Mid-Winter Triptychs – Program Notes

Portara Ensemble Presents

Mid-Winter Triptychs

Sunday, December 10, 4pm
Belle Meade United Methodist Church

Welcome to our winter concert! Today we’re presenting sets of three thematically related pieces, interspersed with Gustav Holst’s beautiful setting of Christina Rosetti’s poem “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

In the Bleak Mid-Winter, verse 1

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

I. The Winter Rose

Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen (Michael Praetorius, 1571-1621)

Author unknown, this text first appeared in print in 1599. English translation by American musicologist Theodore Baker (1851-1934)/

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flower bright,
Amid the cold of winter
When half-gone was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind:
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright
She bore to men a Savior
When half-gone was the night.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load

A Spotless Rose (Herbert Howells, 1892-1993)

Another translation of Es Ist Ein Ros, this time by English translator Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)

A Spotless Rose is growing,
Sprung from a tender root,
Of ancient seers’ foreshowing,
Of Jesse promised fruit;
Its fairest bud unfolds to light
Amid the cold, cold winter,
And in the dark midnight.

The Rose which I am singing,
Whereof Isaiah said,
Is from its sweet root springing
In Mary, purest Maid;
Through God’s great love and might
The Blessed Babe she bare us
In a cold, cold winter’s night

A Hymn to the Virgin (Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976)

This anonymous text, dating to the 14th century, is macaronic (mixed-language), with a distant quartet countering the English-singing choir with a Latin response.

Of one who is so fair and bright
Velut maris stella,   [Like a star of the sea]
Brighter than the day is light,
Parens et puella:   [Both mother and maiden]
I cry to thee, thou see to me,
Lady, pray thy Son for me,
Tam pia,   [so pure]
That I may come to thee.
Maria!   [Mary]

All this world was forlorn,
Eva peccatrice,   [because of Eve, a sinner]
Till our Lord was yborn,
De te genetrice.   [through you, his mother]
With ave it went away,
Darkest night, and comes the day
Salutis;   [of salvation]
The well springeth out of thee.
Virtutis.   [of virtue]

Lady, flower of everything,
Rosa sine spina,   [Rose without thorn]
Thou bare Jesu, heaven’s king,
Gratia divina:   [by divine grace]
Of all thou bearest the prize,
Lady, queen of paradise
Electa:   [chosen]
Maid mild, mother
es effecta.   [you are made]

In the Bleak Mid-Winter – Josh Dent, solo cello

II. The Mystery Revealed

For our second triptych, we’re singing three distinctly different settings of a classic Christmas text, O Magnum Mysterium. Each composer takes a unique approach to the text. Venezuelan composer Cesar Carrillo (b. 1957) has given us a sensuous setting that highlights the tenderness of the scene. American Wayne Oquin (b. 1977) delves deep into the mystery of the moment, with unexpected harmonic shifts and turns. And Daniel Elder (b. 1986), who sings in our baritone section, celebrates the wonder of it all with a piece marked “luccicante” (glittering).

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

In the Bleak Mid-Winter, verse 3
TTBB arrangement by Patrick Dunnevant

Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

III. Mid-Winter Songs

Now we move into a set of pieces composed by the American master Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943), on texts by the English poet Robert Graves (1895-1985). Through elaborate dissonances, text painting, and devilishly difficult accompaniment, Lauridsen creates an aural winterscape of exquisite detail.

II. Like Snow

She, then, like snow in a dark night,
Fell secretly. And the world waked
With dazzling of the drowsy eye,
So that some muttered ‘Too much light’,
And drew the curtains close.
Like snow, warmer than fingers feared,
And to soil friendly;
Holding the histories of the night
In yet unmelted tracks.

III. She Tells Her Love While Half-Asleep

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

IV. Mid-Winter Waking

Stirring suddenly from long hibernation,
I knew myself once more a poet
Guarded by timeless principalities
Against the worm of death, this hillside haunting;
And presently dared open both my eyes.

O gracious, lofty, shone against from under,
Back-of-the-mind-far clouds like towers;
And you, sudden warm airs that blow
Before the expected season of new blossom,
While sheep still gnaw at roots and lambless go —

Be witness that on waking, this mid-winter,
I found her hand in mine laid closely
Who shall watch out the Spring with me.
We stared in silence all around us
But found no winter anywhere to see.

In the Bleak Mid-Winter – Jeff Coffin, flute, and Ryoko Suzuki, harmonium

IV. Ave

What Child Is This?
Traditional English tune, Greensleeves, arr. Jason Shelton
Words by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898), written while recovering from a severe illness which led to an intense spiritual renewal.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Chorus:
This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading. [Chorus]

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him. [Chorus]

Ave Maria (Franz Biebl, 1906-2001)

Originally composed for a local firemen’s choir in Furstenfeldbruck (near Munich, Germany), this piece remained relatively obscure until it was brought to America by the Cornell Glee Club in 1970. When it was recorded by the men’s choir Chanticleer it quickly became a modern classic of the repertoire. Biebl incorporates the Angelus chant between iterations of the Hail Mary.

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae [The Angel of the Lord announced to Mary]
Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto. [And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.]

Ave maria…

Ecce ancilla Domini [Behold the handmaiden of the Lord]
Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum. [Do to me according to your word.]

Ave Maria…

Et verbum caro factum est [And the Word was made flesh]
Et habitavit in nobis [And dwelt among us.]

Ave Maria…

Have You Seen the Baby Jesus? (Rosephanye Powell, b. 1962)

A contemporary Spiritual by Dr. Powell, who teaches on the voice faculty at Auburn University.

Have you seen the baby Jesus, the King of kings? (3x)
He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem.

Did you find him in a stable, the King of kings? (3x)
Was he laid in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothing,
born of a virgin in Bethlehem?

It was foretold by the prophets of old that a virgin would conceive God’s son.
And as the angels rejoiced that night, the shepherd’s saw a holy light – yes!

Have you seen the baby Jesus, the King of kings? (3x)
They will call him “Emmanuel,” lo, God is with us,
“Jesus,” “Messiah,” the King of kings,
who was laid in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothing,
born of a virgin in Bethlehem.

Let us worship baby Jesus, the King of kings (3x)
Let us bow down before him, praise and adore him,
Worship the baby, the King of kings.
We will call him “Emmanuel,” lo, God is with us,
“Jesus,” “Messiah,” the King of kings,
who was laid in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothing,
born of a virgin in Bethlehem.

In the Bleak Mid-Winter, verse 4

Please join us in singing from your United Methodist hymnal, #221

V. Gloria!

We conclude today’s concert with a set of music that celebrates the song of the angels in a variety of ways: a Basque folk carol, a mystical meditation, and a rousing Shape-Note hymn from the Sacred Harp.

Gabriel’s Message (arr. Jim Clements)

The Angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame
“All hail” said he thou Holy Maiden Mary
Most highly favoured lady Gloria

For known a blessed mother thou shalt be
All generations laud and honor thee
Thy son shall be Emmanuel as seers foretold
Most highly favoured lady Gloria

The gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
“To me, be as it pleaseth God” she said
“My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name”
Most highly favoured lady Gloria

Of her Emmanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk through out the world will ever say
Most highly favoured lady Gloria

On This Day, Everywhere (arr. Jason Shelton)

Tune: Personent Hodie, from Piae Cantiones (1582)

On this day, everywhere,
children’s songs fill the air,
greet the child, new and fair,
Christmas gift so holy, born in stable lowly.

Ideo, ideo, ideo, Gloria in excelsis deo!

Sweet the babe, strange his bed,
manger hay ‘round his head,
cattle there in the shed;
Mary, Joseph by him, shepherd’s drawing nigh him…

Magi three find their way
by a star’s shining ray
to the child in the hay;
give their wondrous presents, gold and myrrh and incense…

Shepherds, Rejoice! (John Massengale, 1792-1866)

from the Sacred Harp

Shepherds, rejoice! lift up your eyes,
And send your fears away;
News from the regions of the skies,
A savior’s born to-day.

Jesus, the God whom angels fear,
Comes down to dwell with you;
Today he makes his entrance here,
But not as monarchs do.

No gold nor purple swaddling bands.
Nor royal shining things;
A manger for his cradle stands,
And holds the King of kings.

Go, shepherds, where the infant lies,
And see his humble throne
With tears of joy in all your eyes,
Go, shepherds, kiss the Son.

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