Everybody has specific things they remember fondly from the Christmases of their childhood. There’s the family gatherings, the jollity and good will; shimmering ornamented trees, the food, the laughter. For me, it has always been the music.
A large part of Christmas for me was underscored by the unique and characteristic songs of the season. The act of caroling (and, in my country, Las Posadas) - actively bringing music into other people’s homes as a sign of cheerful goodwill was an amazing thing to me. In an age where watching television has replaced singing around the piano as a family past-time, these songs not only carry with them a link to our childhoods but also a link to one of our most human characteristics: the desire, the need for music-making, and the desire to share the joy of it.
Once Upon A Winter, my first recording project, is my way of revisiting that special musical place that makes the season so memorable, and hopefully it is a way to provide you, the listener, with a similar experience. For this, my first CD, I have chosen a selection of carols and songs that may not be as well-known as (for example) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen or We Wish You A Merry Christmas, but rather I have chosen selections from all over the world to highlight the richness and variety of the Christmas musical tradition.
1. Veni, Veni Emanuel is a well-known Latin carol whose text goes back to the 12th century, and it is believed that the music comes from a 15th Century processional for French Franciscan nuns. It is a solemn and serene hymn, with suggested Gregorian influences. (Sample)
2. Noel Nouvelet is a lively 15th century carol from France. It was originally sung on the New Year instead of Christmas- the word nouvelet is from the same root as noël, both words meaning ‘new.’ The melody of the carol may have found its origins in the hymn Ave, Maris Stella Lucens Miseris. (Sample)
3. Dormi, Dormi is a traditional Italian carol with a recurring setting in many carols: the Virgin Mary sings her son to sleep. The lullaby alternates with a rather joyful and lively refrain. (Sample)
4. Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle is a very popular and lighthearted carol in Italy. It was composed by father Alphonsus Liguori to a poem by Pope Pius IX. This carol is associated with the zampogna or Italian bagpipe, which is often played in accompanying the carol. Liguori composed Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle In 1744, while staying at Convent of the Consolation in the small town of Deliceto. (Sample)
5. Stille Nacht is, perhaps, the most famous of Christmas carols. Composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, an Auztrian primary school teacher and church organist in the village of Arnsdor. While widely known in its present incarnation as a tranquil lullaby, Gruber’s original version was slightly more a playful and lively tune in 6/8 time. I chose the more serene of the two versions for pure personal preference. (Sample)
6. Lulazje Jesuniu. While looking for carols that were not as widespread in the United States, I came across this gentle Polish lullaby. In Poland, it is sung in church at a special moment during midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Composer Fréderic Chopin incorporated it into his Scherzo #1 in B minor, op. 20. (Sample)
7. The Carol Of The Birds - Noël des Ausels, a traditional French carol, is nowadays more commonly known as the Carol Of The Birds, as it was arranged by Chip Davis in his 1984 Christmas album. I wrote this short series of variations on the carol for the baroque alto recorder. (Sample)
8. La Marimorena is a typically festive, exhuberant Spanish carol. The word ‘marimorena’ translates roughly into ‘ruckus’, and the chorus exhorts the listener to ‘raise the voice/raise a ruckus’ because Christmas Eve has arrived. Many Spanish carols have a humorous touch to them, and this one is no exception- in different stanzas it tells us that Saint Joseph’s underwear has been gnawed by intruder mice, and that an old, pot-bellied man is feeding breadcrumbs to the Christ child from his frying pan. (Sample)
9. Ta Kalanda According to Greek tradition, children hit the streets to carol on Christmas Eve. They visit every house whilst singing the Kalanda- a traditional carol- while accompanying themselves with triangles and drums. A very festive carol, it is full of good wishes towards the dwellers of the houses- and often the children are rewarded for their singing with treats such as candy or money. I first heard this lively traditional Greek carol in Nana Mouskouri’s Christmas album, many years ago, and I fell in love with its candid simplicity. (Sample)
10. De Tierra Lejana comes all the way from Puerto Rico. Sung from the point of view of the Three Wisemen, this carol is rich in rythm, almost begging you to dance along. (Sample)
11. Greensleeves To A Ground is a series of variations written on the 16th century melody “Greensleeves.” It first appeared in the first collection of “The Division Flute” from 1706, but it is most likely much older than that. Its composer’s name has unfortunately faded into anonymity. The Christmas connection to “Greensleeves” comes from William Chatterton Dix, who in 1865 wrote the text for the carol ‘What Child Is This’, setting it to the tune “Greensleeves.” (Sample)
12. Hush My Babe also known as the Kentucky Carol, was the last song in Isaac Watt’s collection titled Divine and Moral Songs For Children (1715.) Watts apparently drew on a traditional Kentucky mountain tune for his text, yet another traditional Christmas lullaby. (Sample)
13. This Endris Night is a traditional English song whose earliest manuscript dates from c. 1475. This lyrical and nuanced carol is unfortunately hardly performed nowadays, and for this recording I chose selected stanzas out of a total of fourteen. The opening line of the text, ‘this endris night’, means ‘the other night’ or ‘several nights ago.’ (Sample)
14. Ave Maria is a traditional Catholic prayer asking for the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps the most famous setting of the Ave Maria is Franz Schubert’s musical setting- however, the piece was not originally a setting for the Ave Maria. It was composed as a setting of ‘Ellens dritter Gesang‘, a song from Walter Scott’s popular epic poem ‘The Lady of the Lake.’ The opening words and refrain of the song, namely “Ave Maria” (Latin, “Hail Mary”), may have led to the idea of adapting Schubert’s melody as a setting for the full text of the traditional Roman Catholic prayer. (Sample)
15. In The Bleak Midwinter was originally a poem by Christina Rosetti written in 1872, submitted to the magazine Scribner’s Monthly as a Christmas poem. It entered the musical world when it appeared in 1906′s The English Hymnal in with a setting by composer Gustav Holst. To me, this is one of the loveliest carols, and one that always embodies the ‘feeling’ of Christmas, musically. The first time I heard it, it was not the original Holst choral setting, but Julie Andrew’s rendition on her album Christmas With Julie Andrews. To this day, it remains my favorite version of the carol. (Sample)
T0 order this CD, you have the option of finding it on the Amazon MP3 store (click on this for link) , the iTunes store (not currently up yet), or you can order a physical copy from us directly- I hope you enjoy listening to it just as much as I enjoyed making it!