Updated: Dec 24, 2022
Happy Holidays from Perennial Music and Arts!
Schubert's "Ave Maria" contains music that was originally meant to be part of a setting of the poem “Lady of the Lake” by Walter Scott which included the line Ave Maria and later the entire traditional, liturgical Ave Maria text was set to Schubert’s music.
“Personent Hodie” is a Medieval carol that was first collected by a Swedish Lutheran cleric in the 1500s. The melody is found in a manuscript from Bavaria and the melody has strong links to the music of Prague where Scandinavian clergy often studied. The melody was originally used for a song in honor of St. Nicholas “Intonent Hodie.” St. Nicholas later became Santa Claus and is the patron saint of children. That version would be performed on The saint’s day, December 6 or Holy Innocents’ Day, December 28.
Cherry Tree Carol
The Cherry Tree Carol is a traditional English carol based on a story from the Early Christian Apocrypha where a date palm in mentioned rather than a cherry tree. The song demonstrates how important oral tradition was to people in the medieval world as stories from the apocrypha or “hidden“ stories continued to circulate in Europe although they were not included in the Bible. This is one way that artistic literacy is important for understanding our history.
George Frideric Handel is well-known for the Messiah Oratorio that has become a Christmas tradition. He also wrote the oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus, which tells the story of Hanukkah. One of the most well-known selections is “See, the Conquering Hero Comes.”
A Tender Shoot
“A tender shoot” is a featured for advent at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. Its lyrics were written by an anonymous poet in the 16th century in German and were translated by William Bartholomew into English in the 19th century. The music was composed by German composer, pianist, and conductor Otto Goldschmidt.
O Magnum Mysterium
"O Magnum Mysterium" (O great mystery) is a liturgical text that has been set by many composers. The most famous Spanish composer of the Renaissance, Tomàs Luis de Victoria, composed one of the most beloved renditions. This piece musically creates a sense of mystery with melody and harmony. Victoria’s use of perfect fifth intervals as well as his minor sixths create the sense of magic.
Saint Lucy’s Day is December 13 and commemorates the life of the 3rd century Christian martyr who is said to have brought food during a familiar in Scandinavia from Italy. The day starts with girls and young women dressed in white and wearing a crown of greenery and candles bringing sweet buns woth saffron to the family while singing this tradition song.
Die Nativitatis Domini
The first Christmas songs were chants performed by people in monastic communities as part of the mass. This chant, In Die Nativitatis Domini (The Nativity of Our Lord), is from the early Middle Ages. This particular chant was performed at the third day mass on Christmas Day. Music at this time used what are called Church Modes, scales other than our modern Western major and minor.
Ode to Joy
This week marks the 249th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in Bonn, Germany. He was baptized on December 17, 1770 and came from a family of musicians. His famous chorale from his Ninth Symphony known in English as “Ode to Joy” has become a traditional holiday song in Japan where it became a New Year’s Day tradition. Singers and instrumentalists join together to perform the work with its theme of unity and the brotherhood/sisterhood of humankind every New Year’s Day across the nation since German POWs first performed it in Japan during WWI. In Japan, the symphony is referred to simply as “Daiku” (Big Nine). The Chicago Symphony is featuring Beethoven’s symphonies all season to celebrate his 250th birthday next December!
"Welcome Yule!" is a carol that dates back to the Sloane manuscript in the reign of Henry VI.
Who Can Retell?
"Who Can Retell?" is a very well known Hebrew Hanukkah song. Its opening line, "Who can retell the mighty feats of Israel," is a secular rewording of Psalms 106:2.
All My Heart This Night Rejoices
Christmas is in the summer season in Australia and in that part of the world people join together at various municipal and religious locations and sing carols on Christmas Eve for “Carols by Candlelight.” People in the audience hold lit candles and join in singing some of the carols along with featured performers who include popular stars, opera singers, and other soloists. Australia has its own carols, including "All My Heart This Night Rejoices" by Charles E Horsley (1862).
Good King Wenceslas
Good King Wenceslas is a Boxing Day carol that tells a story of a Bohemian (Czech) duke going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on Boxing Day. Boxing Day is also known as “Second Christmas” or the “Feast of St. Stephen.” St. Stephen is called the first Christian martyr. The melody was originally for a springtime carol from the 1500s.
"Coventry Carol" tells the story of Day of the Holy Innocents, a feast day which refers to King Herod’s order found in Matthew’s account of the king’s reaction to the birth of a new king of Israel. This day is observed in the Western churches on December 28 and Eastern churches on December 29. This rather dark lullaby was originally part of a summer religious play and became associated with the Christmas season when it was featured in the BBC's Empire Broadcast at Christmas 1940, shortly after the Bombing of Coventry in World War II, when the broadcast concluded with the singing of the carol in the bombed-out ruins of the Coventry Cathedral.
Auld Lang Syne
"Auld Lang Syne" is a New Year’s Eve favorite, often credited to Robert Burns, however, he sent the poem to the Scots Musical Museum, saying that it was an ancient song but that he had just recorded, so its authorship is unclear.
Music for the Royal Fireworks
"Music for the Royal Fireworks" is a Baroque suite for wind instruments was composed by George Frideric Handel in 1749 under contract of George II of Great Britain for the fireworks in London's Green Park on April 27, 1749. Later, he re-orchestrated the work for full orchestra. It was originally composed for an outdoor performance that was preceded by
a fireworks display that celebrated the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48).
The Three Holy Kings
The 12th Day of Christmas or the Feast of Epiphany is a holiday that is meant to remember the arrival of the magi or wisemen with their gifts for the baby Jesus. In many European countries, special songs are performed by groups of children dressed as the magi and carrying a star, singing songs. One traditional song from Germany is “Die heil'gen drei König' mit ihrigem Stern.”
Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas Chants
January 7 is Orthodox Christmas. Orthodox Christians use the Julian rather than the Gregorian Calendar and there is a 13-day difference between them. Christians from the Greek, Russian, Coptic (Egyptian), Ethiopian, as well as other traditions celebrate today.