Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy
A Suite of Carols for Four Voices and Cello by Daron Hagen
Gilda Lyons, soprano | Elaine Valby, mezzo-soprano | Robert Frankenberry, tenor | James Gregory, bass | Robert La Rue, cello
Daron Hagen, conductor
- Lullay — SATB
- O Come, O Come, Emmanuel — SATB
- God Rest Ye / Emmanuel — SATB
- Silent Night — SATB
- Once in Royal David's City — SA
- Sussex Carol — Solo Cello
- What Child is This? — SATB
- At Bethlehem Proper — TB
- Hosanna — SATB
Over dinner in September of 1996 at Vince and Eddie’s, a cozy little bistro on 68th Street here on the Upper West Side, Robert Schuneman — who was at the time my publisher at E.C. Schirmer, and who was then starting a record label called Arsis Audio ‐ pitched to me the idea of creating a CD full of Christmas choral music sung by the American Repertory Singers, but with accompaniments done in studio as is normally the case with pop music. ‘Mind you,’ he said, putting on his Producer cap, ‘something very creative, but really different from the usual classical Christmas fare.’
It was only September, but I was already dreading the impending seasonal onslaught of looped, overlapping ‘Frosty the Snowmans’ and ‘Jingle Bell Rocks’ and he knew it. I quickly said yes, once we agreed that I would aim to take the listeners on a resolutely ‘non-commercial’ musical journey, one in which I frequently only alluded to the original centuries-old tunes already more than familiar to them.
Of the nine carols, three are necessarily treated as traditional linear narratives: Sussex Carol, a set of variations for the cello alone, and the two carols telling the Christmas Story itself: At Bethlehem Proper, for the men, and Once in Royal David’s City for the women.
Otherwise, the aesthetic goal was to create reinterpretations of these ‘overly-familiar’ carols that, as Brian Eno described ambient music, ‘accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular’ — that is, music that is ‘as ignorable as it is interesting.’
Robert Schuneman, in his liner notes for the recording that was released, wrote, "Some of the songs rely on our long-held memories for the words which are never sung, as in the first part of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, a long fugue vocalized on the ancient melody made from a mediaeval chant, a fugue so sustained as to welcome the flowering of words on ‘rejoice.’ Or, as in What Child is This, in which the insistently compiled clusters urgently ask the question ‘who?’ and get their answer in the short bursts of ‘This, this, is Christ the King whom shepherds guard and angels sing,’ but yet finishes still on the question ‘who?’ as if to acknowledge some human doubt. … And then there is God Rest Ye, Merry, Gentlemen, the tune of which is alluded to only by the cello, and that only briefly, before it slowly and lyrically melts into the yearning of O Come, O Come Emmanuel again. The program ends with a jubilant Hosanna in Excelsis, the words shouted by old and young alike at Christ’s entry into Jerusalem shortly before his death, and which the Church has traditionally appropriated for the next to last Sunday before Christmas to herald his entry into the world."
The arrangements were made during December of 1997 at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and premiered, in recording sessions at the Cathedral Church of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington, DC on 20 April 1997 by the American Repertory Singers, conducted by Music Director Leo Nestor, Robert La Rue, cellist.
I hope that the contemplative and intimate musical space created by these carols in performance together fulfills the function of helping each of us to reconnect at this important time of year with the reason that these melodies came to be, in their original forms, so many hundreds of years ago.
NOTE ON THE SOURCES
- Lullay is based on a three measure fragment drawn from the refrain of Gustav Holst’s setting of the 15th century Coventry Carol.
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel is based on several 9th and 12th century plainsongs, recognized today variously as the songs Adeste Fidelis and O Come Emmanuel, among others.
- Silent Night The original tune being varied is by Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863); the words are by Joseph Mohr (1792-1848), translated by John Freeman Young (1820-1910).
- Once in Royal David’s City varies a tune originally composed by Cecil F. Alexander in 1848.
- Sussex Carol is based on two tunes; the first is a traditional carol tune from Monk’s Gate, Sussex; the other is a traditional carol from Dublin, mid 1880’s.
- What Child is This is based on the traditional English melody Greensleeves; the words are by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898).
- At Bethlehem Proper is based on three tunes, one by Davies Gilbert in 1822, another by Cecil Sharp in 1911, and the third an original tune by Daron Hagen; the text is a traditional English one.
- Hosanna is a newly-composed carol by Daron Hagen.
— © Daron Hagen, 2006. Program note and note on sources is reprinted by permission of the author