Carols by Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978)
- O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
- In the Bleak Midwinter
- God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen – Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)
- O Weisheit
- O Adonai
- O Sproß
- O Schlüssel
- O Morgenstern
- O König
- O Immanuel
A Spotless Rose – Ola Gjeilo
A Tribute to American Composer Stephen Paulus (1949-2014)
- Make We Mery
- The Road Home
- Pilgrims’ Hymn
- Spendid Jewel
Carols by Ola Gjeilo
- Away in a Manger
- The Holly and the Ivy
- Coventry Carol
- The First Nowell
Norwegian Ola Gjeilo is a New York resident, where he maintains an active schedule as a composer and performer. His music (he received his Master’s in composition from Juilliard, where his work won several prizes) is a synthesis of jazz, classical, and folk music, and his list of commissions is already very impressive, including pieces for Phillip Brunelle, Ensemble Mendelssohn, Con Amore, and the renowned soprano Barbara Bonney. [Phoenix, a setting of the Agnus Dei, is dedicated to Charles Bruffy and the Phoenix Chorale in honor of its 50th anniversary and he was the Chorale’s Composer-in-residence in 2009/10 Season.] The Chorale’s recording Northern Lights: Choral Works of Ola Gjeilo was named iTunes’ “Classical Vocal Album of the Year” in 2012.
In the Bleak Midwinter – Ola Gjeilo
Gjeilo’s setting of the much-loved In the Bleak Midwinter is an arrangement of the tune Cranham by Gustav Holst. Its exquisite text is by the important Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, who came from a family of remarkable artists. Her father, the poet Gabriele Rossetti, taught Italian at King’s College, and all four of the Rossetti children became writers, while her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, helped to found the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and became one of its most important painters as well. Much of her work reflects the slight melancholy and wistfulness of a life-long invalid, and she remained at home throughout her life. Although she fell in love with two different men, she ultimately rejected them both, the first when he converted to Catholicism, and the second because he also could not measure up to her strict notions of Christianity, for Christina was a devout High Anglican with strong leanings toward Evangelicalism, and she would certainly be considered prudish (if not downright priggish) by modern society. Despite her sex, she was considered for the post of Poet Laureate to succeed Tennyson, and her poetry continues to increase in popularity.
God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen – Ola Gjeilo
The traditional and best-known tune for God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, is also listed in Playford’s compilation of folk tunes, The English Dancing Master, as “Chestnut.” The text is found in William Sandy’s 1833 volume, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern. It was, and remains, a common favorite amongst carolers as they traverse the neighborhoods making their traditional luck-visits and being regaled with wassail and tasty morsels.
Away in a Manger – Ola Gjeilo
His setting of Away in a Manger sets the tune more commonly used in England for that hymn. Away in a Manger, incidentally, has often been erroneously attributed to Martin Luther, but he wrote neither the words, nor any of the forty-one (!) tunes to which it has been sung across the years. The first two verses are anonymous, having first been published in the Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families in Philadelphia in 1885; the third verse first appeared in print in 1892 in Gabriel’s Vineyard Songs. Both of these melodies, that were used in England and the one more popular here, were written by Americans. The American version was written by James R. Murray, who sincerely believed that he was setting one of Luther’s poems, and, in fact, titled it Luther’s Cradle Hymn. The English version was composed by William J. Kirkpatrick, a Union soldier who composed many other hymns (although none are now so popular as this little lullaby) include ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, In the twinkling of an eye, Jesus understands! and He is all in all to me.
The Holly and the Ivy – Ola Gjeilo
The Holly and the Ivy has long been a favorite melody for composers, and, in fact, it was selected as one of two Carols of the Year for 2002. Holly and ivy are both associated with the Roman Saturnalia, one of the winter solstice festivals. In pre-Christian symbolism, holly was generally male and ivy was female, so this text is definitely atypical in associating holly with Mary – and another interesting twist is that early Christians also considered holly to be evil (because of its druidic associations), while ivy was good. One early superstition claimed that whichever plant was brought inside first would determine whether the man or the woman would be in charge for the coming year. A variant claimed that whoever brought the holly in first would rule for that year, so one would surmise that many wives were Johnny-on-the-spot when it came to decorating.
The Coventry Carol – Ola Gjeilo
The Coventry Carol comes from the 15th-century mystery play, the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. Only two plays are extant from the Coventry Cycle, the other being the Weavers’ Pageant. While we do not know who wrote these plays or composed the music, the oldest existing form of the Pageant was first set down by Robert Croo in 1534, marked as being “newly corrected.” Fortunately, Thomas Sharp published a copy of the Pageant in 1817 and again in 1825, as the original manuscript was lost to a museum fire in 1879. Sharp’s publication contains a very inexpert three-part engraving of this lullaby, which is the basis for all modern versions. It is performed just before Herod’s soldiers enter Bethlehem to slay all the male children, and is now particularly associated with the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th.
The First Nowell – Ola Gjeilo
The modern text and tune of The First Nowell first appear together in William Sandys’s 1833 collection, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern. The editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols, Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott (to whose remarkable scholarship I am much indebted), speculate that some odd aspects of the tune, such as “the three virtually identical statements of the same phrase…and the fact that all three strains cadence on the third degree of the scale (rather than on the tonic)” suggest that perhaps someone’s faulty memory of the melody may have become confused with some harmony parts and eventually transmogrified into the version we know today – in other words, our beloved melody may not really have been the melody at all (how shocking!).
Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen – Arvo Pärt
Arvo Pärt is one of Estonia’s most famous musicians. Born in Paide, his roots are in Tallinn, where he began his studies at the Tallinn Music Middle School before advancing to the Tallinn Conservatory (after a brief detour in which he performed his mandatory military service). Estonia had become a Russian satellite in 1940, and, despite his early successes, the young man would find life within the Soviet Union stifling. For a while, he experimented with serialism and twelve- tone technique, but this resulted in the banning of much of his music, and Pärt withdrew into himself to rediscover his muse. He surrounded himself with early music, with plainsong and early Renaissance polyphony, whose crystalline simplicity spoke to him deeply, and it was also at this time that he joined the Russian Orthodox Church. As a result, when he re-emerged from his self-imposed seclusion in 1976, his compositional style had changed radically, espousing contemplative tranquility and austere clarity, and embracing silence. Still struggling against Soviet officiousness, he and his family immigrated in 1980 to Vienna, subsequently settling in West Berlin, where he continues to be one of this century’s most highly regarded composers. Pärt’s own word for the compositional style that he builds on simple triadic harmonies, transparent forms, non-complex rhythms, and poignant moments of silence, is “tintinnabulation,” which he likens to the ringing of bells. The seven ancient “O Antiphons” of the Magnificat date back at least to the late 700s. Called the “O Antiphons” because each verse starts with “O,” the first word of each verse is one of the titles given to the Messiah in the prophecies of Isaiah, and their order was formalized by the Benedictine monks into a Latin acrostic in reverse:
O Sapentia (Wisdom, or Weisheit in German)
O Radix Jesse (Branch of Jesse; O Sproß aus Isais Wurzel)
O Clavis David (Key of David; Schlüssel Davids)
O Oriens (Morning Star; Morgenstern)
O Rex Gentium (King of the Nations; König aller Völker)
Read backwards, they spell Ero cras “Tomorrow, I will come.”