Heures de Charles VIII | Nativité - Maître de Jacques de Besançon
Book of Hours of Charles VIII. The Nativity - J. de Bensançon

We are entering the last few weeks of the year, which we regularly devote to Christmas songs, with shorter articles. This year there will also be Christmas songs, but somehow different, you'll see; for the moment, let's start with Benjamin Britten.

Britten's stay in America between 1939 and 1942 was productive; the composer, who left England at the age of twenty-five, composed there, for example, Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, the Violin Concerto or Les Illuminations, and, on the return trip, he wrote A Ceremony of Carols, while he was already working on Peter Grimes. It was also during those years that the composer became interested in folk music, and one of the songs he brought back to Europe was I wander as I wander, a traditional American Christmas song that talks about the coming of Jesus to the Earth to save mankind.

It is a well-known song, and you may have heard it in other versions, but none has, in my opinion, the charm of Britten's, who resolves the arrangement in surprising ways: the three stanzas are sung a cappella, while the piano takes part briefly and also as a solo: at the beginning and at the end, and in three interludes. The effect is beautiful, you can see it in the interpretation I'm suggesting, with Gerald Finley and Julius Drake.

Britten and tenor Peter Pears often performed I wonder as I wander in concert, it was a regular encore, but they never recorded it (luckily, someone attended one of their recitals at Teatro Colón with a recorder); in fact, the song wasn't published until 2000, included in a collection called Tom Bowling & other song arrangements. I'll tell you the reasons for this delay next week; I'm about to manage to be brief for once.

This year, Christmas will be at best strange; for many people, really difficult. So the words I wrote a year ago take on a new meaning: May the light shine on us all, especially on the ill people, those who feel lonely, those who won't be at home these days, those who are setting one less place at the table. Merry Christmas.


I wonder as I wander

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus our Saviour did come for to die.
For poor or’n’ry people like you and like I,
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow stall,
With wise men and shepherds and farmers and all.
On high from God’s heaven the star’s light did fall,
And the promise of the ages it did then recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing;
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could’ve had it for he was the King!


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