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I am no doubt suffering from a surfeit of Bah! Humbug! and should possibly be boiled in oil as an heretic, but personally I'm sick to death of the Lauridsen and the similar Lux aurumque by Eric Whitacre. Sure, they both sound beautiful and I was very impressed with both when I first heard them, but the effect soon palls. They don't wear well. However, this could be just because I have been over-exposed to them, since everyone has been doing them for the last couple of years.

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I am no doubt suffering from a surfeit of Bah! Humbug! and should possibly be boiled in oil as an heretic, but personally I'm sick to death of the Lauridsen and the similar Lux aurumque by Eric Whitacre. Sure, they both sound beautiful and I was very impressed with both when I first heard them, but the effect soon palls. They don't wear well. However, this could be just because I have been over-exposed to them, since everyone has been doing them for the last couple of years.

 

Both the works to which you refer were part of the Midnight Mass from Westminster Cathedral. I had a restless night after sitting through it ( I must admit) as the juxtapositioning of Latin and English throughout the solemnities left me rather emotional and a tad annoyed for such a broadcast. But there was a glorious 'oops a daisy' moment from the Archbishop when he wished everyone a Happy EasterrrrrrrrrrrrrrChristmas!!

We had Garth Edmundson up to the first pedal note to finish and it was if Matthew had been shot.

 

Happy St Stephen's Day.

Nigel

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It's by Morten Lauridsen who is a Danish composer by birth (I think) but now living in America.

Born 1943 in Washington State. Family were originally migrants from Denmark.

When not teaching in California, he lives in a log cabin on an island in Puget Sound (just off Seattle).

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Thank you all for the details. I know what you mean, Vox, about some Eric Whitacre. I like his "When David Heard..." very much, but whereas I could listen to the Tomkins setting of the same words over and over, the Whitacre is better served as an occasional treat. I'm sure that the Lauridsen would feel the same after repeated exposure. It just goes to show that I don't go to church often enough these days as I'd never heard it before. Mind you, I thought that about the George Baker. When Mrs Handsoff is out of earshot I'll play the St Sulpice recording of that again.

 

P

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Both the works to which you refer were part of the Midnight Mass from Westminster Cathedral. I had a restless night after sitting through it ( I must admit) as the juxtapositioning of Latin and English throughout the solemnities left me rather emotional and a tad annoyed for such a broadcast. But there was a glorious 'oops a daisy' moment from the Archbishop when he wished everyone a Happy EasterrrrrrrrrrrrrrChristmas!!

We had Garth Edmundson up to the first pedal note to finish and it was if Matthew had been shot.

 

Happy St Stephen's Day.

Nigel

 

Not the only 'oops a daisy' moment. The BBC i player currently has a picture of Westminster Abbey fronting this service!

 

PJW

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Possibly - apart from that which he wrote for Once in Royal David's City, which I find to be repetitive, dull, foursquare and greatly inferior to the excellent arrangement by Stephen Cleobury.

If you mean the one that was broadcast this year, then give me the Willcocks any time. I like a descant to add something to a hymn, not destroy it.

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I must say that after listening to the Stephen Cleobury last verse, I'm not all that taken with it (particularly the last line!) But only my opinion though!

 

I thought that on the BBC 2 broadcast, the baritone soloist that sang in 'A Spotless Rose' (and in 'We Three Kings') was absolutely marvellous! Any thoughts?

 

Hope you have all had a lovely Christmas!

 

Richard

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I totally agree that the baritone soloist in the BBC 2 broadcast was superb. A fine vocal quality and musicianship to match. My wife, who was with the BBC Singers for 11 years, has exactly the same opinion on this. Does anyone know the soloist's name as he is a singer to watch for the future?

Best seasonal greetings,

DKP

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If you mean the one that was broadcast this year, then give me the Willcocks any time.

As luck would have it I missed the beginning of all the King's broadcasts this year and have only just caught up with them on iPlayer. Surely this was a new descant to Once in royal this year?

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As luck would have it I missed the beginning of all the King's broadcasts this year and have only just caught up with them on iPlayer. Surely this was a new descant to Once in royal this year?

 

This is from the KCC order of service. I don't recall having previously heard it, but as we've already established on this thread, the memory portion of my brain is reverting to its lime jelly state... Whatever, I thought it was pretty impressive.

 

Hymn: Once in Royal David’s City

( Words: Cecil Frances Alexander Melody: Henry John Gauntlett

Harmony: Henry John Gauntlett and Arthur Henry Mann arr: Cleobury )

 

P

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I am very conscious of this distinction, having been at both places (Ch Ch chorister and CCC undergrad).

 

As well as the "organ", Michael played the piano in Gardner's "Tomorrow will be my dancing day"; I've not heard the (original, I think) piano and perc scoring before.

 

Paul

 

The choir sang the Gardiner five or six times over Christmas. It's cracking good fun, isn't it!

 

The distinction is even more confusing as the Cathedral School is usually abbreviated to CCCS !! We all get most confused, depending on which side of the road we are!

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Did you see the article on the BBC News web site about people who queue outside King's College from the early morning of the day before the service? Year after year, apparently. :blink:

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I've just listened to the radio broadcast and thought much of it sounded excellent.

 

What did people think of the commissioned carol? I rather liked it musically, some good word-painting, but I have to say I really don't care for the words.

 

That descant to Once in Royal did sound new to me too. I rather think it was trying to be flashy, as was the one to While shepherds watched. The Willcocks at the end sounded good without having to try, if you follow. The Willcocks one to While shepherds isn't successful IMO, but as someone earlier commented, the Once in Royal is a simple setting to befit a simple set of words and tune.

 

I rather like that second voluntary. It would be interesting to see how hard it is.

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The best one I know for While Shepherds is the simple, no-nonsense, but extremely effective one by Alan Gray. Can't remember in which hymn book I found it. Possibly Hymns for Church & School?

The Alan Gray descant to While Shepherds watched is in the Anglican Hymn Book. I agree with you: I like it, and my choir and congregation tell me they prefer it to the other descants available. I find that sometimes technically difficult and adventorous harmony doesn't always cut it, especially with a no-nonsense carol. I suppose it's called "good taste"...

 

I also like the melody in the tenor line version of this tune, which is in Ancient and Modern. Very effective for the angel speaking, especially with a solo reed for the tenor line in the left hand.

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The Alan Gray descant to While Shepherds watched is in the Anglican Hymn Book.

It appears in the New English Hymnal as well. Willcocks' descant for O come, all ye faithful and Armstrong's for O little town of Bethlehem are also included.

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It appears in the New English Hymnal as well. Willcocks' descant for O come, all ye faithful and Armstrong's for O little town of Bethlehem are also included.

Indeed it does - and it negates the parrallel octaves between the descant and bass line in While Shepherds in AHB in the 2nd line by going to the mediant on the second beat of bar 3. In AHB, it goes to the dominant in 1st inversion, so you get F falling to an E in both bass and descant lines...

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I have had to play the descant to "While Shepherds watch'd" in CFC Book 2 for two years running now and I just don't like it. It seems contrived and I also find that choirs prefer the Alan Gray version.

 

Malcolm

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Indeed it does - and it negates the parrallel octaves between the descant and bass line in While Shepherds in AHB in the 2nd line by going to the mediant on the second beat of bar 3. In AHB, it goes to the dominant in 1st inversion, so you get F falling to an E in both bass and descant lines...

I suspect the AHB version is due to sloppy editing.

 

The version I used to use did indeed come from Hymns for Church and School. There the descant is not given on a separate staff above the four-part harmony, but separately afterwards as a two-stave organ score with the legend "Trebles sing Descant with Organ. Other voices sing melody as above". I do not know whether this is Gray's undoctored original, but it may be. It does have the mediant (a minor) chord Colin mentions. The harmony is slightly fuller than the simple four-part version, especially in the second half and there are some slight variations (e.g. the fourth chord has a B flat in the tenor, the second chord of the third line is a first inversion, the next but one a root position and the ante-penultimate and penultimate chords both include Gs in both hands). There is a wholesale respacing of the chords resulting from the right hand having to play the descant. Personally I think it makes a better accompaniment that the NEH score.

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The new Cleobury descants for Once in Royal and While Shepherds Watched are included in the new Novello collection called something like Christmas at King's College - there are several other new descants and a chief feature of (as far I can remember) all of them is that there are choir harmony parts to go underneath the actual descants. I am not keen on any of them, I'm sorry to say - but these things have a habit of growing on one. I enjoy SC's previous descants very much and I also recall King's using a splendid descant for O Little Town by Andrew Carter about 18 years ago - sadly it was only used the one year but it is super and I recommend it. I had to get it direct from the composer and don't think it has ever been published formally.

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That descant to Once in Royal did sound new to me too. I rather think it was trying to be flashy, as was the one to While shepherds watched. The Willcocks at the end sounded good without having to try, if you follow. The Willcocks one to While shepherds isn't successful IMO, but as someone earlier commented, the Once in Royal is a simple setting to befit a simple set of words and tune.

I have been pondering the question of what makes a good descant. As I have hinted before, descants that are blatantly contrapuntal rarely seem to work. On the other hand, Willcocks's O come is not exactly homophonic yet works wonderfully. Why does this one work so well, whereas other fail dismally? I think Philip had put his finger on it above. I feel sure that the key is that Willcock's O come doesn't go overboard. The counterpoint is fairly light-touch and not systematic throughout the verse; much of the time it is actually fairly simple. Perhaps the crucial thing is that it doesn't detract from the tune. Surely a good descant (like a good last-verse harmonisation) should adorn and enhance the tune (and the words). A descant may be subservient to the tune and work; it may be an equal partner to the tune and work; but in either case the tune must remain the focus. I think the minute the descant begins to assume a greater prominence it will draw attention away from the tune and the hymn will be likely to fall apart. The trouble with contrapuntal descants is that the composer often tries to create a line that is too independent, so that instead of the descant partnering and illuminating the tune, it ends up fighting it. In short, they are too clever by half. I'm not sure this is the whole of the explanation, but it's a working hypothesis.

 

It does seem true of the awful descant that Howells later added to his hymn-tune "Michael". What a miscalculation that was! There is a much better one floating around somewhere; I have a feeling it's by Rutter.

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The new Cleobury descants for Once in Royal and While Shepherds Watched are included in the new Novello collection called something like Christmas at King's College - there are several other new descants and a chief feature of (as far I can remember) all of them is that there are choir harmony parts to go underneath the actual descants. I am not keen on any of them, I'm sorry to say - but these things have a habit of growing on one. I enjoy SC's previous descants very much and I also recall King's using a splendid descant for O Little Town by Andrew Carter about 18 years ago - sadly it was only used the one year but it is super and I recommend it. I had to get it direct from the composer and don't think it has ever been published formally.

 

Yes, this caught my eye in Foyles's today. The O come and Hark the herald are also included, along with a selection of choir carols (including a number of commissions). It was in the region of £12-£13 if my memory serves me correctly.

 

I also noticed the underlying parts to the descant, although I think one of them will probably take the tune. I am yet to be convinced on them though - somewhat over the top I feel.

 

As for O little town, I like Thomas Armstrong's one in CFC, which isn't complicated but works. Even SC has used it when they've had it as a congregational carols, which says something.

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I have been pondering the question of what makes a good descant. As I have hinted before, descants that are blatantly contrapuntal rarely seem to work. On the other hand, Willcocks's O come is not exactly homophonic yet works wonderfully. Why does this one work so well, whereas other fail dismally? I think Philip had put his finger on it above. I feel sure that the key is that Willcock's O come doesn't go overboard. The counterpoint is fairly light-touch and not systematic throughout the verse; much of the time it is actually fairly simple. Perhaps the crucial thing is that it doesn't detract from the tune. Surely a good descant (like a good last-verse harmonisation) should adorn and enhance the tune (and the words). A descant may be subservient to the tune and work; it may be an equal partner to the tune and work; but in either case the tune must remain the focus. I think the minute the descant begins to assume a greater prominence it will draw attention away from the tune and the hymn will be likely to fall apart. The trouble with contrapuntal descants is that the composer often tries to create a line that is too independent, so that instead of the descant partnering and illuminating the tune, it ends up fighting it. In short, they are too clever by half. I'm not sure this is the whole of the explanation, but it's a working hypothesis.

 

Yeah, I'd agree with that. The climax points in the descant are reached on 'Glory' (just wonderful, isn't it?!) and 'Christ the Lord' at the end, which seem appropriate places, both musically and lyrically. Therefore the words are matched well. I wonder how many of the descants we see churned out are written without one look at the words? The harmony (where altered) is exciting without being offputing. Having heard the Ledger descant this year, it is alright until it resolves to a chord of G major on 'God' (where the Willcocks reverts to B major), and that just kills it for me, it loses all the excitement.

 

If you're going to a descant, then it has to actually add something i.e. it has to be more than just the trebles singing some notes above the top line - it needs to lift the tune for the last verse, add some excitement - otherwise why bother? However, it needs to do this without being too clever and making the tune impossible to sing at the same time. As with so many things, its a delicate balance!

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If you're going to a descant, then it has to actually add something i.e. it has to be more than just the trebles singing some notes above the top line - it needs to lift the tune for the last verse, add some excitement - otherwise why bother? However, it needs to do this without being too clever and making the tune impossible to sing at the same time. As with so many things, its a delicate balance!

 

Perhaps even more simply; I firmly believe that a Descant has to be able to stand on its own merit as a memorable melody.

N

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Perhaps even more simply; I firmly believe that a Descant has to be able to stand on its own merit as a memorable melody.

I certainly agree that a descant must at the least be a viable and satisfactory melody in its own right, but, with respect, I do not think that this on its own is enough to ensure that a descant will be good. Some of the descants complained about above are perfectly well-shaped and memorable melodies, yet they fail to satisfy because they up-stage the tune instead of partnering it. Maybe a key here is what exactly it is that makes for memorability in a descant context. Is it just the shape of the descant, as you imply, or is it the whole package? For me it's the latter, hence my belief in a partnership between descant and tune. Of course, I could be barking up the wrong tree (or even just plain barking), but so far I don't think so.

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If you mean the one that was broadcast this year, then give me the Willcocks any time. I like a descant to add something to a hymn, not destroy it.

 

No - I meant the one which had previously been used (and published). I did not particularly care for the version this year, either.

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