You might know that, from time to time, I like straying slightly off my blog’s main subject, Art Song, and travel briefly to previous ages or different genres. Today we’re making one of these short trips: we’re having a piece of work composed upon poems, we’re having an accompanist instrument, but we won't have a song cycle, instead, a choral one. Because it's Christmas and Christmas it's time for children, and also because Benjamin Britten wrote a lovely Christmas piece for children to sing.
Some weeks ago we talked about Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears’ stay in the USA during World War II. In March 1942 they sailed back to England and during that trip, which lasted about a month, the composer wrote A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28, a collection of seven carols for choir and harp. The texts of the carols were medieval poems from a book that Britten had bought in a port of call, The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems. According to Britten's correspondence, it’s said that he wanted the play to be performed by a treble choir, but when it was premiered, in December 1942, it was performed by a women choir.
The next year Britten kept on working on A Ceremony of Carols. He added a new carol, That Yongë Child, two Latin pieces celebrating Christ's birth to open and to close the collection and a harp interlude. That year, 1943, the first performances with treble choir took place, and since then both options have coexisted. In my opinion, children spontaneously give to the performance a touch of naivety that is difficult for adults to reach, but then, women choir adds warmth...
This week we are listening to the carol that Britten added in 1943, That Yongë Child, a cradle song sung by a boy soprano accompanied by harp (so, in fact, it’s pretty close to a song). I’ve chosen the Copenhagen Boys' Choir recording and the harpist Enid Simon conducted by Benjamin Britten; I’m afraid, though, I haven’t been able to find out the boy soprano’s name… My choice is due to two reasons: it’s an homage to Britten and I really love this performing.
Next Thursday is The Boxing Day; many of us will be busy with feasts and family gatherings so I’ll be posting just few lines and one more carol from A Ceremony of Carols, for you to listen that very same day or whenever you like!
That yongë child when it gan weep
With song she lulled him asleep:
That was so sweet a melody
It passèd alle minstrelsy.
The nightingalë sang also:
Her song is hoarse and nought thereto:
Whose attendeth to her song
and leaveth the first then doth he wrong.