shows that The Parting Glass was a part of Scot/Irish culture long before it was ever inked in public print.

Rhe Parting Glass was often sung a the end of a gathering of friends. It is claimed to be the most popular song sung in Scotland and Ireland before the composition of Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns in 1788. It is most known today from it's feature in the film Waking Ned Divine. In addition, it is the most sought-after Irish traditional search on's "goireland" website.

The first video below is the Waking Ned Divine version by Shaun Davey. It is a moving rendition with a voiceover from the film, wonderful instrumentation, and solid traditional sounding vocals. The second video is a moving concert version by The High Kings. It has been recorded by over 20 artists since 1959 including Bob Dylan, The Pogues, Sinéad O'Connor, Shaun Davey, The High Kings, and Loreena McKennitt.

"So fill to me the parting glass. Good night, and joy be with you all."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
SOURCES and REFERENCE:  (warning! plays music with no off switch)  (verification of inclusion in Broadside Ballads books)

George Grove & John Alexander Fuller-Maitland, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, The Macmillan Company, 1908, pg. 479.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Six Noëls Anciens

Six Noëls , Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643 - 1704), circa 1693, French Baroque
Commonly known as Or Nouse Dites Marie (so they say!)

Many of the French carols that are known today, were not originally Christmas poetry. Instead they were songs of feasting and rejoicing with little or not sacred content or intent. The earliest forms of the Noël make appearance in 15th century manuscripts. However, the Noël was not widely popular until it was spread around France in the 16th century by printing presses.

These Noëls were likely written by known poets and were possibly old airs now set to music or commissioned music for aristocrats and special events. They represent an effort to bring "good and godly" ballads back into the mainstream of popular music in France in the 16th century.

Like many early English Carols, the French Noëls were often written half in Latin and half in the native language of the area. Here is a sample lyric:

Mille esprits angéliques,Juncti pastoribus,Chantent dans leur musique,Puer vobis natus,Au Dieu par qui nous sommes,Gloria in excelsis,Et la paix soit aux hommesBonae voluntatis.

The composer of our Six Noëls, Marc-Antoine Charpentier was a French composer who was believed to come from a family of royal painters. He studied in Rome in the mid 1600's for a few years and returned to Paris where he became maître de musique at the residence of Marie de Lorraine, Mademoiselle de Guise. While there, he composed many motets, Psalms, and other sacred music. He remained at this post until 1688 when the Mademoiselle died. When Molière separated from Lully in 1672, Charpentier was taken on as musical collaborator to Molière where he composed prologues, entr'actes, and other music for Molière. Louis XIV was so pleased with Charpentier's theater music, the composer was granted pension.

Over the years, Charpentier served in musical posts at Jesuits' St. Louis Church and Saint Chapelle. He also taught music to Philippe, Duke of Chartres. Charpentier died in 1704 but not without leaving a tremendous legacy in his published works and non-published manuscripts.

I hope you enjoyed Mr. George Becker's rendition of these lovely Noëls. You can hear more of him on clavichord and other instruments at his YouTube page:



Sacred Texts: Chapter 3, Christmas Poetry (II)

CD Universe (Composer, Period, and Date)


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Coventry Carol (Lully, lullay)

Watch the first part of the video to get one version of the history and origin of the song, then read on while the song plays (then play it again to look at the artwork slideshow!)

"The Coventry Carol" aka "Lully, lullay) is a well known English carol that many do not realize (a) did not technically start as a Christmas song, (b) may date as far back as the year 1392 but is commonly referred to as being 16th Century in origin, and (c) almost became extinct in 1875. The song melody is commonly credited to Anonymous (1591), and the lyrics to Robert Croo (1534).
As the introduction to the video states, "The Coventry Carol" was first commonly performed in Coventry, England in the 16th Century. It is a hymn that was written to depict Mary's sorrow over the impending death of her (approximately) 2 year old son, Jesus as required by King Herrod's edict that all infant boys in Bethlehem be put to death - not very Christmas-like. In fact, in the 16th century, it was performed as part of a play at the annual Shearmen and Tailors Guild annual Christmas pageant (1). That performance along with the fact that it is related to the Feast of the Holy Innocents (also called Childermas) (2) which is celebrated on December 28, and that the song is about the infant Jesus are all contributors to "The Coventry Carol" becoming a standard Christmas carol.

There are several discrepancies about when "Lully, lullay" was first performed at the Shearman and Tailors Guild Annual Christmas Pageant ranging from 1392 to 1591. One source claims the first mention of the song was in 1392 in reference to the Drapers Guild and the Coventry Mystery Plays which were usually played on Corpus Christi Day. Others say that 1521 is the correct year of origin since it is the earliest known printed rendition of the song lyrics which appeared in the play performed at the Coventry pageant. Yet another source says that 1534 is the earliest appearance in the Coventry play and another claims it to be 1591. Other sources even claim it to be 15th century in origin (3). Whether it is 14th, 15th, 16th, or some combination of these, the song was well known and liked in its early period time as it is today.

In 1875, there was a library fire that destroyed the only completely legible ancient copy of "Lully, lullay". (4) All the versions we hear and play today are based on two early 19th transcriptions that were badly made and therefore not fully legible in musical score or lyrics. Despite this, many vocalists have recorded the song professionally and even more have sung it locally at their churches and schools.

Much like the song's clouded history, it is a somewhat dark and sorrowful Christmas song often presented in the key of B flat. It's final note is flexible. It can be settled on the minor, leaving the listener in that same state of sorrow suggested throughout the melody; or it can be lifted to the major, offering the listener a small glimmer of hope.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Song "Cantiga de Santa Maria"

If you are unfamiliar with the "Cantigas de Santa Maria" and are a fan of early period music, I highly recommend you look it up. The "Cantigas de Santa Maria" are medieval manuscripts written during the reign of Alfonso X "El Sabio" (1221-1284). They are one of the largest collections of monophonic songs from the middle ages, and most of them tell stories of the Miracles performed by Saint Mary. "El Sabio" was one of the first (and best) folklorists of all time. He knew of the stories of Saint Mary and sent people out to hear them, scribe them, and bring them back. He then had those stories illuminated (illustrated) and written as song. Once he had a large collection, they were bound in a book called "Cantigas de Santa Maria" which means "Canticles (Hymns or Songs) of Holy Mary". The melodies are very early period and the illuminations are beautiful. Here is a good starting point for you to learn more: