Home > christmas, music > The Den Mother’s Christmas Music Sampler, Vol. 3

The Den Mother’s Christmas Music Sampler, Vol. 3

Saturday, December 4, 2010, 22:50 EST Leave a comment Go to comments

(Click here to listen to today’s music in a separate window/tab while you read about it below.)

I hope you enjoyed Wednesday’s selection of Christmas songs by artists that aren’t worth listening to any other time, in my humble opinion. Here we return to better music.

Many traditional Christmas carols and sacred songs come from the Middle Ages and the European Renaissance periods. The examples that immediately come to my mind are “Veni, veni, Emmanuel” and “Coventry Carol,” both of which have evolved over the centuries into versions now familiar to us. In my own digital collection are several songs dating back to the early Renaissance, either performed in period style or in a contemporary style with elements evoking the period. I originally had fifteen songs for this sampler but managed to narrow it down to six.

  • “There Is No Rose” is a beautiful choral piece by 20th century English composer Benjamin Britten‘s A Ceremony of Carols. Britten was heavily influenced by early music and used modified Middle English lyrics in this work, written for SSA choir with harp accompaniment. I love this particular recording by Oxford, England’s Christ Church Cathedral Choir, a boys and men’s choir that itself dates back to the early 16th century.
  • “Tau Garçó, la Durundena” is a 16th century Catalan (Spanish) carol. I had never heard it before I bought a Christmas CD by the Boston Camerata, an ensemble devoted to bringing early music to contemporary audiences. I have no idea what the lyrics mean; perhaps they are a regional or obsolete dialect. I find this performance haunting and exhilarating at the same time.
  • I don’t know the origin of “Carol of the Birds,” but I include this version by Mannheim Steamroller because the group is well-known for combining instruments of the late Middle Ages with electronics and modern arrangements. As much as I like traditional Christmas music, I consider Mannheim Steamroller to be an essential part of any complete Christmas music catalog.
  • While shopping for Christmas CDs last year, I stumbled across Mediæval Bæbes, a group of English women who, as their name suggests, enjoy Mediæval music. I bought the album Mistletoe & Wine on faith and wasn’t disappointed; it quickly became one of my favorite Christmas albums. Though many of their songs include instruments, my selection is their a cappella recording of the 16th century Swedish/Finnish carol “Gaudete.”
  • Another group with an apt name is Renaissonics, an American ensemble performing Renaissance chamber music and dance tunes. From their album Carols for Dancing I chose a medley of 16th to 18th century French songs “Branle Gay,” “Branle de Poictou,” “Un Flambeau, Jeannete, Isabella,” and “Patapan.”
  • Today’s final song isn’t actually a Christmas song. It comes from a CD by the American group The Beggar Boys, who perform traditional Celtic and American colonial music. The song is the 17th century English folk tune Greensleeves, a later version of which is more familiar to us and became the melody for “What Child Is This?” So there’s the Christmas connection.
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