About this Recording

The Mystery of Christmas

The Mystery of Christmas


For almost two thousand years people around the world have been gathering to celebrate the Christmas season. These celebrations are as varied as their countries of origin but share at least two common threads - the birth of Christ, and a desire to celebrate this event in music.


In the town of Elora, in the Canadian province of Ontario, people usually find themselves gathering amidst snowdrifts and impending winter to celebrate the Christmas season. Music is always a centrepiece as they draw upon many centuries and vocal traditions, all celebrating the wonder and mystery of this season.


Carols such as Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful or Hark! the Herald Angels Sing are sung throughout the world and need little introduction. Other music on this disc is less well known. The Huron Carol has the distinction of being one of the first pieces of Christmas music written in North America. It was composed by the missionary Father Jean de Brebeuf in about 1641 as he was working among the Huron Indians in Ontario, not so far from where many of the Elora Festival singers now make their homes.


At the other end of the timeline, we have several beautiful celebrations of the season by composers living and working in the twentieth century. John Tavener wrote God is With Us at the request of Winchester Cathedral in England, where it was first performed in 1987 The text is adapted from the Orthodox Great Compline for Christmas Eve and shows the profound influence of the Orthodox Church on Tavener's music.


Ring-a the News was written by the Canadian composer and Elora resident Robert Evans in 1989 and can be performed with the choir together with organ or brass quintet. Elizabeth Poston composed her lovely Christmas hymn Jesus Christ the Apple Tree in 1967 but uses words taken from a book of hyms and spirituals published in New Hampshire in 1784.


Arthur Honegger and Francis Poulenc both used Latin texts as the basis for their Christmas works. It is interesting to note that while Francis Poulenc had a troubled and sometimes ambivalent relationship with the church throughout his life, the Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel are among his most spiritual compositions. Perhaps music offered Poulenc a unique road to his own spiritual understanding.


Other music on The Mystery of Christmas includes traditional hymns and carols from across Europe, music brought to North America with successive waves of immigrants. King Jesus hath a Garden is from Holland, Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day from England, The Linden Tree Carol from Germany, and Star in the South from Poland.


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