As someone who loves music, I always welcome the songs of the season … but by the time Christmas Day arrives, I’ve usually reached my level of tolerance. Radio stations go 24/7 with various renditions of Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town and Jingle Bells. Last weekend when I was out on errands, I tuned in one station and heard one of my least favorite songs coming on so I switched the channel to another station. The second choice had the same song playing by a different artist. Arghhh!
I do have some favorites I think I could listen to everyday of the year. (Of course, if I did that, I might grow tired of them too. What a fickle person I am!)
Many of my favorite Christmas songs are old songs, way old ones. And there are certain renditions I prefer over other presentations of the identical songs. There is absolutely no better version in the world (in my view) than Stille Nacht (Silent Night) as played by Mannheim Steamroller on their 1984 Christmas album. With its stirring violins and haunting male voices humming, this version captures everything Franz Gruber might have imagined as he composed the simple tune back in 1818.
Another song I enjoy begins with a flute solo and crescendoes into an orchestral counterpoint to the flute. This song is from the same Mannheim Steamroller album, Christmas, and is titled Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella. The song’s history goes back even further than Stille Nacht, all the way to 1553 when it was first published. The above picture, The Newborn Christ painted by Georges de La Tour, was inspired by the carol.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to know Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella is a Christmas carol I enjoy immensely. Its roots are in the Provence region of France where the song was known under the title Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle. If memory serves me, we learned the English words to this carol in grade school, but I’ve forgotten most of them. What I really love now are the French lyrics which are so much more … lyrical! (For both French and English lyrics, go here.)
Another interesting thing about the song, when it was originally written, it wasn’t intended to be a Christmas carol at all but rather, a song for dancing! I’m including (below) two wonderful productions by two of my favorite keyboard musicians.
In this first presentation (above), Jon Schmidt (of The Piano Guys) produced a wonderful version of this ancient song, using his amazing talents on the piano but also adding the whimsical flute. It’s quite different from the Mannheim production, but thoroughly delightful (in my view).
Another rendition, this one by Fernando Ortega, really captures the dancing aspect of the song. He begins by using piano and guitar solos and builds on those. As in Schmidt’s version above, the piano is dominant here, but where Schmidt’s interpretation is mellow and contemplative, Ortega’s tempo drives you to your feet, making you want to dance. About two-thirds of the way through the song, Ortega teases with a reflective interlude (key change) but it’s brief … and then he has you back on your feet dancing!
Schmidt and Ortega are multi-talented musicians and their albums are long-time members of my iTunes collection. Most people don’t naturally associate Christmas with dancing but once you’ve listened to these renditions, like me, you might be persuaded.
Remember though: the Child is sleeping (l’Enfant répose) so please keep the noise down!