I'm not quite keeping up with my program of 12 Christmas songs over the 12 days of Christmas (this is the eighth day of Christmas). And this one could keep you busy for a while, depending on how far you go with it.
It is Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, performed by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. It's nice to have the lyrics translated on the video.
Bach had a little bit the same problem bloggers do...his composing was episodic and occasional, tied to specific church services and sermons. Scholars generally agree that he intended the parts of the Christmas Oratorio to go together as a coherent larger single work, but they're not quite agreed at to how he went about it. He pulled it off, though. It's one of Bach's most genial and appealing choral pieces.
The Christmas Oratorio is not the most famous classical Christmas composition. That (dubious) honor probably has to go to Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, which I did not like even when I was ten years old. (Mine isn't the majority opinion. Wikipedia informs us that "major American ballet companies generate around 40 percent of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker." Yikes.) I also have to admit I've never cared for Handel's Messiah either. I just don't like that piece of music*. It's popular despite being overtly religious; it's a curious fact that all of the top 15 Christmas songs overplayed on the radio at Christmastime are secular songs. None are religious.
(That fact comes from a wonderful history and deconstruction of the science of Christmas music sent to us by reader Speed [Jim E.], for which many thanks. I really enjoyed that. Written by Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight.)
But you can't go wrong with Bach. Each time I start this string of videos I can't turn it off again. I've listened to the whole piece about three times now.
(Thanks to Speed)
P.S. Set aside fear, banish lamentation.
*For me I'm sure it's partly due to that huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh vocal flourish that Handel uses ad nauseam; what's it called? I know it was standard fare in the Baroque but I think it's ugly.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Mike Chisholm: "Re Handel, I think the word you want may be 'melisma.' It's the same idea as that mannered, arpeggiated style that Whitney Houston et al. pour all over songs like syrup, as a substitute for 'expression'... Stevie Wonder does it best. Happy New Year!"
Tim Auger: "Whenever I feel that the world has gone insane, I find a solid slice of Bach very reassuring. It's so sensible, like very good fruitcake. One never tires of it, I think because there is a lot for the brain to follow, with all that counterpoint. As I was listening to some of this earlier today, it seemed remarkable to be able to connect so directly with the mind of Bach some three hundred years ago.
"Maria Carey Syndrome, a form of melisma (see earlier comments), is an easily spread condition that must be rigorously controlled, and ideally eliminated."