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DouglasCorr

The Nation's Top Christmas Carols

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I've just been browsing the Christmas edition of the Radio Times and noticed that on Christmas Day, just before the Queen's speech, Classic FM will unfold the mystery of the Nation's number 1 Christmas Carol!!

This is of course based on a biased statistical sample because it applies to listeners that listen to Classic FM, who may not have the taste of those that listen to Radios 1, 2, 3 or 4. So the choice will be weighted against Slade's Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun or Rudolf the red nosed.... However are you in touch with what the people want? What do you think the choice is? I thought Hark the Herald would be at the top, with Good King Wenceslas not far behind. But it's a long time to wait till the broadcast, and many of you may be selecting unpopular carols now; and in any case I will be in too much excitement thinking about Downton Abbey coming on later on Christmas Day to concentrate properly. Then it occurred to me that it might be possible to cheat if there was such a list last year; here it is. See if you are in touch; of course there is no accounting for Classic FM listeners who no doubt are unable to hear correctly having listened throughout the year to transmissions with extraordinarily boosted bass and treble. :P

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I've just been browsing the Christmas edition of the Radio Times and noticed that on Christmas Day, just before the Queen's speech, Classic FM will unfold the mystery of the Nation's number 1 Christmas Carol!!

This is of course based on a biased statistical sample because it applies to listeners that listen to Classic FM, who may not have the taste of those that listen to Radios 1, 2, 3 or 4. So the choice will be weighted against Slade's Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun or Rudolf the red nosed.... However are you in touch with what the people want? What do you think the choice is? I thought Hark the Herald would be at the top, with Good King Wenceslas not far behind. But it's a long time to wait till the broadcast, and many of you may be selecting unpopular carols now; and in any case I will be in too much excitement thinking about Downton Abbey coming on later on Christmas Day to concentrate properly. Then it occurred to me that it might be possible to cheat if there was such a list last year; here it is. See if you are in touch; of course there is no accounting for Classic FM listeners who no doubt are unable to hear correctly having listened throughout the year to transmissions with extraordinarily boosted bass and treble. :P

I caught a terrible (that's only my opinion) version of Adeste Fideles this evening on Classic fm for piano and strings that was credited to Nigel Hess. I've never heard such drivel (again, my opinion).

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"Hark, the herald angels sing" might be near the top of the list, but both the writer of the words and the composer of the music would have disapproved of what we sing now.

 

In 1739 Charles Wesley published a hymn which began

Hark! how all the welkin rings,

Glory to the King of Kings

It was perhaps because not many people knew what a “welkin” was, or perhaps because the tune used then wasn’t very inspiring, that it didn’t achieve great popularity.

 

John Wesley wrote, “Many Gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome to do so, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire that they would not attempt to mend them – for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore I must beg the one of these two favours: either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page; that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or doggerel of other men.”

 

Martin Madan and George Whitfield published a new version of it in 1767, with the first lines changed to

Hark! the Herald Angels sing

Glory to the new-born King !

 

Other music was tried, including Handel’s See the Conqu’ring hero comes, and it is still sung to that tune in Ireland.

 

In 1840 Felix Mendelssohn wrote the music for a secular cantata to celebrate Gutenberg, the inventor of printing. The cantata was first presented at the great festival held at Leipzig.

 

The lyrics (probably just as bad in the original German), went something like this:-

 

Fatherland, once a golden day dawned in your regions

Bringing dawn to your people, Germany,

Gutenberg, a German came,

Gutenberg, a German came,

It was he who lit the flame,

Gutenberg, a German came,

It was he who lit the flame.

 

Festgesang's second chorus, "Vaterland, in deinem Gauen", was adapted in 1855 by William Hayman Cummings. Mendelssohn said of the song that it could be used with many different choruses but that it should not be used for sacred music. This may be because the melodic and harmonic structure of the tune are similar to the Gavotte of Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 4; indeed Mendelssohn (who has always been linked with the music of Bach) may simply have adapted Bach's music for his chorus, as was suggested by Nigel Poole with his (transposed) arrangement of the Gavotte as Bach's Christmas Carol.

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(DouglasCorr @ Dec 8 2011, 10:10 PM)

This is of course based on a biased statistical sample because it applies to listeners that listen to Classic FM, who may not have the taste of those that listen to Radios 1, 2, 3 or 4.

 

Not even that because, in usual CFM fashion, the voting is based on a shortlist selected by CFM themselves, so, if your favourite carol isn't listed, tough. And I wouldn't mind betting that the list is in turn influenced by advertising revenue from record companies paying to have certain discs promoted.

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I'd vote for Berlioz' The Shepherds' Farewell, but it doesn't appear in last year's top thirty.

That was on BBC R3 this morning. Very lovely recording. Probably my favourite Berlioz. My favourite carol would probably be Bethlehem Down by Brian Sewell’s father, Peter Warlock.

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That was on BBC R3 this morning. Very lovely recording. Probably my favourite Berlioz. My favourite carol would probably be Bethlehem Down by Brian Sewell's father, Peter Warlock.

 

======================

 

 

I haven't looked at last year's list deliberately, but I will when I've suggested my winning favourite, which I think might be the Darke "In the bleak mid-winter."

 

There's something just perfect about it, and I know of many organists and others, who would say that it is only Christmas when they have heard it on the radio from King's.

 

Of course, my favourite is the Latin version of "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer."

 

http://stpatricksmithtown.org/downloads/multimedia.php

 

MM

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======================

 

 

Of course, my favourite is the Latin version of "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer."

 

 

MM

 

Hmmmm.. ?? Given your enthusiasm for cymbalstern stops in previous posts I would have thought that you would have gone for Jingle Bells?? Or Campanae Sonant if you are high church. :P:o

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Hmmmm.. ?? Given your enthusiasm for cymbalstern stops in previous posts I would have thought that you would have gone for Jingle Bells?? Or Campanae Sonant if you are high church. :P:o

 

 

=======================

 

 

Cymbelsterns are such a luxury, but there is a cheaper alternative.

 

You need the following:-

 

One small Christmas Elf hat with folly bells attached

 

One small Christmas Santa dog-jacket with fur lining

 

2 metres of ribbon

 

12 assorted small bells

 

Needle & thread

 

One large glass of water

 

One small leather strap

 

1 meter of velcro ribbon

 

A large, padded dog basket

 

A clear plastic mac

 

Method:-

 

Thread the Christmas Bells onto the ribbons, and secure firmly with appropriate lock-stitches to the dog-jacket; evenly spaced out along the bottom adge of the material.

 

Attach the leather strap to the small elf hat, leaving plenty of available strap adjustment.

 

Call your dog and have it sit at your feet.

 

Attach the elf hat to the head of the dog, and secure it with the leather strap. Now wrap the attractive Santa dog-jacket

around the animal and secure it with velcro strips cut from the velcro ribbon.

 

Arrive at church very early and sneak the dog, (complete with Santa jacket and elf hat), into the organ loft, having first fed it. At this point, the dog should go to sleep instantly.

 

When the cymbelstern effect is required, take the glass of water and hurl the contents at the dog, making sure that you have first put on the plastic mac.

 

DO NOT TRY THIS WITH CATS!

 

MM

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=======================

 

 

Cymbelsterns are such a luxury, but there is a cheaper alternative.

 

You need the following:-

 

One small Christmas Elf hat with folly bells attached

 

One small Christmas Santa dog-jacket with fur lining

 

2 metres of ribbon

 

12 assorted small bells

 

Needle & thread

 

One large glass of water

 

One small leather strap

 

1 meter of velcro ribbon

 

A large, padded dog basket

 

A clear plastic mac

 

Method:-

 

Thread the Christmas Bells onto the ribbons, and secure firmly with appropriate lock-stitches to the dog-jacket; evenly spaced out along the bottom adge of the material.

 

Attach the leather strap to the small elf hat, leaving plenty of available strap adjustment.

 

Call your dog and have it sit at your feet.

 

Attach the elf hat to the head of the dog, and secure it with the leather strap. Now wrap the attractive Santa dog-jacket

around the animal and secure it with velcro strips cut from the velcro ribbon.

 

Arrive at church very early and sneak the dog, (complete with Santa jacket and elf hat), into the organ loft, having first fed it. At this point, the dog should go to sleep instantly.

 

When the cymbelstern effect is required, take the glass of water and hurl the contents at the dog, making sure that you have first put on the plastic mac.

 

DO NOT TRY THIS WITH CATS!

 

MM

 

We haven't got a dog, but there are a lot of moose around here. Do you think that would work?

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We haven't got a dog, but there are a lot of moose around here. Do you think that would work?

 

 

===========================

 

 

Yes, but with certain reservations. The antlers are perfect for hanging folly-bells on strings, but if the animal lunges forward at the console, there is the danger of them becoming a general cancel at best or demolition implements at worst.

 

The problem will be getting the animal to shake its head at the right moment, because they tend to stand in water or submerge themselves from time to time, and a glass of water would have no effect.

 

However, if you have a Vox Humana, this could be used to simulate the sound of mosquitoes, which usually guarantees that the animal will start to shake its head.

 

You may consider the need to widen doors and spiral stairways.

 

 

MM (Mooseing Mooseo)

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I suppose we could compare this to the Kings service and see how it fits the bill...the order is online now on the BBC website.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018fv69

 

I had thought for the past couple of years that the order was getting a bit repetitive, but this year's looks a little better (that Judith Weir seems to be one of SC's 'pet' pieces though which gets a lot of outings). I am a sucker for 20th century stuff, and the Chilcott and Tavener are both favourites (the Tavener is obviously well-known, the Chilcott deserves to be better known in spite of featuring at Kings).

 

In terms of the top 30, I'd think of it in terms of congregational items and choir items. For the former, there's plenty I don't dislike, but a few I'd rather not have - namely

Away in a manger (done to death)

Silent night (as above)

We three kings (boring)

Angels from the realms (even more boring)

In the bleak (Holst - mostly because I find it inferior to the Darke)

 

Otherwise, I think a carol service is nothing without 'O come, all ye faithful' and the splendid Willcocks arrangements (we normally have a thread about descants here every year!) and 'Hark the herald', although thats a strain to sing, especially if you play it in G as in CFC - I always take it down to F which is still quite taxing. We are having (as we have done for the past few years) a joint Carol service with the Methodist Church across the road and from their new hymnbook 'Singing the Faith' we're using a different descant to 'Hark the herald' by Paul Leddington-Wright. Some of it is quite good, but there are a couple of rather trite phrases in there - nice for a change though. I'd put 'Of the Father's love begotten' in as an under-used favourite (sadly it doesn't feature in the top 30 listed) - although I don't like the translation in CFC.

 

As for choir items, I like so much of the standard repertoire but as I said love much of the latter 20th century stuff, e.g. Lauridsen 'O magnum mysterium' (which says just about everything about the mystery of Christmas for me), the Chilcott and Tavener above, the Leighton 'Coventry Carol' (has to be done well though); 'No small wonder' by Paul Edwards is simple but profound. I notice a couple of Rutter items feature in the top 30 - if you scratch past his cheesy bouncy stuff, some of it is really quite lovely (e.g. Dormi Jesu, What Sweeter Music, even the Nativity Carol although that is a little trite). Darke 'In the bleak' is classic, although is done a little too much to be an all-time favourite. The Howells carols are lovely. I personally love 'O holy night' (in the John West arrangement) but can understand that some find it a little too cheesy - but I get a tingle factor hearing it live - we're doing it at Midnight Mass which should go down a treat.

 

What about Christmas organ music? For anyone who's still reading/interested, mine this year are

Carol Service as mentioned above - BWV 729 during offering, Andrew Gant's Toccata on Mendelssohn to finish

Crib Service - not sure yet, probably Sleigh Ride unless I come up with something else

Midnight Mass - Mushel Toccata (with Zimbelstern!)

Christmas Day - Clifton Hughes Variations on 'Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer'

And probably BWV 729 again on January 1st unless I think of something else suitable before the notice sheet goes to print next Thursday

In other words, nothing heavy or overly taxing!

 

I do love this time of year, enjoying the huge repertoire that exists and hearing it at various carol services - I've already been to two this year!

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I suppose we could compare this to the Kings service and see how it fits the bill...the order is online now on the BBC website.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018fv69

 

I had thought for the past couple of years that the order was getting a bit repetitive, but this year's looks a little better (that Judith Weir seems to be one of SC's 'pet' pieces though which gets a lot of outings). I am a sucker for 20th century stuff, and the Chilcott and Tavener are both favourites (the Tavener is obviously well-known, the Chilcott deserves to be better known in spite of featuring at Kings).

 

In terms of the top 30, I'd think of it in terms of congregational items and choir items. For the former, there's plenty I don't dislike, but a few I'd rather not have - namely

Away in a manger (done to death)

Silent night (as above)

We three kings (boring)

Angels from the realms (even more boring)

In the bleak (Holst - mostly because I find it inferior to the Darke)

 

Otherwise, I think a carol service is nothing without 'O come, all ye faithful' and the splendid Willcocks arrangements (we normally have a thread about descants here every year!) and 'Hark the herald', although thats a strain to sing, especially if you play it in G as in CFC - I always take it down to F which is still quite taxing. We are having (as we have done for the past few years) a joint Carol service with the Methodist Church across the road and from their new hymnbook 'Singing the Faith' we're using a different descant to 'Hark the herald' by Paul Leddington-Wright. Some of it is quite good, but there are a couple of rather trite phrases in there - nice for a change though. I'd put 'Of the Father's love begotten' in as an under-used favourite (sadly it doesn't feature in the top 30 listed) - although I don't like the translation in CFC.

 

As for choir items, I like so much of the standard repertoire but as I said love much of the latter 20th century stuff, e.g. Lauridsen 'O magnum mysterium' (which says just about everything about the mystery of Christmas for me), the Chilcott and Tavener above, the Leighton 'Coventry Carol' (has to be done well though); 'No small wonder' by Paul Edwards is simple but profound. I notice a couple of Rutter items feature in the top 30 - if you scratch past his cheesy bouncy stuff, some of it is really quite lovely (e.g. Dormi Jesu, What Sweeter Music, even the Nativity Carol although that is a little trite). Darke 'In the bleak' is classic, although is done a little too much to be an all-time favourite. The Howells carols are lovely. I personally love 'O holy night' (in the John West arrangement) but can understand that some find it a little too cheesy - but I get a tingle factor hearing it live - we're doing it at Midnight Mass which should go down a treat.

 

What about Christmas organ music? For anyone who's still reading/interested, mine this year are

Carol Service as mentioned above - BWV 729 during offering, Andrew Gant's Toccata on Mendelssohn to finish

Crib Service - not sure yet, probably Sleigh Ride unless I come up with something else

Midnight Mass - Mushel Toccata (with Zimbelstern!)

Christmas Day - Clifton Hughes Variations on 'Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer'

And probably BWV 729 again on January 1st unless I think of something else suitable before the notice sheet goes to print next Thursday

In other words, nothing heavy or overly taxing!

 

I do love this time of year, enjoying the huge repertoire that exists and hearing it at various carol services - I've already been to two this year!

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If you want brief messages, Colin, I recommend Twitter.

 

I hope the long messages here continue as they are invaluable to people like me who know relatively little about pipe organs but, for one reason or another, have a keen interest in them.

 

J

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I like long messages, and if the first few lines are not interesting I give myself permission to skip the rest.

 

I do NOT like messages which quote long earlier message in their entirety. (hint, hint).

 

David

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This morning, on Classic FM, the announcer said that John Rutter is the Nation's favourite composer. :D

 

Hmmm!

 

A

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This morning, on Classic FM, the announcer said that John Rutter is the Nation's favourite composer. :D

 

=========================

 

 

No disrespect to the ever delightful works of John Rutter, but doesn't it say something about our national music, or at least about the public perception of British music?

 

MM

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=========================

 

 

No disrespect to the ever delightful works of John Rutter, but doesn't it say something about our national music, or at least about the public perception of British music?

 

MM

 

Quite a lot!

 

A

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Is this really such a bad thing? Shouldn't we be happy that a (any?) gifted classical composer is receiving some popular recognition? After all, we should have moved on from the 1960s 'four legs good, two legs bad' orthodoxy that decreed that, as far as contemporary art music was concerned, anything with a tune must be rubbish, and anything that sounded like a psychotic toddler kicking a tomcat to death must be a work of genius.

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Is this really such a bad thing? Shouldn't we be happy that a (any?) gifted classical composer is receiving some popular recognition? After all, we should have moved on from the 1960s 'four legs good, two legs bad' orthodoxy that decreed that, as far as contemporary art music was concerned, anything with a tune must be rubbish, and anything that sounded like a psychotic toddler kicking a tomcat to death must be a work of genius.

 

I think you're right on all counts. Although Rutter is so prolific that his works are in danger of getting too much exposure, and sometimes he seems to be recycling the same stuff (you could say that about other composers, too), it can't be denied that he has a real gift, his vocal lines are singable, his accompaniments well laid-out, and he has produced some real gems. His work as an editor is invaluable too - take his Faure Requiem and the collection European Sacred Music as just two examples. And his CDs inspired a whole generation of young musicians who now occupy distinguished places in the choral and organ scene. Think what an impact the Cambridge Singers made in showing that a mixed choir could sing the choral classics and sound right.

 

We are having a Rutter-free Christmas this year - it wasn't planned so, it just worked out that way!

 

Similarly, although Classic FM plays too many adagios, too much piano music, too much guitar music, too much this and too much that (and not enough Orlando Gibbons <_< ), consider how it has opened up classical music to a vast audience which previously would never dream of tuning in to such stuff.

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At this evening's Nine Lessons at Birmingham Cathedral there was what I thought a truly delicious carol that I'd somehow never come across before,

 

 

Well worth visiting the above youtube version sung by the King's singers and reading the appreciative comments. Imagine my surprise to turn the page and discover that its music was composed by none other than John Rutter.

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