Advent Calendar – Christmas Eve 2020

On Christmas Eve a return to Christmas Carols at Kings. A clip of Oh Come All Ye Faithful, from this evening’s Covid Careful pared down service, with just the boys and the King’s singers and no congregation. I watched it before I went to cook dinner and it did feel rather muted; a reminder that our great churches should be filled with people. So the second clip is the rousing Hark The Herald Angles Sing from more normal times.

BBC Two – Carols from King’s, 2020, O Come All Ye Faithful

King’s College Cambridge 2011 #17 Hark the Herald Angels Sing – YouTube

Happy Christmas

from Tidalscribe

Advent Calendar – Tuesday Twenty Second of December

The calendar has already opened on a ballet, so today’s window opens on an opera popular at Christmas.

 Hansel and Gretel  was composed in 1891/1892 by nineteenth-century composer Engelbert Humperdinck The libretto was written by his sister, based on the Grimm Brothers’ dark fairy tale of brother and sister lost in the forest and finding the witch’s gingerbread house. The first video is the evening prayer the children sing as they fall asleep in the forest.

Hansel and Gretel: Evening Prayer (Aleksandra Kurzak, Kate Lindsey) – YouTube

The second piece has its own magic. On 19 June 1929, 250  children from 52 local schools, the Manchester Children’s Choir, travelled by tram to the Free Trade Hall in Manchester to record Nymphs and Shepherds by Henry Purcell with the Hallé Orchestra, under the direction of Sir Hamilton Harty. It was issued on Columbia 9909, a 12in 78rpm disc that cost four shillings and sixpence and sold 1million copies. The B side was the Dance Duet from Hansel and Gretel.

Dance Duet.wmv – YouTube

You can read here about the choir and the wonderful musical play Victoria Wood wrote about the poignant reunion of the choir.

Victoria Wood recalls a historic day for Manchester music | Victoria Wood | The Guardian

Advent Calendar – Sunday Thirteenth of December

Today’s window opens in France with L’adieu des bergers – The Shepherd’s Farewell, not as we might imagine, the shepherds taking their sheep back to the hills after visiting the new baby Jesus.

L’enfance du Christ (The Childhood of Christ), Opus 25, is an oratorio by the French composer Hector Berlioz, based on the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, first performed on 10 December 1854, with Berlioz conducting. The second part of his sacred trilogy shows Mary, Joseph and Jesus setting out for Egypt to avoid the slaughter of the innocents, having been warned by angels.

And what a journey lay ahead with Jesus now a lively toddler, from Bethlehem to an unnamed location in Egypt. If they headed for the big city, Alexandria, it could be about 320 miles as the crow flies. On motorways this is a long journey with young children, even with the electronic entertainment modern parents install in their cars. What route Mary and Joseph followed we do not know, so it is likely the journey was longer than 320 miles and arduous.

Académie de musique de Paris – Berlioz – L’Adieu des bergers à la Sainte-Famille – YouTube

Advent Calendar – Wednesday Ninth of December

Today finds Elf in contemplative mood so the window opens in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge University; a place inextricably associated with Christmas. For over a hundred years A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols has been broadcast on the radio and more recently on television, from here to millions of people around the world.

King’s College Chapel | King’s College Cambridge

Listen to one of my favourite composers and one of my favourite singers. Fantasia On Christmas Carols by Ralph Vaughan Williams, sung by Roderick Williams.

Short Biography – Ralph Vaughan Williams Society (

Ralph Vaughan Williams was a composer of great importance for English music. He was born on 12 October 1872 in a Cotswold village. At the turn of the century he was among the first to travel into the countryside to collect folk songs and carols from singers, notating them for future generations. He died on 26 August 1958; his ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey, near Purcell. In his long and very productive life music of every genre flowed in profusion.

佛漢威廉斯:聖誕頌幻想曲 Vaughan Williams: Fantasia On Christmas Carols – YouTube

Advent Calendar – Sunday Sixth of December

Sunday Smiles in today’s window and I hope this carol brings a smile. Sally at Smorgasbord featured it last year and though I knew the carol I had not heard this version and I kept playing it again. To enjoy to the full watch on the largest screen possible. My desktop has a television for a screen – no not a huge widescreen, but just about large enough to contain the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Carol of the Bells. And everything about this is big and joyful, it’s got everything. Many of us have missed singing in choirs or listening to them so I hope you enjoy this. Let us know if you have ever seen the Mormon Tabernacle Choir live, I wish I had been there.

Carol of the Bells – Mormon Tabernacle Choir – YouTube

Advent Calendar – Thursday Third of December

Bethlehem Down

Christmas always has a touch of winter melancholy, especially this year and one of my favourite carols for enjoying a touch of melancholy is Bethlehem Down, made more interesting and poignant by the story behind it

Peter Warlock was the pseudonymn of Philip Heseltine (1894–1930), his choice of Warlock reflected his interest in occult practices!   Bethlehem Down was created in a mood of flippancy due to the impecunious state of Warlock and his poet friend Bruce Blunt – both notorious for their Bohemian behaviour. They hoped to earn enough money to get suitably drunk at Christmas; the carol was completed in a few days and published (words and music) in The Daily Telegraph on Christmas Eve.  Their plan had worked and they had ‘an immortal carouse on the proceeds’.

But Warlock’s career as a composer, music scholar and critic was cut short; towards the end of his life he became depressed by a loss of creative inspiration and died in his London flat of coal gas poisoning in 1930, probably suicide.

Bethlehem Down – YouTube

But elves do not bring melancholy with them – though don’t you hate them hanging around in the kitchen when you are trying to cook?