Silent Night


Mustela nivalis

[I apologise for posting this AFTER  Sean’s general Christmas greetings, but I prepared this one a few days ago specially for today so I ask for clemency just in case.]

Here are some of my favourite Christmas carols:

To begin with, the big international hit, which even played a role in bringing the opposing troops together on the Western Front on that special night exactly 99 years ago today[*] – when the very last of the lights Lord Grey was talking about flickered one last defiant time before succumbing to forces of darkness completely. I chose this version:

because the large (Dutch) choir and the background music create a particularly “spiritual” atmosphere, and because it rises to a satisfyingly triumphant crescendo near the end.

Next, continuing the triumphant note, and as this is an English blog, a great English carol , in a quintessentially English setting:

Third, a Lutheran carol,

, here arranged by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy as a kind of Bach-based “Midwinter Night’s Dream” so to speak. Near the end (from 4:49) Mendelssohn graciously takes a step back from centre stage and reduces the score to the glorious austerity intended by the original composer, Martin Luther.

This popular carol from (at least) the 16th century is the only one I know that openly draws on the Old Testament roots of the whole Christmas story.

  Quite literally in fact, if you follow the lyrics.

Finally, a folksy German carol (and comparatively modern, from 1895).

  (The singers and players here are actually Austrian.) It conjures up images of snow falling silently on a frosty landscape of glittering forests and frozen lakes – but in our hearts it is warm, the carol consoles us, and the angelic choir awakes: rejoice, for the Christchild cometh soon.

Merry Christmas everyone! Peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

[*] From the book “Christmas Truce” by Malcom Brown and Shirley Seaton (Pan Books 2001):
Stille Nacht – Silent Night, in its English form – stands out as being the carol most particularly and affectionately remembered by the listening Tommies, so much so that many of them could never hear that hymn in later life without being instantaneously transported byck to the Western Front, Christmas Eve 1914.” (p. 57)

10 thoughts on “Silent Night

  1. Oh dear. There is only one song worse than ‘Silent Night’, and that is ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ by Bing Crosby. Or that idiotic rubbish by a group calling themselves ‘Slade’ which gets regurgitated every year at this time.
    However, I thought I would give this recording of ‘Stille Nacht’ a try, but I’m afraid I never got past the schmaltzy organ tremulandos.

    Adeste Fidelis – well it’s just so tame and ‘Anglican’, isn’t it? . No passion whatsoever.

    The Mendelssohn is pleasant enough but is, as you imply, gilding the lily somewhat.
    If you truly want to hear this magnificent chorale as it should be heard in all its power, simplicity and glory, there is one version and one alone to consider – that of Michael Praetorius, written as part of hi Musae Sinoniae between 1605 – 1610.

    ‘Es is ein ros’ was also written by Praetorius (in 1609), and is truly beautiful. But not in this performance, which is the most pedestrian I have ever heard.

    That Austrian piece is banal beyond words. To you it might conjure up frosty images of snow etc, but to me it just conjures up all that is worst about Germanic music.

    Michael Praetorius, incidentally, is one of my favourite composers of all time, and has been all my life.
    There is a very good recording which I can recommend, marketed as ‘Mass for Christmas Morning’ by Praetorius, performed by the Gabrielli Consort under Paul McCreesh. It also contains music by Schutz and others, but overall it is a simply magnificent example of how God’s Music should sound, in all its modal glory, before it was compromised by the influence of equal temperament, so beloved of Bach because it allowed this new-fangled chromaticism and more complex harmonies, in spite of all the harmonic and melodic compromises necessary to achieve this.

    Happy Christmas!

  2. You’re not missing much! Sorry, that was unkind – I don’t mind being critical of the music but that is insulting to Mr Nivalis.
    I had to go to the ‘see all comments’ page (where you are now) & the links all work from there.

  3. …and all over Christendom the people rejoice, for it is that special time of year when the shops put away that bloody Slade/Wizzard/Mariah Carey compilation for another year.

    Merry Christmas all!

  4. I apologise, and I take it all back – I listened to ‘Stille Nacht’ above (by accident as it happens – I must have clicked on it by mistake & it was on so quietly I didn’t even hear it till it was half way through, then I wondered where the sound was coming from as I had a psychedelic radio channel on at the time!) – it is absolutely beautiful. You were right Mr Nivalis, and I was wrong. I shouldn’t have rushed to judgement.

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