A Renaissance Tradition

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Every year, just after Thanksgiving, western society gives a nearly unison and enthusiastic, although somewhat unknowing, nod to the Renaissance. In addition to the scientific and artistic glories of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, there were cultural changes, not the least of which involved the celebration of Christmas. Holiday feasting got a big kick off from King Richard II of England during the 14th century with a Christmas dinner that included the eating of some 28 oxen and 300 sheep. A tradition still adding to the modern waistline! Caroling, a form of expression that included song and dance, became popular during this time. Carols, likely originated by St. Francis in the 13th century, evolved from Latin plainsong and spread quickly. Caroling in celebration of the birth of Christ earned the title of “lewd sport” from a certain “Lady Morely” in a 1459 letter. The heathens! Christmas tree decorating began when Martin Luther first placed candles on the tree to “show his children how the stars twinkled through the night”. By mid century bakers were making shaped gingerbreads and wax ornaments specifically for decorating holiday trees. A 1601 visitor to Strasbourg wrote of a tree decorated with “wafers and golden sugar twists and paper flowers of all colors”. Silver tinsel, invented in 1610 Germany, soon became a part of the decorating ritual. St. Nicholas, whose feast-day is celebrated on Dec. 6th, had become widely popular by the mid 16th century. It should be noted that the very generous monk is the patron saint of children and pawnbrokers. Seems rather appropriate somehow.
In the history of western music, the Renaissance was a high point. Hundreds of composers, many now lost to history, contributed to a rapid development of the musical art. Tomas Luis de Victoria, who probably studied with Palestrina, Gabrieli who became the first widely renown composer of the “Venetian School”, William Byrd, a student of Thomas Tallis, and Hans Leo Hassler who was the first German-born composer to study in Italy provide today’s performance with music of the late Renaissance. Scarlatti gives us an example of the Baroque take on the motet form while Britten, Wickham, Walton and Kodaly all admit to inspiration by the music of the Renaissance masters in the creation of their works on this concert. The Piae Cantiones, published in 1582 is a collection of late Medieval Latin songs and provides the tunes for “Good King Wenceslas”and “Up! Good Christian Folk and Listen”. Although the source of the tune is lost to history, the first written record of the words of “I saw three ships” comes from 1666. The “Ding Dong Merrily on High”tune comes from “Orchésographie” a study of late-renaissance dances by French cleric Jehan Tabourot.
We are pleased to present this snapshot of Renaissance and Renaissance inspired music. May this musical offering deepen your celebration of the season.

Soli deo Gloria.

And a very merry Christmas and the very best in the New Year!