About this Recording
8.554435 - En la Fete de Noel - O Holy Night

O Holy Night

“Grave or naïve, spiritual or emotional, languorous or merry, all the Christmas carols of our former mother country are charming, exalting the true poetical expression which reveals this people's very soul.”

Ernest Myrand, Quebec, 25th December 1899

There is some evidence that many of the Christmas traditions which we now practise stem from the Sumerian civilisation which arose in Lower Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago. This festival was closely linked to the rhythm of the seasons and with pagan songs and folk celebrations. Over time these became part of later village celebrations and were adopted by the early Christian church. Until a century ago, Christmas Eve Mass and late night supper simply marked the beginning of a twelve-day festival culminating in the Celebration of the Magi (the Epiphany). It was not until the beginning of this century that Santa Claus, the Christmas tree and the exchanging of gifts were introduced. The now traditional scene of the Christ-Child in a manger has been attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi who, with the Pope's approval, embellished his re-creation of the Nativity with popular Christmas carols. Although Christmas is primarily a religious festival, it is also a joyful celebration and a time for warm-hearted gatherings; when food, gifts and music mix with prayer. The musical repertoire that Christmas has brought about bears witness to the many different faces of this festival.

In Christmas music, the popular and solemn often mix, making it difficult to trace the real origin of many pieces. For example, Minuit, chrétiens (‘Midnight, Christians’) by Adolphe Adam, the author of the famous ballet Giselle, has become part of the French folk tradition, although written by a professional composer. La nuit (‘The Night’) was also written by a professional composer, Jean-Philippe Rameau. Allons, gay, gay, bergères (‘Let us go, merry shepherdesses’) was composed by Guillaume Costelley. The tune for Sainte nuit (‘Silent Night’) is famous in many languages. On the other hand, many composers have also been inspired by folk celebrations and music. Around 1890, Charles Gounod published a Christmas carol in English using Henry Farnie's text Bethlehem and the tune of Dans cette étable.

French religious folk songs or noëls were often inspired by pastoral songs. This genre originated in the twelfth century as songs for the Nativity. Nevertheless, the true Christmas carol came from Provence and was written in this region's dialect, often using secular tunes. These noëls or carols became fully developed in the fifteenth century and soon after were compiled into books and published. This helped them spread in popularity thus becoming a deeply rooted tradition.

The Christmas carols in this recording are among those most frequently heard among the French-speaking people of Canada. Many of them came from across the Atlantic to become part of Quebec's regional tradition. According to the historian Ernest Myrand, 'the tune of the future Ça bergers ussemblons-nous (‘Shepherds let us get together’) was first sung by Jacques Cartier's sailors on the deck of their ship, the Grande Hermine in Stadaconé [now Quebec City] on Christmas Day of 1535. Over the centuries, Quebec composers have tried to adapt or arrange the most famous carol while still maintaining the original character of this music'.

Composer and organist Raymond Daveluy, born in 1926 in Victoriaville, has arranged many of the most popular French Canadian carols. It is Daveluy's sense of harmony that makes him so suited to this task. His arrangements on this recording include Ah! Quel grand mystère! (‘Oh what a great mystery!’); Ça, bergers! (‘So, shepherds!’) and Dans cette étable (‘In this stable’). The carol Il est né le divin enfant (‘The Divine Child is born’) was originally from Lorraine; its melody is probably borrowed from La tête bizarde, a hunter's tune from the eighteenth century. Les anges dans nos campagnes (‘Angels in our fields’) also dates back to the eighteenth century and comes from Languedoc while Le sommeil de l'enfant Jésus (‘The sleep of the infant Jesus’) comes from Anjou.

Another important musician represented on this recording is Donald Patriquin. Born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1938, his works often show the influence of the stories and folklore of his native region. It is this cultural understanding which makes him such an ideal arranger and composer of this music for the Christmas tradition. His arrangements include Venez mes enfants (‘Come my children’); Quelle est cette odeur agréable? (‘What is this lovely perfume?’) and Tous les bourgeois de Châtres (‘All the people of Châtres’), a carol from the town of Arpajon.

This recording also includes a variety of non-­French music sung in Quebec at Christmas time. These works come from England, continental Europe and the United States but have been adopted over time by French-speaking people. Adeste Fideles was composed by J.F. Wade. English by birth, Wade lived in Douai, France, and would have written this song between 1740 and 1745. It was originally published in Latin but became popular through the English version O come, all ye faithful. The origin of Carol of the bells is unclear, though it is usually regarded as Ukrainian. There is a Flower arranged by John Rutter, and Yuletide Fires, are English in origin, although both are frequent visitors to Quebec Christmas celebrations. Finally the Huron carol, Jesous Ahatonhia, as arranged by the Canadian composer Healy Willan, is one of the first Christmas carols ever composed in North America.

All of the music on this CD was written to celebrate one event – the birth of Christ. If there is any other common thread in all of these carols, it is the importance of a music that is close to people's hearts. Over two continents and three centuries this need still exists – for simple, meaningful songs that speak to our faith and our hope.

Dominique Olivier

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