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CHRISTMAS MUSIC., Issue 15683, 23 December 1914
Hark! how all the welkin rings. Glory to the King of Kfaxg*! In some way the very thought of Christ- , mas music to the mind and stimulates anew aa affection for it< even, in hearts nob normally under its away. The spring of this feeling seems to lie not so much in the sentiments and associations ' -which are strong in us at this time* but in some quickening sympathy of the imagination such aa we find expressed in tho openins lines of Wesley's popular Christmas hymn. Music inhabits the air, and gives ; to the imagination a sense of altitude altogether beyond what even the greatest triumphs of architecture can give. It alone among the arts can he said hterally to lift our minds above the earth. That is • whv its aid becomes so essential to us •when quT minds are busy with, the thoughts and associations of Christmas time. If we roake a survey of Christmas poetry we shell fled it almost all to be of the scemo kind. The amount of thoroughly popular Christmas music and of poetry strictly wedded to it in the popular-English inrod is strangely little, even when we have taken in, as we should, the Advent and Jtojphany music. The three greatest of all Christmas songs are, of course, the Benedicts,' tho 'Magnificat,' and the 'Nunc Bimittis.* While they are not m them- . selves picturesque, they are all definitely arsociated with the picturesque m our minds, ancj to us have the qualities of it. Although our composers nave always with these hymns, it carnot bs said that any setting has ever been successful enough to be essentially associated with them in the popular mind. It is a defect of our English Church services that so little lias heen dona to promote any strict association of words and music in the singing of psalms and canticles. Our English Church is poor also in tine Christmas anthems. Apart from the Christmas selections from the ' Messiah,' it would he hard to name one that has auv real hold on the popular imagination. "The. popularity of these numbers icems indeed of a fadeless kind, and they have in a high degTee. the quality of vivid and active imagination without which no Christmas poetry or musio will satisfy the mind. One hymn, there is of universal favor that has something of the artifice and ornatcness of th*a. anthem style. ' Adeste Fjdeles* seems to be popular, and practically identical in words and tune wherever Christmas reigns. It has all the easy familiarity of our most popular style of hymmc melodv, something of graceful symphonic outline which gives it a classical flavor, and a bold independence of rhythm, exprefisipr- # and metre which finds no parallel among 1 our purely Anglican hymns. It is sung by everyone, from the most vagrant of Christmas waits to the choirs of our most stately cathedrals. Locally we have another hymn held of more representative svmbolio acceptation, written in the middle of the 18th ceptury by our local poet, J. Byrom. of Kersal, and set to music by Dr J. Wainwright, one-time organist of our Manchester Cathedral Church. The tune of ' Christians, Awake,' is a fine lung- * stretcher that has proved the discomfiture of many an incapable hand of Christmas singers. The poem is written in a long six-lined metre much used in Elizabethan davs for dirges and lamentations of a moral kind, hut to-day, save for two or three examples, quite passed out of use in hvmnodv. It has all the descriptive qualities essential to the Christmas hymn. 'Hark! How all the Welkin Rings,' or, as the popular versions of the hymn have it, 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,' is the last of our Christmas hymns with a untvercallv accepted tune. This tune is adapted from a part song by Mendelssohn, and is, like most adaptations, only Toughly successful. Other hymns survive by their striking ■pictoresqueneas. in spite of the want of an individual tune. 'While Shepherds Watched' is now usually sung to the tune ' Winchester Old.* which is in familiar use to other hymns throughout the year, and which, bevond a certain vividness of style, sgems to "have no peculiar appropriateness to it. Many have been the attempts to set the hymn in the florid style it seems to ask. but no setting has ever been more than partially accepted. A hymn of like metre and vividness of style which has met with a like musical fate is Dr Doddridge's '■. Hark I.the Glad Sound.'. Tunes come and go, hut the hymn outlives them, and still fails of popular musical exEression. Another poet of sorts who ss come very near to a lasting success with Christmas hymns is James Montgomery, whose " Angels from the Realms of Glory ; and 'Hail to the Lord's Anointed.! although they have found no special setting of a lasting nature, are still familiar. The composer Webbe almost succeeded in establishing a highly characteristic tune of Ions; range and florid elaboration to the first, but fashions run to extreme lengths in church music, and when days of rigid stiffness in hymn tunes came in, Webhe's tune had to go out, and although it is so strikingly memorable that it would strike most ears as familiar even to-day. it has not come back into use Wesley's hymn 'Lo! He Comes,* which is in the same metre, found a similarly bold but unrefined setting which is now struggling back, against much prejudice, into favor. It is stranre that while an ornate style of music'finds little favor, an ornate and even blatant type of poetry seems acceptable in hymnoily. 'Brightest and Best of tho Pons of the Morning' is a piece of poetic tinsel and mixed extravagance of expression that would have done no more than ordinary credit to Mrs Hemans. but it came very near to hemg a hymn of lasting popularity, and an equally popular' tune would go near to restoring its prestige even to-day. A notably fino hymn, with an equally fine traditional tune, is '0 Come, O Come, Emanuel,' but this proves a little too severe for the popular taste. Wesley's 'Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,' seems only to need a fine settii.g to become universally loved, but it has so far tempted only the sentimentalist. But this hymn, is of a personal type pomewhat removed from the picturesque stylo that the examples we have cited arcenough to show is trie most acceptable to our imaginations at Christmastide. Tk will be seen that we are far richer in Christmas hymns of this type that in associated music. Latterly tho carol has, with tho folkfoti!!. become the peculiar object of the collector's care, and, has come back into rw, not among our carol-ringers, who become more and more of the uninspired and inflatory type, but in our churches. Properly speaking, it occupies a place botwfvn secuhvr and sacred art- which unfits it for that use. Alon« with the .Christmas hymn, it has usually a piehnysque style aiid setting. The three everywhere known *ie 'Good King Wenceslas,* 'The First Nuwell.' and, ip some form or other, 'ln Dnlci Jnbilo.' One cannot but envy the Germans that carol to the Sicilian Mariners' tune, 'Oh Thou Joyfullest! Oh Thou Lordliest! O Thou Holiest Christmas Time,' of which translations seem to j>e popular also ir. Scandinavian countries. The fls>ld of the Christmas carol is a very wido one. and one in which a little international exchange would be veTy profitable. Tho present day movement in favor of carrJa in churches has had the disadvantage of making known a multitude of medern mimical leaflets of a perniciously sar.tune.-it«l typo that ought not to be toWnted. One may praise especially as opposite tills tendency ' The English Carol Book,' tha muaie collected and edited by Martin Shaw, the words by Dr Percy LWrmer. In this book not only are the raelooicfl bold and the harmonies of the ©l4-fa*h«jr»ed, manly type, but tho words «r.-cn oJ the contemporary carols are chosen with a true instinct ior poetry. "As np the wood I took my way," the words by Selwyn Image and the music by the editor, ha* all the simplicity and vitfi n«TOitJ»e style «f the bVrt ef the .ancient carcla. 11l fnglaai ww bare Tctry few fin* Christinas B«Bgs. Geuned's 'Nazareth' stands alone, and enjsys now but a waning popularity. I! concerts did not stop afc Cbristmas, parhaps the beautiful Christmas gongs of Humpordinck and Cornelius, those in the 'Spanish Songs' of Hugo Wolf, and the lovely Qhristjpita "-Cradle Song," with viola obbligato by Brahms, might become bettre knevtb
' One cannot leavo a dissertation on Christmas music without a regret that the greatest Christmas poem in our language, Milton's 'JJvmq on Christ's- Nativity," has not yet found a popular and worthy musical Getting. The poem strikes with such a sure touch that imaginative noto of. Christmas music which, we have tried to show i 3 common feeling that the lock of common knowledge of the poem is a general loss. When such musict sweet Their hearts and ears did greet As never was bv mortal finger struck; DHrieJy wflxbied voice, Answering the stringed noise As all souls in blissful rapture took; The air such pleasure loth to lose With thousand echoes still prolongs each heavenly close-. It is indeed in some degree true not only of such angels' musio, but of all Christmas music, that if such holy song Enwrap our fancy song Time will turn back and fetch the age of gold. Which-miracle it may be said that Christmas in a sense perfonus for all of us. in that while its sentiments and associations bring back our childhood, they aiso add a reconciling grace to age.—Exchange.'
CHRISTMAS MUSIC., Issue 15683, 23 December 1914
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