Throwback Thursday

A few years back I switched over from BlogSpot to WordPress and with it brought all my posts from November 2006 to September 2015. That was some 1896 entries, lord only know how many photos and a goodly number of links including a parcel to YouTube.

Most of it took – you will notice I said most of it. It was not the seamless process that I was promised but years dealing with computer programmes taught me that would never be the case. However today when I went to enter a Throwback to an entry I discovered that the YouTube link no longer worked. A search of the videos I posted to YouTube turned up no results – the video that I know I created wasn’t in my library. A search by name revealed nothing so I went back to BlogSpot where it resides. It was there and playable but a quick entry of the URL in YouTube got me the infamous “Does not exist” reply. So what to do? Well as years as an instructor taught me -there is always a work around.

A left click on the picture below will take you to the BlogSpot post and a beautiful piece of music that I have always loved. And though it is not necessarily for Christmas seems to fit the season perfectly:

I’ve always been enchanted by that little phrase “In beauty surpassing the Princes of Troy.” There is something touching about the assurance that the child is as comely as any of the those that have gone on before. And what mother hasn’t said that

On this day in 1703: Portugal and England sign the Methuen Treaty which gives preference to the importation of Portuguese wines into England.

Mercoledi Musicale

On occasion it will happen that Laurent and I will write about or include the same thing in our blogs. And it has happened twice in the past two weeks (though I am holding off on one of the duplicates until after the Holidays).

Last week I featured a French Christmas song that was completely unknown to me until we heard it one morning on Radio Canada (Falala). On the same programme they played another Nöel that was new to me: Trois anges sont venus ce soir (Three Angles Came This Evening). Laurent featured the version they played by Mathé Altery, a lovely light soprano who was very popular in the 1950-60s.  

The piece was composed in 1884 by Augusta (Mary Ann) Holmès (left) a French composer of Irish parentage who wrote the lyrics to her songs, oratorios, operas and symphonic poems. Though I don’t like to duplicate things I am posting another version of this little “chanson de Nöel”. I was struck by the lyrics to the piece, particularly the last verse. Once again this week I’ve made my own rough version in the spirit of the song rather than as a word-for-word translation

It is sung here by one of the great 20th century French entertainers: Tino Rossi

Three angels appeared tonight
To bring me beautiful things.
The first had a golden censer,
The second a crown of roses,
And the third had in hand
An embroidered robe
Of pearls, gold and jasmine
Like the Virgin Mary wears.

Nöel! Nöel! we come from heaven
To bring you whatever you wish.
The Good Lord in Heaven
Is sad when he hears your sighs.

Do you want this beautiful golden censer?
Or this crown of blossoming roses?
Or do you want this beautiful robe or perhaps
A necklace of silver flowers?
Or do you wish the fruits of Paradise?
Or wheat from the celestial fields?
Or like the shepherds in Bethlehem
Do you want to see the infant Jesus in the manager?

Nöel, Nöel, Quickly return to heaven
Oh beautiful angels
And only ask of God on his throne
For happiness for the one I love.

As we pass through this season of hope and love I would like to change the last line of Madame Holmès’ lyrics slightly.
She writes:
Le bonheur pour celui que j’aime!
I’d like to change it to:
Le bonheur pour tous ceux que j’aime!
For happiness for all those whom I love!

On this day in 1898: Marie and Pierre Curie announce the isolation of radium.

Mercoledi Musicale

My friend Dr Spo was mentioning that he would like to explore Christmas music beyond the usual carols and tin-pan alley anthems to the Yuletide season.  And there is a wealth of undiscovered seasonal music out there, it is just a matter of finding it. I was fortunate that I was introduced to the Christmas music of so many cultures and eras by people like Bob Kerr, Clyde Gilmour, and Jurgen Gothe on the old CBC.  I have often bemoaned the passing of programming like theirs on the “new” CBC particularly over the holiday season.

However Saturday morning as we listen to Radio Canada (the national French broadcaster known in our household as Radio Falala) I was introduced to a Christmas song from a much loved if unexpected performer: Edith Piaf.  Being Piaf it is not a song that is filled with silver bells, sleeping infants or softly falling snow but speaks of those without hope in the season of  hope.

Rather than a literal translation (there are argot idioms that would not make sense) I offer my translation that I hope captures the spirit of the lyrics.

Hey little guy, where are you going
Running barefoot like that?
“I’m running after Paradise
Because they say it’s Christmas!”
The Christmas of the streets
is snow and wind.
A wind so bitter
It makes the children cry.

The bright lights and happiness
Are behind windows.
They aren’t for you and me
They are for others.
My small one, enjoy it all
But at a distance.
Look, only look
Make sure you don’t touch anything.
The Christmas of the streets
Is the cold of winter reflected
In the wide eyed longing of the street kids.

With their mugs pressed against the windows
They hunch their shoulders like frightened cats.
They are huddled like a child Jesus
That his Blessed Mother had lost.
The Christmas of the streets
is snow and wind.
A wind so bitter
It makes the children cry.

They move on empty-handed and still searching
Searching for a bright shining star.
My little one if you find that star
Use it to warm your small frozen fingers
The Christmas of the streets
Means living under a sleeping star
That never reaches earth.

On this day in 1921:  the last Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is sold in London, England.

Hrodulf Readnosa Hrandeor

In which the origins of a beloved Christmas song are explored.

Most of us have grown up with the Christmas story of Rudolph, the little reindeer with the red nose who came into his own one foggy Christmas Eve.  Certainly I recall it as a favourite song on the radio as sung by Gene Autry – until the 1980s it was the second highest selling record of all time.  And I have a memory of a visit to Simpson’s Toyland during the Holiday season which involved approaching a frosty scene with a mechanical Rudolph that you talked to – though for the life of me I don’t recall or even imagine what either I or Rudolph would have said or had to say to each other.  And of course starting in 1964 there was the stop-action TV special that has been shown annually every since which makes it the longest running annual programme on television.

Covers of the original 1939 Montgomery Ward colouring book.

Common knowledge credits the creation of Rudolph’s story to Robert Lewis May in 1939 when he was on commission to write a Christmas story for Montgomery Ward, the big Chicago department store.  Every Christmas the store bought and gave away colouring books when children visited Santa;  in an effort to save money it was decided that the store would have its own book created. That simple cost saving measure gave birth to an entire industry all based on a little reindeer’s red shiny nose.

It is said that May drew on his own experiences as a shy child who was a bit of a misfit; however recent research has revealed that, as early as Anglo-Saxon times, there may of been versions of the story of a light-gifted reindeer who led a pilgrimage from the North.  Recent discoveries of a deer figure with a “very shiny nose” in  the illuminations and marginalia of manuscripts from the Middle-Ages have led to further research into the origins of the legend.

Inn an earlier posting there was an example of the Legend of Rudolph as celebrated in Gregorian chant by Monks at the Abbey of St Ives in Burlbörg, Sweden in the 12th century. There is a linguistic and cultural link between what are now called the Scandinavian countries and Great Britain of the Anglo-Saxon period.  Therefore it is not surprising that currently the earliest reference found to a shiny-nosed reindeer is a poem in Anglo-Saxon meter. Further research might well reveal that the chant and the poem link back to an earlier, as yet undiscovered, Norse legend.

From an Anglo-Saxon scroll found in the ruined Abbey of St Brucie le Fey.

The discovery of this poem by Philip Craig Chapman-Bell coincides with the unearthing of a scroll at the ruined Abbey of St Brucie le Fey in what was once the sub-kingdom of Magonsæte of the greater Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.  Unfortunately most of the document had deteriorated to a degree that only the rather endearing image of a jolly little reindeer (see above left) with “goodly nose-cartilage (that) glittered and glowed”.  Perhaps it was meant as an illustration of the poem that Chapman-Bell discovered.

Incipit gestis Rudolphi rangifer tarandus

This 14th century manuscript suggests that the story of Rudolph may have been known in earlier times.

Hwæt, Hrodulf readnosa hrandeor —
Næfde þæt nieten unsciende næsðyrlas!
Glitenode and gladode godlice nosgrisele.
Ða hofberendas mid huscwordum hine gehefigodon;
Nolden þa geneatas Hrodulf næftig
To gomene hraniscum geador ætsomne.
Þa in Cristesmæsseæfne stormigum clommum,
Halga Claus þæt gemunde to him maðelode:
“Neahfreond nihteage nosubeorhtende!
Min hroden hrædwæn gelæd ðu, Hrodulf!”
Ða gelufodon hira laddeor þa lyftflogan —
Wæs glædnes and gliwdream; hornede sum gegieddode
“Hwæt, Hrodulf readnosa hrandeor,
Brad springð þin blæd: breme eart þu!”


Chapman-Bell very thoughtfully translated the text and it is remarkable how closely it mirrors May’s wonderful story.  I was intrigued by the use of “Explicit” at the end of the poem and discovered that it meant “unrolled” or “unfurled” and was used as an indication that a scroll had come to an end.

Here begins the deeds of Rudolph, Tundra-Wanderer

This detail from a French manuscript may well answer the age-old question: Do reindeer really know how to fly?

Lo, Hrodulf the red-nosed reindeer —
That beast didn’t have unshiny nostrils!
The goodly nose-cartilage glittered and glowed.
The hoof-bearers taunted him with proud words;
The comrades wouldn’t allow wretched Hrodulf
To join the reindeer games.
Then, on Christmas Eve bound in storms
Santa Claus remembered that, spoke formally to him:
“Dear night-sighted friend, nose-bright one!
You, Hrodulf, shall lead my adorned rapid-wagon!”
Then the sky-flyers praised their lead-deer —
There was gladness and music; one of the horned ones sang
“Lo, Hrodulf the red-nosed reindeer,
Your fame spreads broadly, you are renowned!”

Translation by Philip Craig Chapman-Bell

Many thanks to Cathy for introducing me to this piece of Christmas ephemera and to Philip Craig Chapman-Bell who created the original poem – well not really the original original but the Anglo-Saxon version.  Everything else stems from my obviously bored and addled brain.

On this day in 1932: Radio City Music Hall, “Showplace of the Nation”, opens in New York City.

Christmas Music

In which the Medieval roots of Christmas Songs are traced:

choirI quote from Eyolf Østrem the discoverer of this Medieval cantus when it was initially posted on YouTube:

The original version of a well-known Christmas song. Provenance uncertain, but certain aspects of the melody, such as the end of the versus, point towards an origin not in the main continental tradition, but rather in some of the more peripheral provinces, e.g. in the English sphere or possibly in the Scandinavian countries.

Many thanks to Jeff for introducing me to this remarkable piece of musical history.

On this day in 1981: General Wojciech Jaruzelski declares martial law in Poland, largely due to the actions by Solidarity.