Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Music

St. Bride's, Ludgate Hill

London is crisp and cold and full of Christmas lights and party-goers. It is also full of Christmas music, if you listen for it.

Last Sunday evening the choir of St Bride's, Ludgate Hill, performed the divinely beautiful 'A Ceremony of Carols' by Benjamin Britten. Britten wrote the music in 1942, setting nine mediaeval carols for treble voices and harp. Our harpist was Sue Rothstein, and the high voices and ethereal strings floated up into the rafters of the Christopher Wren-designed nave, as we sat rugged up against the cold. In St Bride's (which regular readers might recall is to be the venue for the Birthday Concert next February) the pews are unusually arranged - they all look inwards to the length of the nave, rather than facing the alter. I can now report that they are mediaevally uncomfortable too - think wooden carvings poking you in the back - so our concert had better not go on for too long!

But I joke - the Britten music was worth these minor privations. A pleasant shiver went down my spine when the choirs voices were heard from afar, as they processed into the church, singing in archaic Mediaeval English:

Hodie Christus natus est:           Today Christ is born
Hodie Salvator apparuit            Today the Saviour appears
Hodie in terra canunt angeli:      Today the angels sing on earth
Laetantur archangeli:                 The archangels rejoice:
Hodie exsultant justi dicentes:    Today the righteous exult, saying:
Gloria in excelsis Deo.              Glory to God in the highest.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!         Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

And then after an hour or so of transportingly beautiful music, they processed on out again...

Benjamin Britten

Here's a link to some information about the composition. It seems that Benjamin Britten and his partner (the singer) Peter Pears were, in 1942, trying to travel by ship back from America to Britain, through U-Boat infested waters. At a stop-over in Halifax Britten came across a book of mediaeval poems which he set for harp (which he had been learning to play) and treble boys' voices. Our choir at St. Bride's was made up of ladies (and one gent with a very high range). There are some excellent singers amongst them. It was delightful evening.
Adeste fidelis!

A dark & evocative Sunday evening at St Bride's

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