Adeste fideles/O Come All Ye Faithful – arr. Sir David Willcocks (1919–2015)
O Admirabile Commercium – Jacob Handl (1550–1591)
Gloria in excelsis Deo – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525–1594)
Huron Carol – arr. Robert B. Anderson (b.1954)
Benedicamus Domino – Peter Warlock (1894–1930)
Videntes stellam – Francis Poulenc (1899–1963)
Quem pastores laudavere – arr. John Rutter (b. 1945)
O Magnum Mysterium – Kevin Memley
Laudames cum Armonia – John Wykoff (b. 1982)
The Lamb – Kim Andre Arnesen (b. 1980)
Susanni – arr. Alice Parker (b.1925) & Robert Shaw (1916–1999)
Es ist ein rose ent sprungen – arr. Jan Sandstrom (b.1954)
There is a Flower – arr. John Rutter (b. 1945)
What Cheer? – William Walton (1902–1983)
Prepare the Way – arr. Margareta Jalkeus (b.1966)
Pat-a-Pan – David Conte (b.1955)
[Audience Sing-Alongs] …
Silent Night – arr. Jonathan Rathbone
White Christmas – arr. Hervé Niquet (b.1957)
Winter Wonderland – arr. Peter Gritton
I Saw Three Ships – arr. Wolfram Buchenberg (b.1962)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – arr. by Peter Gritton
A beloved hymn, the eighteenth-century “Adeste fideles” welcomes the faithful and invites them to
observe the great feast of the nativity. Sir David Willcocks’ arrangement of the tune and
text—translated by Frederick Oakeley as “O Come, All Ye Faithful”—draws on the carol tradition of
King’s College, Cambridge, where Willcocks served as a chorister and, subsequently, organist. Willcocks
borrows the traditional harmonies of the 1906 English Hymnal for the setting’s first verses, later adding
a glorious descant and iconic harmonizations that have become a cherished marker of the season.
The text of “O admirabile commercium” reflects on the nexus of the human and the divine, a central
theme of the Christmas story. Jacob Handl (1550-1591), a monk-composer active in present-day Czech
lands, set this New Year’s Day antiphon as part of his monumental Opus Musicum, a collection of motets
for the entire church year. Writing in Venetian polychoral style, in which the ensemble splits into two
separate choirs, Handl creates effects both intimate and multitudinous, underscoring the heaven-and-
earth “exchange” with the passing of material from group to group.
The Gloria of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass reflects both timeless sentiments of
praise and thanksgiving, and specific historical context. Palestrina (1525/6-1594) famously wrote the
Mass “in a new manner,” reflecting Tridentine requirements that church music be easily understandable
and free from the “lascivious or impure.” Dating from about 1560, the Gloria has a texture that is
predominantly homophonic, in which the voices declaim the text simultaneously for clarity. Within this
framework, Palestrina weaves together elements of contrast—in voicing, polyphonic techniques, and
old and new styles—to illuminate the enduring drama of the sacred text.
Penned in 1642 or 1643, the Huron Carol is the oldest known Canadian Christmas carol. Jean de
Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary living among the Wendat Huron people in modern-day Ontario, wrote the
text in the Iriquoian language, drawing on Huron religious and cultural concepts to situate the Christmas
story in a new context. Robert B. Anderson’s lush arrangement sets the carol’s French folk melody and
1926 English text in a flowing tapestry, inviting all to contemplate the Christmas message.
Englishman Peter Warlock (1894-1930) had little formal training in music beyond piano studies, but his
short and colorful career won him recognition as an important early music editor, music critic, and vocal
music composer. Warlock’s diverse influences, from early and folk music to Delius and Bartók, are
manifest in his exuberant “Benedicamus Domino,” a lively celebration of the virgin birth. Warlock mixes
medieval and Renaissance compositional techniques including drone notes and faburden, a kind of early
English polyphony, with the changing meters, percussive character, and seventh sonorities of the
The Adoration of the Magi, detailed in Matthew’s Gospel, has inspired generations of worshipers to
reflect on the mysteries of the Christmas story. Francis Poulenc’s 1951 setting of Matthew 2:10-11,
“Videntes stellam,” captures an atmosphere of wonder as the Three Kings enter the dwelling place of
the newborn Jesus. Using contrasts of harmony, dynamic, vocal range, and especially sound and silence,
Poulenc creates a mood of wintertime stillness alive with expectation and hope.
Vaunted English composer and conductor John Rutter (b. 1945), a product of Clare College, Cambridge
and founder of the Cambridge Singers, is perhaps best known for his vast catalog of Christmas music. Steeped in the European tradition though his work—alongside David Willcocks—on the Carols for Choirs
series, Rutter draws on a fifteenth-century Bohemian text and tune for “Quem pastores laudavere,”
now known primarily as a German carol. Rutter’s setting bathes this hymn of praise in resounding
richness, decorated with a characteristic soprano/alto descant evocative of an angel choir.
Through commissions and widespread activity with the American Choral Directors Association, Fresno-
based composer Kevin Memley has gained recognition for his unique compositional voice, which has
been described by Bradley Ellingboe as “a refreshing sound that is both progressive and familiar.” His
setting of the Christmas antiphon “O magnum mysterium,” a reflection on Jesus’ birth among the
animals, features a touching melodic motive and cluster chords evocative of Whitacre and Lauridsen.
The luminous, shimmering texture of Memley’s eight voices builds to an ecstatic outpouring of alleluias,
embodying both the wonder and tribute of this reverential text.
Tennessee composer John Wykoff’s exhilarating “Laudemus cum armonia” evokes early harmonic
practices which laid the foundations of Western polyphony. Wykoff uses three kinds of musical motion
to bring this piece’s fourteenth-century lauds to life: parallel, in which the vocal lines move in the same
direction; oblique, in which one voice acts as a drone while other voices move against it; and contrary, in
which the vocal lines move in opposite directions. These contrapuntal techniques generate sonorities at
once old and new, connecting past and present in one joyous accord.
The arrival of Jesus as a vulnerable infant has long engendered meditation and reflection on the human
experience. In his iconic 1789 poem, “The Lamb,” William Blake explores the childlike innocence of Jesus
Christ in unaffected question and answer; Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen (b. 1980)
complements Blake’s tender poetry with a reflective musical setting emphasizing simple, accessible
harmonies and gentle melodic motion. “Susanni,” a fifteenth-century German carol here arranged by
choral luminaries Alice Parker and Robert Shaw, is an earthlier take on the infant Jesus: the susurration
“susanni” and the falling “eia” gesture of this carol mark it as a gentle lullaby for the newborn babe.
The text of “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” is a gloss on Isaiah’s Old Testament prophecy, “Then a shoot
will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” Medieval theologians
used the image of a tree to illustrate Jesus’ royal bloodline, tracing his lineage to Jesse of Bethlehem, the
father of King David. Swedish composer and arranger Jan Sandström (b. 1954) sets Michael Praetorius’
original melody and German text in an atmospheric soundscape of buzzing color, with harmonies
diverging and converging to lend a warm glow to the carol’s message of hope. For “There is a Flower,”
John Rutter drew an English-language variant of the “Es ist ein Ros” text from the writings of John
Audelay, a priest and poet of fifteenth-century Shropshire. Rutter’s setting begins with an intimate,
cantabile melody, which he then decorates with expressive suspensions and chromatically altered tones.
The final verse is adorned with delicate “alleluia” triplets evocative of the Holy Trinity.
William Walton’s “What Cheer?” captures the hubbub of good tidings surrounding the birth of Christ.
An English master of choral and orchestral music, Walton (1902-1983) lends a contemporary sensibility
and an idiosyncratic touch to this cheerful piece, including winding, chromatic internal lines and plenty
of the rhythmically unexpected.
“Prepare the Way” is a traditional folk melody from the Dalarna region of western Sweden, with poetry
originating in 1812. The text evokes a verse from Isaiah portending the coming of Christ: “Every valley
shall be raised up, And every mountain and hill made low.” Margareta Bengtson, a founding member of
Sweden’s celebrated Real Group, sets the elegant melody in a manner evocative of vocal jazz, with
voices as instrumental accompaniment and a subtle tag at the piece’s end. Bengtson published her
arrangement in 1997 under her former married name, Jalkéus,
Noted composer David Conte (b. 1955) sets the beloved French carol “Guillô, pran ton tambourin,” or
“Pat-a- pan,” to an ever-present ostinato, or repeating rhythmic pattern. The original, onomatopoetic
1720 carol captures the flute and drum playing of young Willie and Robin, who make a joyful noise at
the arrival of Christmas. Conte, who once worked directly with Aaron Copland and Nadia Boulanger and
maintains a composition studio at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, incorporates ancient
techniques, such as drones at the fifth, with invigorating rhythms and playful chromaticism in this
High”—commemorates the Annunciation of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke. The
anonymously written carol tune features a beloved, florid “Gloria” refrain, or burden, after each verse.
The melody of “Joy to the World,” a hymn tune known as Antioch, is of disputed authorship. American
hymn composer Lowell Mason (1792-1872) claimed to have arranged the hymn in 1836 from fragments
of G. F. Handel’s Messiah—specifically, motives found in “Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates” and “Comfort
Ye”—thus inspiring the popular notion that Handel originated the tune. The jubilant text is by Isaac
Watts, a hymn writer active in the early eighteenth century.
“The First Noel” was first published in David Gilbert’s Ancient Christmas Carols of 1823. Of anonymous
authorship, this Cornish hymn tells of the Annunciation, combining accounts from the Gospels of
Matthew and Luke in rapturous strains.]
Englishman Jonathan Rathbone, a GRAMMY-nominated composer, arranger, and conductor, trained at
Christ’s College, Cambridge, and Britain’s Royal Academy of Music. From 1984 to 1996, he sang with and
directed the renowned Swingle Singers. His arrangement of Franz Gruber’s “Silent Night,” recorded by
the Singers in 1998, initially updates the carol’s simple message with a contemporary, jazz-influenced
harmonic language. Notably, however, Rathbone sets the final verse of the carol in a straightforward,
traditional style, underscoring the timelessness of the Christmas message of peace.
The final selections pay homage to enduring Christmas traditions. Felix Bernard and Richard Smith’s
1934 hit, “Winter Wonderland,” has been recorded over 200 times by acts as diverse as Frank Sinatra,
Ella Fitzgerald, the Eurythmics, Billy Idol, and Lady Gaga (with Tony Bennett, of course). Peter Gritton’s
arrangement is a compendium of vocal jazz styles, with a lush introduction, a playful sleighbell section,
and plenty of swing.
Irving Berlin’s classic single “White Christmas” was a chart-topper long after Bing Crosby debuted it on
Christmas Day, 1941; it has gone on to sell over 150 million copies. Phoenix’s own Arizona Biltmore
Resort claims that Berlin penned “White Christmas” under the palm trees aside its historic Catalina Pool,
though others claim that the song’s origins lie in sunny California. Tijs Krammer’s simple arrangement
allows the song’s heartfelt nostalgia to reach generations old and new.
“I Saw Three Ships” is an English carol possibly dating from the 1600s and first published in 1833. With
its maritime imagery, the carol brings the Three Magi from the sands of Bethlehem to the shores of
Britain. German composer Wolfram Buchenberg’s arrangement combines jazz sensibilities—such as
unpredictable syncopation and added “color” tones—with galloping exuberance. The piece culminates
in a joyous climax hailing the arrival of Christmas.
*Notes by Kerry Ginger.
Program Notes edited by Lies’l Hill.