Notes on Carol Texts Brenda Martins
Adam Lay Y’bounden: This famous and much-set medieval text not only describes the key points of the ‘fall’ in the garden of Eden, but goes on to revel in that disaster as a catalyst for wondrous grace: “Blessed be the time that apple take was!” Matthew Larkin’s setting for treble voices evokes swirling winds in a primal cosmos…and the moment in which God spoke and brought order out of both nothingness and chaos. And the Word spoken? Redemption. Such a Redemption…that even pre-exists the need.
Ralph Vaughan-Williams is credited with rediscovering and preserving the text of The Truth From Above, whose ten verses chronicling the fall from grace to redemption in Jesus had been passed down through oral tradition. He set it twice. Tonight’s version of this carol—which he transcribed from a Herefordshire folksinger—includes verses 1, 2, 5 & 6 of the oringinal ten. So it seems there is good reason that the phrase ‘endless woe’ seems a non sequitur to the prior ‘woman was made with man to dwell’.
Ave Maria is arguably one of—if not the—most blessed and revered sacred texts. And if that is so, then we are doubly fortunate tonight to hear what is perhaps the most heart-stirring and mystically beautiful setting ever, by Franz Biebl. There is no inkilin of the messiness of the angel’s proclamation or any of its scandalous ramifications, but simply the awe-filled harmonies of heavenly bodies at the most holy moment—to which the response was to be the most cosmos-rending ‘yes’ ever.
Herself a Rose: Mystical poet Christina Rosetti’s sublime poem (1877) speaks to the precious interconnectivity between Mary and Jesus… Mother and Child . From the first few phrases we are both playfully and profoundly drawn into that poetic and mysterious relationship where One is mirrored in the Other. May we be inspired on our journey to be transformed into His likeness.
The Christ Child: British composer Will Todd weaves a lovely, rocking setting around G. K. Chesterton’s marvelous poem. In and through that collaboration, we are given three glimpses of the Christ Child as He grows—first on Mary’s lap, then on her heart, then standing at her knee. Yet through prophetic vision, we see more—The weary, weary world is promised all is aright; the world’s desire is in her arms. And, in a foreshadowing triumph, heaven and earth are joined in adoration of their King.
Sure on this Shining Night: James Agee’s poem has captured for decades the hearts of those seeking wholeness. Morton Lauridsen, who primarily sets religious texts, gives it a lush, expansive setting that emphasizes the reality…the surety of this Shining Night. Tonight, we are there. We claim the mystical vision of the health and healing we know are ours. All is health. All is healed. Bring on the high summer of God’s presence in those worshiping the Babe, then…in our hearts, now…and in presence of the crowned Christ Child in the world to come.
God So Loved the World truly speaks for itself. John 3:16? Certainly a most wholly and holy rejoinder to John 1