Based on a traditional Ukrainian folk chant, “Carol of the Bells” was written by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914. Today we’re going to hear this familiar piece sung in its original Ukrainian by the Bel Canto Choir Vilnius from Lithuania, as well as the English translation, written and arranged by Peter Wilhousky in 1936, sung by the Southwestern Seminary Oratorio Chorus
Our tour of carols brings us home today for Edward Henderson’s arrangement of Canada’s oldest carol, written around 1642 by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie who set lyrics in in the native language of the Huron/Wendat to a French melody. This particular arrangement is also close to home for me as I’ve spent a few hours this fall learning the spectacular accompaniment and will be performing it this evening with the Island Bel Canto Singers (while initially terrifying, it’s a very fun piece to play). This stellar recording is by the Elektra Women’s Choir in Vancouver.
We head to the southern hemisphere for today’s selections from South Africa, sung by one of my favourite choires, the Stellenbosch University Choir. Somerkersfee (Summer Christmas) is a popular Afrikaans carol by Koos du Plessis and translates as follows:
Enter in quiet, peace-filled night beneath the Southern Cross
Lend now your ear this starlit night, to whispers from the past
Chorus: Christmas nears, Christmas nears
Bow before the King
Granted by Your grace, in this great land,
A bright summer’s Christmas Lord.
Do you hear how softly the bells are chiming, in ancient dialect
Even the evening’s starry silence, on precious history reflects
Can you also feel the warmth of His love, as we celebrate the day
God loved us so much He sent his son, no other gift as great
Sonneblom Uit Bethlehem (Sunflower for Bethlehem), also in Afrikaans, was released as a pop recording by composer and performer Lize Beekman in 2003. I’m not sure how well known the piece is (and I can’t find a good translation of it) but this arrangement, by the choir’s conductor, André van der Merwe is so wonderful I had to share it.
This version of the familiar French carol, sung here by the LA Angel City Chorus, is wonderfully fun.
The first Christmas carol I remember performing was as a member of the Bel Canto Children’s choir in Prince George in first grade, when I was given the special task of playing the glockenspiel instead of singing. The piece was a 19th century German children’s carol, “Kling Glöckchen”, which translates as “Ring Little Bell”. It’s not the most sophisticated of melodies but it’s emblazoned in my memory (I still know all the English and German lyrics and the glockenspiel part!) and I know my mom will know it well, too. You can read a translation, here.
Our tour of international Christmas carols takes us to Britain and a carol that was first published in 1684 by by Irish Bishop Luke Wadding in a book called Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs. The version most familiar to our ears today was transcribed in 1919 by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who heard it sung at a concert near Horsham in Sussex- hence the name!
The version I’ve chosen to share is the same one I’ll be accompanying tonight to open a choral festival of carols here in Nanaimo. The arrangement is by British composer (and former member of the King’s Singers) Bob Chilcott and is unique for its 7/8 time signature, canon structure and very fun accompaniment. It is sung here by the lovely treble voices of the Piccoli Cantori di Torino, Italy.