Noël À L’Ancienne: An Ancient French Christmas – Program Notes

Noel A L'Ancienne Final
Saturday, December 7th, 2013
7:30 p.m.
Christ Church of the Ascension
4015 E Lincoln Dr, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253

1- O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Veni Emmanuel)- 8th Century French Chant                            Arranged by Kira Zeeman Rugen

This 8th century chant’s alluring melody stands out as one of the oldest of France’s Christmas melodies. Written by a priest who had a deep understanding of the bible, the Latin verses portray the full story of the birth of the Messiah, originally intended to be sung over the course of seven days, one verse per day. During the 15th Century, the chant appeared in the publication Psalteroium Cantionum Catholicarum intended as a processional in worship. Kira Rugen’s setting combines the familiar chant along side Medieval modal colors, 19th Century and 21st Century harmonies.  This carol, which has survived for over a century, is still beloved today.

2- Maria Matrem – Based on 4th Century Ambrosian Chant/14th Century Catalonian Chant
Arranged by Michael McGlynn

The original Maria Matrem Chant comes from a body of melodies collected by St. Ambrose of Milan between the 4th and 8th centuries. This collection eventually developed into the Ambrosian Rite, the only other Papal divinely accepted chant beyond the Gregorian Rite. A variation of Maria Matrem appeared in Medieval Catalonia (north-eastern Spain and Southern-France) in a collection entitled “Libre Vermell de Montserrat” (The Red Book of Montserrat) named after its red velvet cover. A center for learning and the home of the “Black Virgin” statue, Montserrat was a desirable location for large numbers of pilgrims. The pilgrims often expressed jubilation upon their arrival by singing and dancing in the church area around the shrine. Although the Monks of the Santa Maria de Montserrat Monastery appreciated and understood the pilgrim’s celebratory exultation, the monks felt much of the music was largely secular and unbefitting to such a holy place. Instead, the monks assembled a collection of music befitting to the revered shrine, with sacred texts. Most of the pieces in the book are actually secular melodies of the 14th Century, set with new religious texts. Irish composer and founder of Ireland’s National Choir, Anùna, discovered the melody from the Red Book of Montserrat and composed this setting for female voices.

3- Gaudete – From the 16th Century Piæ Cantiones Arr. by Kira Zeeman Rugen

The University of Paris (founded in 1170) and the Cathedral of Notre Dame occupied the center of Parisian musical activity during the middle ages. This influence infiltrated the development of music in Europe through polyphonic forms, melodic modes, rhythmic modes, composition, and theory. Ties between Nordic countries and Paris were strong. Scandinavian students often studied abroad in Paris and returned home with new melodies, Gaudete, perhaps being one of them.

In 1582, a collection of sacred and secular songs and chants from around northern Europe was published in Finland/Sweden. The full name, Piae Cantiones Ecclesiasticae et Scholasticae VeterumEepiscorporum (Devout Ecclesiastical and School Songs of the Old Bishops), is known in short as Piæ Cantiones.  This collection includes seventy-four Latin songs from Scandinavia and Central Europe, intended for instruction in Finnish Cathedral schools. Carols could be on any subject, but often they exhibited themes about the Virgin Mary or the Saints of Christmas. Gaudete, follows a standard pattern of that period: Four-line stanzas, each preceded by two-line refrain. The original polyphony displayed a three-voiced setting drawing upon one principle of improvisation known as fauxbourdon.

4- A Solis Ortus/Patapan- Traditional 5th Century Ambrosian Chant/Burgundian Carol

Arr. by Mike Hegeman

“I was drawn to these two melodies, even though one is free Latin (Ambrosian) plainchant and the other a rhythmic march-like dance, not only because they share the Dorian mode (though the Latin hymn ends in the Phrygian mode) and have frequent leaps of a fifth in the melodic line, but also because they counter each other well: one expresses a reverent stillness and the other a raucous celebration. The Middle Ages were alive with such contrasts of the other-worldly and the mundane. Piety and party come together well in the Christmas story that proclaims the union of the Divine and earthly; angelic choirs and shepherd bands arrive on a scene of wonder: the eternal Word made flesh, lying in a manger.”

“A Solis Ortus Cardine, a Latin hymn that was popular in France throughout the Middle Ages, dates from the early 5th century. This current setting uses only the opening stanza, of the original twenty-three, of a poem that celebrates the divine mysteries associated with the birth of Jesus. The hymn was translated by Martin Luther to German in 1524, as Christum wir sollen loben schon,and his setting exists today in Lutheran hymnals. Bach even used Luther’s translation and transcription as the basis of a cantata. Patapan was composed by Bernard de La Monnoye originally in the Burgundian dialect in 1720. Even though it was penned much later than the Middle Ages, it has the feel of a medieval dance and evokes a much more ancient scene. “

~Notes written by Composer, Mike Hegeman

5- Motet: Noel, Noel, Noel By Antoine Busnoys

This Flanders composer made his reputation as a master of melody and rhythm. However, this delicate piece draws from the simplest of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic resources while only uttering a single word.  The word “Noel,” or “Noe,” was an early French word that comes from the Latin word, Natalis, which means birth. However, at that time the word “Noel” was not always associated with Christmas. Instead, it was simply a Christian expression of joy, either shouted or sung.

In the middle ages, Christmas as we understand it did not exist and composers did not write songs specifically for the holiday. A song about Christ’s birth cropped for any time of year and occurred at several different feasts. The music for Epiphany, Easter and Christmas might sound the same, as there was not a defined set of carols connected to a single holiday. Instead, motets covering any topic popped up for any season.

6- Motet: Allon, Gay Bergeres By Guillaume Costeley

A prolific composer of Parisian Chanson, Costeley is recognized for his creative word painting and a forward way of thinking harmonically instead of polyphonically. He was the composer to King Charles IX of France as well as the organist of the court.

Historians believe Costeley’s text in this Christmas Chanson may refer to both the Christ child suckling his mother’s breast, as well as the long held French tradition called “King of the Bean.” In this ancient French ritual, usually held during Epiphany, a bean designated as “the King,” is baked inside a cake. While enjoying the cake, one person might find the lucky bean and must immediately take a drink. At that time, the entire party exclaims “The King Drinks!”  If the lucky “King” takes a drink, he is dubbed “King of the Feast”, but if he does not take a drink, he is covered in black soot. The tradition draws from the story of the Three Wise Men who meet the baby Jesus amidst suckling his mother. One of the Wise Men is thought to have said “The King Drinks!”

7 – Ding Dong Merrily on High Arr. by Charles Wood
French Renaissance Dance Melody

The dance tune, Branle de L’Official, appeared in the 1588 book Orchesographie, a 16th Century study of French dance forms, by Thoinot Arbeau—the anagrammatic pen name of French cleric Jehan Tabourot (March 17, 1519 – July 23, 1595). Written for the study of 16th Century French dances, it describes social ballroom behavior between musicians and dancers, gives detailed instructions of various dance forms, and even included various woodcuts of musicians and dancers. The dances highlighted in Branle de L’Official were intended primarily for the commoners’, however, it also found popularity within the aristocracy. In 1924, English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward set the tune to his own archaic-like text, and then Charles Wood harmonized the version for choir beloved today.

8 – Kanam Nouel Arr. by Kira Zeeman Rugen
Breton Carol based on a Renaissance Viol melody

The original melody of Kanamb Noël is based on an Air taken from a book for Renaissance viols. The carol settled as a familiar tune in the area of Brittan, France. This melody’s history tells that Breton children went from house to house singing this song as a part of their Christmas tradition. Kira Rugen’s polyphonic arrangement is based on a setting by Goulven Airault.

9 – Noel Nouvelet—15th Century French Carol Arr. by Victoria Larley

Noel Nouvelet’s tune originates from the late 15th Century, but its text may date from an earlier period. During the Middle Ages, clergy spoke the mass and scripture exclusively in Latin. As peasants were largely illiterate and spoke only a local language, they often acquired Christian knowledge primarily through the oral tradition of songs and plays. Noël Nouvelet may have begun as a play. The oldest lyrics reveal thirteen verses that tell the Christmas story of Mary, Joseph, the animals, angels and the Three Kings. As the text married with the tune, it is assumed the song was intended to teach children the elements of the Christmas Story, as the lyrics and melody are simple and sweet.

10 – Away in a Manger—Normandy Melody Arr. by Reginald Jacques

There are a number of tunes associated with the text “Away in a Manger.” Some sources claim it was an American melody, while others insist Martin Luther composed it. However, those claims may not be referencing the same melody. The tune of the song is not universal; as over forty different tunes have been placed alongside the lyrics in various hymnals. Richard S. Hill researched the origin of this carol and found that the text may have come from a poem read in 1883 for the 400th anniversary of Luther’s birth. The popular text found pairings with a plethora of melodies. The tune on tonight’s program hails from Normandy, located in Northern France. The melody came from older carol that was adapted to fit with the 19th century “Away in a Manger” text.

11 – Angels we Have Heard on High Arr. by Rev SS. Greathead
(Les Anges dans nos Campagnes)—Old French Carol

“Angels we Have Heard on High” is one of today’s best-loved holiday carols. However, one portion of the carol has been a part of Christian services since before the Roman Empire embraced Christianity. In 130 A.D., Pope Telesphorus mandated that on the day of Christ’s birth all churches would hold evening mass and the congregation should sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (Glory to God in the Highest).

The original version of the carol, Les Anges dans nos Campagnes, had its first publication in 1855, in the book Nouveau Recueil de Cantiques. However, church records show the song held popular appeal in mass worship services for at least fifty years preceding the first publication. Historians are unsure who originally penned the tune, however they suspect a Catholic monk or priest who had a scholarly understanding of the bible likely wrote it. The original text combined Latin and French making it Macronic, written with mixed languages.

12- The First Nowell—French/English Carol Arr. by Ola Gjeilo

Both England and France claim “The First Nowell,” or Noël, as originating from their own heritage—Thus the English spelling of “Nowell” and the French spelling of “Noël.” The origins of the tune and text continue to be a point of argument between the fair folk of each country, yet there is no evidence to prove it originated in one land or the other. The French word “Noël” means “Christmas,” and is derived from the Latin word Natalis meaning “Birth.” The French claim that their children often sang it as a round. While the English hold that the spelling “Nowell” originates in Cornwall and that after the Normans captured that part of England those living in the region adopted some French words.  Some historians say the tune may have originated as early as the 13th century, although the earliest printed versions from 16th Century hymnals use the spelling of “Nowell.”

The text in this carol lacks the scholarly language structure of other carols, which led many to speculate that a person with no formal written language training wrote it. The tune may come from an oral tradition of the common people, as the text is strongly associated with the tradition of lighting the Yule log. In the early 1800’s, an English Lawyer by the name of William Sandys published “The First Noel” in Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern at a time when the Church of England added folk-like and popular tunes into worship. The version Solis Camerata sings on this program is a charming arrangement by contemporary Norwegian composer, Ola Gjeilo.

13 – Oh Come, All Ye Faithful Arr. by David Willcocks
Composed by French-English Catholic J.F. Wade (c. 1711–1786)

For many years, people believed St. Bonaventure penned Adeste Fideles in the middle ages. However, around the time of World War II, scholars discovered that it was actually written in 1745 by a British-Catholic Priest by the name John Francis Wade, who was teaching at a university in Douai, France. Wade lived during a time where it was not safe to practice Catholicism openly in England. Many Catholics fled to avoid prison and possible death. Wade collected sacred musical manuscripts for preservation as a part of his tasks at the university in France. As he unearthed old scores, he also found inspiration from the research and began composing his own music. He published the Latin song Adeste Fideles in a book entitled Cantus Diversi, and in 1841 Frederrick Oackeley translated the Latin into English and published the more familiar text “O Come All Ye Faithful.” However, Oackeley failed to include the name of the composer, thus causing the mystery as to the origins of the carol.

14 – Messe de Minuit pour Noël By Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Marc-Antoine Charpentier was a child of France, but had the compositional spirit of an Italian. Due to his studies in Rome with Giacomo Carissimi, Charpentier’s music always espoused a flair closer to the Italian liturgical style of his teacher than to contemporary French composers. His techniques ranged from Renaissance polyphony and Medieval fauxbordon, to counterpoint and the modern concertato style. A difference that marked Charpentier apart from his French peers was his approach to the Mass.

In the late 17th Century, King Louis XIV of France was not in favor of attending High Mass, preferring instead the Low Mass, in which the music comprised of Motets. Due to the King’s dislike of the Mass, very few Mass compositions exist from French composers after 1670. Charpentier is the exception as not only did he compose several Masses, but also he approached the Mass using the same musical language other French composers reserved exclusively for the Motet. He was adept at creating effects of mood by contrasting dark and light. Examples of this occur in Messe de Minuit Pour Noël’s Credo. The word Crucifixus (crucifix) and passus (suffered) are always set in a low, minor key. In opposition, the word resurrexit (resurrection) is painted in major, with joyful melismatic sections. Additionally, Charpentier always musically sets the words descendit and ascendit with downward or upward motion. Messe de Minuit pour Noël was likely written between 1692-1694 for use in the Christmas Midnight Mass of the main Jesuit church in Paris. This Midnight Mass is unique even for Charpentier, as he utilizes the then out of fashion parody technique, basing the composition on a pre-existing melody. Those melodies are the charming feature of the work as the carols came from large repertoire of songs dating from plainchant and folk noels to secular 16th Century Christmas melodies. There are a total of ten Noel melodies in the Mass, and a different carol forms the basis of new material for each new section of the text. The Mass is scored for two violins, two flutes, continuo, chorus and soloists. Within each section, solo, instrumental and choral forces alternate to create a pastiche of Renaissance polyphony juxtaposed against Baroque dances. The folk melodies bestow a pastoral atmosphere through the inclusion of the Baroque flute.

In this era, organists frequently interpolated short compositions between Mass movements during worship. Charpentier acknowledges this tradition by requesting insertion of the original form of three Noels, to illustrate the original melody against the interwoven melody. Those three melodies sound during the Kyrie movement in-between sections of new text: Joseph est Bien Marie, “Or Nous Dites Marie” and “Une Jeune Pucelle.” In addition to the carols that Charpentier suggest for inclusion, tonight we will present three chants routinely sung for Christmas Midnight Mass. The Introit Dominus Dixit before the Kyrie, the Offertory Laetenture Caeli before the Sanctus, and for Communion, In Splendoribus Sanctorum after the Agnus Dei. Messe de Minuit pour Noël‘s charm and simplicity helped retain its survival over four centuries. This work captures a joyous and festive spirit due to the folk-like carols, while maintaining the liturgical function of the Mass. It is this synthesis of the secular and liturgical that creates a celebratory and reminiscent atmosphere, which lends itself to the advent season.

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