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The twelfth day of Christmas

Jan. 5th, 2014 | 14:33

One likes to close on a high note, and since I began this twelve days’ journey in the Baroque period, I shall end there. ‘Adeste fideles’ is one of the most familiar Christmas carols all round the world; I dare say it has been translated into every living language except possibly Pirahã.


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The eleventh day of Christmas

Jan. 4th, 2014 | 13:28

And now, a 12th-century piece that needs no introduction: ‘Veni, veni, Emmanuel’.


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The Tenth Day of Christmas

Jan. 3rd, 2014 | 13:54

Here is another fine old English carol. After the discussion in the combox about the Middle English pronunciation of yesterday’s selection, I should point out that this song is rendered in just about perfect M.E. Perhaps a little too perfect; for the early stages of the Great Vowel Shift were already underway in the 15th century, when this carol was written. At that stage, if the reconstructions are to be trusted, the long vowels were just beginning to be diphthongs, but they were diphthongal versions of the original English vowels, and had not begun their Völkerwanderung all over the phonological map. The effect would have struck our ears as a kind of drawl or twang. At any rate, all such niceties have been left out of this rendition, and the vowels have been told to stay at home as if they were still perfectly content there, and had not embarked on their secret conspiracy to swap places until the whole system of English spelling became a manifest nonsense.


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The Ninth Day of Christmas

Jan. 2nd, 2014 | 11:57

The English language is haunted by its own ghosts: you see it most in the spelling, which preserves the living speech of half a thousand years ago. One of those ghosts (as Dickens would hasten to assure us) is the Ghost of Christmas Past; for England was once a Christian country. Here is a fourteenth-century English song with a tune as haunting as its language. It reminds me, at any rate, what a strange and eldritch thing Christmas is. In the dead of a winter’s night, Nature holds her breath, and far off through the silence we hear the first faint rumour of an enchantment that will remake the world.


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The Eighth Day of Christmas

Jan. 1st, 2014 | 11:53

I dare say ‘In dulce jubilo’ is the best-known piece in Michael Praetorius’s oeuvre, at least in the English-speaking countries. After posting a bit of Praetorius yesterday, I went looking for a suitable version of this song as a follow-up. It was, I may say, a frustrating quest, and for a while it seemed that it would be a fruitless one.


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The Seventh Day of Christmas

Dec. 31st, 2013 | 14:54

At Eastertide or thereabouts, I posted a short piece on ‘Easter’ and related words, in which I mentioned (among other fussy and pedantic things) that the morning star is used in Old English poetry as a symbol of John the Baptist, heralding the sun (and Son) to come.

Of course (and this is a thing that some students of mythology can never get through their heads) every metaphor arises by the conscious decision of a human mind, and every decision could have gone some other way – and frequently does.


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The Sixth Day of Christmas

Dec. 30th, 2013 | 13:18

A lively Latin carol from the 16th century, performed by the Chor Leoni Men’s Choir.


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The Fifth Day of Christmas

Dec. 29th, 2013 | 11:23

Today’s carol is brought to you by the magic of the Internet, and I am using the word magic in something very close to its technical sense. As we have seen so far, by providing performers of mediaeval and Renaissance music with a worldwide audience, the Net amply fulfils the old expression, more hopeful than realistic till recently: ‘Everything old is new again.’ But it is equally true to say that everything new is newer than it has ever been.

This performance is a fine example of both trends.


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The Fourth Day of Christmas

Dec. 28th, 2013 | 15:00

A bit late today, since I’m under the weather with what I am assured is this year’s strain of flu. In my present condition, I find myself in unwilling agreement with an infamous Holy Roman Emperor: I don’t want ‘too many notes’. Fortunately, Philip Stopford has written (and conducted) this lovely arrangement of the Wexford Carol.


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Dec. 27th, 2013 | 4:54

As we go singing from door to door, or rather from IP address to IP address, we ask that you fill up the wassail bowl from time to time, in the spirit of the occasion.

‘The Gloucester Wassail’ by the Waverly Consort. Drink hail!


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