Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year 2014

January 1 - 1700: Russia begins using the Anno Domini era and no longer uses the Anno Mundi era of the Byzantine Empire.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lunedi Lunacy

As the New Year approaches we can only hope to greet it with a smile on our face and laughter on our lips.  Here's a few New Yorker cartoons* and a handful of quotes to at least start the smile/laugh process for 2014.

New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions.

The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year's Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you're married to.

New Year's Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.

A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one Year and out the other.

Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.

Youth is when you're allowed to stay up late on New Year's Eve. Middle age is when you're forced to.

The only way to spend New Year's Eve is either quietly with friends or in a brothel. Otherwise when the evening ends and people pair off, someone is bound to be left in tears.

But can one still make resolutions when one is over forty? I live according to twenty-year-old habits.
Andre Gide

An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.
Bill Vaughan

Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits.

May all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions!

New Year's Day now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.
Mark Twain

*The cartoons here come from The New Yorker magazine and more can be found here.

December 30 - 1702: Queen Anne's War: James Moore, Governor of the Province of Carolina, abandons the Siege of St. Augustine.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Ways of Displays at Christmas

This is the time of year when curmudgeons like me moan about how things aren't like they use to be - how Christmas was less commercial and things were simpler when we were young.   I found myself thinking that in November while regarding the Christmas lights on Regent Street.  As well as celebrating Christmastide - sort of - they also rang bells for a soon to be released animated movie based on my beloved Mr Peabody, but let's not go there.  A walk past the windows at Selfridge's would lead one to think that Christmas was about high-end perfumes and designer dish towels.  And Harrod's?  Well what can be said about that parody of a once great emporium that is now the Disneyland of department stores.  Though we didn't get a chance to stroll down Piccadilly I understand from a video (click here) that Fortnum and Mason eschewed last year's highly commercial salute to a theatrical chain's Panto mixed in with their fine food stuffs to once again display a little nostalgic animation in their windows.  Mind you their fine products are still very much on display but its things like Christmas pud, crackers and the like.
By the time we reached London we were pretty much pictured out; however here's a shot of
Regent Street during the day light hours.  I must admit I was a bit bemused by this year's
lights?  Mr Peabody and Sherman - well now there's a Christmas theme I never thought of.
Now Madrid is, or at least was, a different story.  The light displays there are created by well-known designers and reflect all sorts of styles and creativity.  Unfortunately we were only there for a few hours to change trains during daylight hours but did get a chance to get downtown.  And I hate to say it but LNB and myself both gave into the crass commercialism that appeared to represent Christmas at  El Cortes Inglés in Madrid.  After a wonderful lunch at De Maria we strolled over to the main store at Puerta del Sol and stopped off at their Christmas shop - hoping to, despite a vow of abstinence, find a Christmas ornament that cried "Spain".  Well we found lots that smirked "China" but nothing that you couldn't find most other places.

Sadly there was nothing at El Cortes Inglés that couldn't be found at any department story anywhere in the world. We had been hoping to find something that would remind us of our times in Spain but .......
By the time we hit the third floor of their six story Christmas store we were right smack in the middle of commercial Christmas with a capital C.  So if you can't fight 'em!

Laurent seems to have this, dare I say "unhealthy", obsession with mice.  And keep in mind this is
the man who will not take me to Disney World. But he'll cavort with El Ratón Mickey in Madrid.
Even Sidd bought into the commercialism - these straight gnomes!  And Cinderella was just his sort of girl - plastic!
Apparently Sulley (James P. Sullivan) got over his fear of the toxic touch of humans
or it may have just been Sidd's calming presence.

Sorry but Spidey was getting just a little too up-close and personal! 

And of course being selective in applying my curmudginliness I am truly delighted by the wonderful display that graces Henri Bendel's window in their New York flagship store.  Okay Al Hirschfeld may not have much to do with Christmas but his marvelous creations are cause for some sort of seasonal celebration.  Someone over at a Broadway musical group I belong to (You belong to a Broadway Musical group, says incredulous reader?  Quelle surprise!) discovered that the brilliant caricaturist is lining Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein at his worktable. 

A click on the poster heralding the Hirschfeld Spectacular will take you to  detailed photographs of the window and the iconic drawings that have been brought to, if not life, life size for the holidays.  And the store is decorated with Hirschfeld's - the originals as well as 3D reproductions.  And yes "Nina" is hidden in full view!

Okay maybe this old curmudgeon isn't entirely against commercialism - I noticed a bit of store promotion in quite a few photos of the old Eaton's windows that I loved so much.  And I guess that's the whole point of window displays - to get you in and to get you to buy.  But I do wish London would rethink those lights!  Mr Peabody and Sherman??? And not even the real thing just some cheap Dreamworks imitation!  What sort of Christmas celebration is that?

December  29 - 2003: The last known speaker of Akkala Sami dies, rendering the language extinct.
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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's breast lies sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Baby, the son of Mary.

Merry Christmas    Joyeux Noël    Buon Natale

December 25 - 1642: Christmas Island found and named by Captain William Mynors of the East India Company vessel, the Royal Mary.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

As the Big Night Approaches

As we approach Christmas Eve I am reminded of what this night was like when I was a child.  Back in the 50s every night in December on CFRB, after the news and after Gordan Sinclair had reminded us of the evils of fluoride and the stupidity of the current Mayor and City Councillors of Toronto (plus ça change!) we would spend five minutes with Santa Claus.

On Christmas Eve he would tell us about his upcoming journey around the world - I was to discover later that it was the voice of Stan Francis, as "The Professor" he  had a popular children's after-school TV programme in the 60s.  He also did the voice of Santa on the well-known Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer animation.  I was not the only one who thought that Stan was exactly what Santa sounded like.

Now I have never been good at saying "goodbye" and especially when it came to Santa who had spoken directly to me every night for almost a month.  Already at 6 and 7 I had become a bit of a drama queen  actor and the hysteria was a sight to behold.   My Irish heritage was in full flight as I keened the departure of the Jolly Old Man, forgetting that he was going to drop off that "Mickey Mouse Playhouse Theatre" (didn't I tell you I was dramatically inclined?) that I had seen at Simpson's Toyland three weeks before.  How my patient parents put up with the drama I will never know - their crowns in heaven must be shining bright!

There has been much - needless to my mind - talk about Santa over the past few weeks with statements made from all sides that boggle even the average mind.  However that is not for me to go into at this point.  My Santa - the one who came down the chimney, ate those cookies, drank that milk and left presents - was straight out of Thomas Nast.  And whatever form your Santa took and whatever he - or she for that matter - may have looked like I can only hope you were saddened by his departure for the season but even more gladdened by the stop he made at your home on so many Christmas Eves.

In the mean time:  Merry Christmas to all; and to all a good night!

24 December - 1294: Pope Boniface VIII is elected Pope, replacing St. Celestine V, who had resigned.

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A Bit of Christmas Magic

We received this card from some very old and dear friends who are spending Christmas at their place in Florida.  It made me think of them and of the real magic of Christmas - the joy and friendship we have shared with so many people in so many places in the past 35 years.

24 December - 563: The Byzantine church Hagia Sophia in Constantinople is dedicated for the second time after being destroyed by earthquakes.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Lunedi Lunacy

I've been looking at the lovely tradition of Christmas Carols of the past few Sundays and for several posts in 2011.  That wonderful tradition of wassailing from house to house enchanting your neighbours with your heartwarming rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemenpersons (hey we are nothing if not politically correct in our household).  Yes those engravings and woodcuts do cast a special glow over the seasons.  Well not if our friends at Horrible Histories are to be believed - and frankly I never doubt them for a minute.

And that touching moment when you give and receive a gift that someone has given a great deal of thought to is nothing new.  In Medieval times gifts were both thoughtful and useful.  Much like those warm, colourful, itchy socks that Aunt Millie use to give you every year.

These are just two excerpts from their inspiring and spiritually uplifting Christmas Special from (I believe) 2011; should you wish to view the entire 30 minutes here it is.  Merry Christmas! 

Okay I lied about the inspiring bit...  and the spiritually uplifting thing too.  Does that mean no chicken poo in my stocking this year?

December 23 - 583: Maya queen Yohl Ik'nal is crowned ruler of Palenque.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Gradual for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him: yea, all such as call upon him faithfully.
V. My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh give thanks unto his holy name.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
V. Come, O Lord, and tarry not: forgive the misdeeds of thy people.
R. Alleluia
Manual of Catholic Devotion
For Members of the Church of England (Revised 1969)

As the final candle is lit  on the Advent wreath - unless there is a Christmas candle - we approach the final days of Advent.  The much anticipated day is not far off and the Introit for the day tells us that very soon we will hear: the heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament showeth his handy-work.

A Child This Day is Born, the last carol that I've chosen from Bramley and Stainers' Christmas Carols New and Old is one with more obscure origins than many of the others.  The words first appeared in Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, by William Sandys (London 1833).  Sandy's collection was in three parts with a length introduction.  The first part contained 34 carols which he maintained were from the early part of the 15th to the end of the 17th century.  The Second Part was a selection of 40 carols "still used in the West of England".  And the third were six French carols from Provence. There were 80 carols in all without music. There has been some suggestion that perhaps a few of the carols were not quite as old or traditional as Mr Sandys claimed but may have been of his own creation; though that is only rumour.

In the 136 page introduction, which makes for fascinating reading as a history of Christmas in England, he says that the carols (including A Child This Day is Born) are:
..... selected from upwards of one hundred obtained in different parts of the West of Cornwall, many of which, including those now published, are still in use.  Some few of them are printed occasionally in the country, and also in London, Birmingham, and other places, as broadside carols; others have appeared, with some variation, in Mr Gilbert's collection, having been derived from similar sources; but a large portion, including some of the more curious, have, I believe, never been printed before.
When it was published in Christmas Carols New and Old Stainer used a tune referred to as "Bailey" however in other carol collections both the words and music are shown as "traditional" or "anonymous".  Often when the author or authors of a hymn tune were not known publishers would create an "artificial person" to give the credit to rather than our old friend Anon.

The rather fearsome angel, I gather he/she is delivering the message to the waiting world, in the engraving that accompanied the carol in the 1871 edition was by W. J. Wiegand.  He was known for his illustrations for Wonderful Stories from Northern Lands and an edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales.  But much like the origins of this lovely carol I could find out almost nothing about him.

It was also difficult to find an acceptable version of the carol on YouTube so I created one using a very fine recording of the carol by the Choir of Magdelan College and matched it with photographs from the glorious Nativity Façade of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona which I took on our recent visit to that marvellous city.  I Gaudi's incredible design traces the story of Mary and Joseph from their wedding to Christ leaving his family as a young man.
It is a complex and multi-layered panorama and the details are numerous.    You may want to take a look in the expanded version to catch some of those detail.

22 December - 1890: Cornwallis Valley Railway begins operation between Kentville and Kingsport, Nova Scotia.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

HFH* - Long Overdue GPP**

Its been so long that most people have probably forgotten the acronyms *HFH (Hounds from Hell) and **GPP (Gratuitous Puppy Pictures) but rest assured that Nicky and Nora are still running around the household.  Mind you they are no longer puppies however as far as I'm concerned they will always be my puppies.

This is now their third winter here in Canada and much like the humans they own they are still not use to or happy with it.   And they are particularly not use to (or happy with) winter arriving at the end of November!  They have however learned the difference between the temperature and the temperature + wind chill.  As an example this past Monday it may well have been only -24°C but with a sharp blowing wind that -30°C was more like it. They've learned that when it gets that cold the stylish doggie coats come out.

They've also learned that when there is snow and ice on the ground plus salt to melt the snow and ice  - and our super uses generous amounts of salt - then those detested red booties are also necessary.  The past week or two the boots have become de rigueur for even the quickest trip into the cold. 

But of course this winter sartorial splendor requires that the human equation in all this do some fancy work to get puppies clad and booted.  Not having a great experience of it  I am only guessing but I would think it is less work to get a child ready for skating on the canal.

Particularly with our Nicky.  First he runs and hides on the couch, then reluctantly creeps towards the entrance hall - trembling in (feigned) fear and trepidation.  A furtive look up and an attempt to placate the demanding human with a quick lick face-wards.  Then the real fun begins 

 Okay so the left paw - nay won't fight you on that one:

 The back paws - hmmm well okay I'll let you win that one.  In fact I may even lift my leg so you can get them on without too much trouble.

Ah the right paw - not sure on that one.... how about I just put it over here out of reach and push real hard against your paw. 

Gosh you weren't able to get it on that way - how about I push the other way.  Oh sorry that doesn't seem to be helping much, does it? 

Well okay that one is finally on - hey it only took three minutes this time, if you want I can do a repeat of the morning I went for the record?????  Okay I'm ready!  Hurry up I have to go!

Nora is a bit more of a stoic about it - no fuss, the odd furtive look and attempted lick; she won't fight you but she'll be damned if she'll help you with this form of canine torture.  She is not really happy about this; in fact if she had a cell phone the Humane Society  would be on speed dial!

 Okay now I'm ready!  I don't like this one bit but damn it red is my colour isn't it?

Okay torture - not to mention the indignity of being seen in those damned boots - over!  Biscuits given as a rewards for doing what we were aching to do anyway.  Time for a doe-doe.  Wake us when it's summer!

December 21 - 1913: Arthur Wynne's "word-cross", the first crossword puzzle, is published in the New York World.

Friday, December 20, 2013

GPV* - But Not the HFH This Time

Anyone who has ever owned a daschie will know that look.

Nope not me...  no I wasn't staring at you!  

*Gratuitous Puppy Video

December 20 -  Cardiff is proclaimed the capital city of Wales, United Kingdom.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mercoledi Musicale

My friends Cathy and Ben are taking part in the annual presentation of Handel's glorious The Messiah at the National Arts Centre - by all reports one of the best in many years at that venue. Our neighbour Stephen just sang in the chorus of a sing-along version. These are only two of five or six performances that are taking place around town and we're a small town.  When you look at cities like New York or London the "events" pages are filled with listings for this popular "Christmas" piece. (I won't even start on how false that seasonal misconception is.) 

Now as anyone who has read this blog knows I have absolutely nothing against this incredible work - the wedding of Charles Jennsens text with Handel's music is one of the glories of western culture. I have four recordings on my CD shelf - Sir Thomas Beecham's over the top big sound, The Gabrieli Consort's refined period performance, Charles Mackerras' conducting the Mozart realization and an old BBC recording.   But nestled beside them on the shelf is a single recording of a "real" seasonal piece that sadly often seems neglected:  L'enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz.

Now I am as guilty as the next person of neglecting this little masterpiece.  It has sat on the shelf for almost a decade undisturbed but then, as so often happens, my dear David mentioned that he was reviewing a performance by the BBC Symphony for The Arts Desk.  I tuned in for the last part - isn't it incredible that we can hear these performances taking place 3000 kilometres away? - and was almost in tears at the end.   There is, perhaps, no finer tribute to a performance than total silence at the end.  On Sunday that silence seemed to go on for minutes, though it was probably only 30 seconds, before the audience erupted into applause.  A testimony to a fine performance and the simple beauty of this music and its power to move.

This led to me listen to the entire piece as recorded back in 1976 by Sir Colin Davis (the second of his three recordings of the work) with my beloved Janet Baker, Eric Tappy and Thomas Allen.  it is strange how the Berlioz champions in my lifetime have all been English - for some reason the French don't seem to be able to get a handle on Berlioz (sorry no pun intended).   I searched on YouTube for a version in the original language of Adieux des Bergers à la Sainte Famille but was only able to find English settings of this lovely melody that was the kernel from which the work sprang:  The Shepherds  farewell to the Holy Family.

I've offered two translations below: the one on the left a literal translation of Berlioz's libretto; the other, on the right, is a variant on the version being sung on the clip.
He is going far from the land
where in a stable he was born.
May his father and his mother
always love him steadfastly;
may he grown and prosper
and be a good father in his turn.

If ever among the idolaters
he should find misfortune,
let him flee the unkind land
and come back to live happily among us
May the shepherd's lowely life
be ever dear in his heart.

Dear child, may God bless thee,
and God bless you, happy pair!
May you never feel
the cruel hand of injustice.
May a good angel warn you
of all dangers that hang over you.
You must leave your lowly dwelling,
The humble crib, the stable bare.
Babe, all mortal babes excelling,
Content our earthly lot to share.
Loving father, Loving mother,
Shelter you with tender care!

Blessed Jesus, we implore you
With humble love and holy fear.
In the land that lies before you,
Forget not us who linger here!
May the shepherd’s lowly calling,
Ever to you heart be dear!

Blest are you beyond all measure,
Your happy father, mother mild!
Guard you well you heavenly treasure,
The Prince of Peace, The Holy Child!
God go with you, God protect you,
Guide you safely through the wild!
Berlioz composed the piece in 1850 on a whim during an evening's entertainment at the home of his friend Joseph-Louis Duc.  While their friends were playing whist the architect asked him to write something for his album and Berlioz in his own words took:
...  a scrap of paper and drew a few staves, on which in a little while an Andantino in four parts for organ makes its appearance.  I find a certain character of naïve, rustic devoutness in it and promptly decide to add some words in the same vein.  The organ piece disappears and becomes the chorus of the shepherds of Bethlehem saying goodbye to the child Jesus at the moment when the Holy Family are setting out on their journey to Egypt
Berlioz introduced the little piece at one of his concerts on November 12, 1850 and as a joke accredited it to a M Ducré, an obscure 17th century Master of Saint Chapelle.  It was an instant success with one lady express the feelings that if only M Berlioz could learn to compose as simply and nobly as M Ducré he would become as popular.  He then added an overture and a tenor solo describing the Holy Family resting at an oasis during their journey.   La fuite en Egypte (The Flight into Egypt) was performed in Leipzig in December of 1853.  Its popularity moved Berlioz, who was quite surprised by how such a simple piece had captured the audience's fancy, to composed L'arrivée à Sais (The Arrival in Sais)  in early 1854.  It was followed later the same year by Le songe d'Hérode (Herod's Dream).  It has taken him four years to complete what had started at that card party in 1850.

The first performance of the complete three part L'Enfance du Christ was given on December 10, 1854 and it became an immediate success.  It was praised by the previous hostile critics and taken to a once reluctant public's heart.  Berlioz was elated by its success but also upset that this "trifle" had outshone his more serious works.

Berlioz once referred to the piece being "in the manner of the old illuminated missals"; so I thought I'd use a few photos I have from our Spanish trip along with the last movement of the piece. 

Mary, Joseph and the Baby have come to the end of their journey and arrived at the town of Sais weary, hungry, thirsty and bruised.  The hustle and bustle of the place frightens Mary and they are turned away by Romans and Egyptians alike as "vil Hébreux!"  But at the lowly dwelling of an Ishmaelite home they are welcomed in by the "Le Père de famille" - a carpenter.   Their wounds are tended to, their hunger fed and their offered a place to live. 

In the epilogue the narrator tells us:
Thus it came to pass that the Saviour was saved by an infidel.
For ten years Mary and Joseph with her,
watched sublime humility flower in him,
infinite love joined to wisdom.
Then at length he returned to the country of his birth,
that he might accomplish the divine sacrifice
which ransomed mankind from eternal torment
and marked out the way of salvation.
The story ended, the narrator and chorus quietly meditate on what we have just heard:

Oh my soul, what remains for you to do
but shatter your pride before so great a mystery?
Oh my heart, be filled with the pure, deep love
which alone can open to us the kingdom of heaven.
For anyone who would care to hear this wonderful performance it is available until December 21 on the BBC website here.

December 18 -1655: The Whitehall Conference ends with the determination that there was no law preventing Jews from re-entering England after the Edict of Expulsion of 1290.
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Monday, December 16, 2013

Lunedi Lunacy

My friend Vicki sent this along to brighten up the holidays - and perhaps as a jab at my dietary restrictions? But its true isn't it? The first thing we say to people now when we invite them for a meal is: Is there anything you can't eat?

Sandy and Richard Riccardi are a cabaret act from Santa Rosa whose upcoming calendar include dates in California, North Caroline and New York City! They refer to their act as being "Tastefully Raunchy" - I just think its funny.

And this one is dedicated to Vicki and the cats in her life: Oh Christmas Tree - from the cat's perspective.

December 16 - 1826: Benjamin W. Edwards rides into Mexican controlled Nacogdoches, Texas and declares himself ruler of the Republic of Fredonia.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Third Sunday in Advent

Introit for the Third Sunday in Advent

Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice: let your moderation be known unto all men: the Lord is at hand.  Be careful for nothing: but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let you requests be made known unto God
A Manual of Catholic Devotion
For Members of the Church of England (Revised 1969)
So why the rose coloured, rather than sarum blue, candle and why does the celebrant wear rose vestments of the Third Sunday of Advent?  I found this slighty flowery explanatory posting on a blog called the Phat Catholic Apologetics:
The reason for the color change is to emphasize in a poignant way that the Lord is near. Advent is now more than half-way over! The bursting forth of such an unusual color has the effect of a sudden exclamation in a quiet room. In the midst of our penances, and our quiet contemplation, a voice cries out: Gaudete in Domino semper! “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Those are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for today, and that’s why we call this day “Gaudete Sunday.”
As I say a bit flowery but strangely touching and as good as any other I've seen.

These pages come from the expanded 1871 edition of Christmas Carols Old and New.  The illustration
for Come Ye Lofty Come ye Lowly was done by Francis  Arthur Fraser - one of a family of artists
known for their engravings and watercolours.
Stainer and Ramsden Bramley's Christmas Carols Old and New contained more that was old rather than new.  Many of the carols included were indeed old - or at least the melodies were: folk and ballad tunes that had originated in the fields, farmhouses, city streets and even the taverns of England, France and Germany.

Archer T. Gurney's Come Ye Lofty Come Ye Lowly was first published in the Penny Post, vol ii p321 in 1852.  Gurney was born in 1820, studied law and was subsequently called to the bar at Middle Temple in 1846.  However in 1849 he left the legal world and took holy orders; he held several prestigious positions within the Church of England including the chaplaincy of the Court Church in Paris from 1858 until 1871.   He was a prolific writer of sacred poems, hymns and theological texts but also was a playwright of historical dramas and translations of theatrical pieces including Schiller's Turandot.

There are two tunes associated with this hymn: one an old Breton folk tune and the other written by Sir George Job Elvey (1816-1893).  Elvey served as Master of the Boys Choir and organist at St George's Chapel, Windsor for more than 50 years and wrote, amongst other hymns, Crown Him with Many Crowns and (one of my favourites) Come Ye Thankful People Come.  Rather than go with the Breton (the older melody) Stainer and Ramsden Bramley included Elvey's setting in their carol collection.

As often happens, while researching  this carol I came across a third version - written in 1897 by George William Warren, the organist at St Thomas, New York City.  The sheet music was issued as a supplement to various Hearst newspapers throughout the United States in December of that year.

I have only been able to find examples of Gurney's text set to the Breton tune - one version is sung by the Williamsville High School Madrigal Choir conducted by Eric Henderson at a concert in the Old State Capital Building in 2012.

The second is the old Breton folk melody played on the organ by Richard R. Cronham and recorded in 1946.

As I was researching this carol I came across a supplement issued in December 1897 by various Hearst newspapers across the United States: sheet music for Come Ye Lofty Come Ye Lowly  in third setting.  In those days every middle-class family had a piano and sheet music would have been a popular give away - particularly if it were "free" with the day's San Francisco Examiner or New York Journal.  The music was by George William Warren who was organist at St Thomas Fifth Avenue in New York City from 1870 until 1900.  When Warren died in 1902 he was buried from the church he had served for so long and thousands attended the funeral - however no music was played as it was felt there was no organist finer than the diseased.  William C McFarlane, who had succeeded him and was a much respected concert organist must have been a bit miffed to be told this.  And of course this led to me doing a bit more digging and a question arose: was this William C. McFarlane the same Will C. McFralane who is recorded in the Milken Archive of Jewish Music as composing music for the Reform church in the late-1800s early-1900s?

It is very strange how a Christmas Carol published in the 1870s in Englands leads through a labyrinth of websites to a church organist who played at Temple Emanu-El in New York City for the delegates at the twenty-second Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1911.  The council was held with much fanfare—and at which the former United States president, Theodore Roosevelt, was among the non-Jewish as well as Jewish dignitaries who addressed the convention. Sadly I could find nothing more about the ecumenical MacFarlane nor any samples of his music.

December 15 - 1890: Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull is killed on Standing Rock Indian Reservation, leading to the Wounded Knee Massacre.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Una Joia del Gòtic Català* - Part III

The Monastery Refectory and Kitchen

Though the sisters had their day cells - in some cases elaborately decorated with murals, tapestries and frescoes - much of the life in the Monastery was of a communal nature.  The second floor dormidor was a common sleeping room though it may have been subdivided by wooden or tapestry partitions to allow for some privacy.  Traditionally the sub-prioress would sleep closest the entrance to monitor what was happening in the dormitory and to take attendance.  The dormitory normally had - as it does at Pedralbes - easy access to the Nun's gallery of the adjacent church as attendance at offices was required as part of the rule of the order.

The Refectory of the Monastery is on the ground floor and accessible from the North
end of the cloister through a carved wooden grill.
 Meals were also a communal activity and were taken in the ground floor refectory.  At Pedralbes it is accessed through a lovely wood grill; the benches and tables are against the walls and sisters sat in order of position and seniority.  Meals were served by the novices and postulants who ate after the professed sisters had their meal.  Meals were simple - meat was only eaten on major feast days - and taken in silence with one of the sisters assigned to read from a text for the day - perhaps a passage from the Gospels or Letters, The Lives of the Saints, a sermon or a theological treatise.

The sisters sat along the wall and the tables were fixed to the stone floor - you have to wonder
what purpose the rest of the wide open space served?  The lector for the day would read from
the pulpit high up on the left of the room.

There is no adornment in the room other than this crucifix against a wall fresco. The device
at the foot of the cross is the coat of arms of the Monastery.   The field was originally the
personal coat of arms of Queen Elisenda, and combined the striped crest of the counts of
Catalonia, into which she married, and the spotted crest of the house of Montcada.

If the refectory is much as it was and has been for the past 600 years the adjacent kitchen showed the advancements in cooking equipment over several centuries.   There is no sign of the open fireplaces that would have originally been used in the early years - possibly they were bricked up.  But a wonderful collection of old cast iron stoves, modern gas burners and an even older ceramic stove gave hints of how meals were prepared.  Even the tiles gave indication of the passage of time - large stark white tiling that suggested the 1930s, obviously factory made blue and white tiles of the late-19th early-20th century and most notably hand painted tiles from the 17th century.  The later creating one of the most fanciful and charming back splashes I've ever seen for the marvelous ceramic stove.

As Gothic as the refectory may be the adjacent kitchen reflects modern (?) advancements in cooking equipment. 
I wonder if the hot water tank is still fed by the cistern in the cloister?

I can only imagine the heat that this enormous cast iron stove must have given off.  You can almost see the sister wiping the sweat from her brow as she stirs up a steaming pot of vegetable stew to be ladled out and born by a novice into the refectory.

This marvelous ceramic stove probably dates from the 16th-17th century.  It was an efficient way of getting the maximum amount of heat from a minimum amount of fuel.

But the colourful ceramic was more than a decorative element on this early masonry stove.  It was an even and long lasting conductor of heat.  Masonry stoves were fuel efficient - hay, twigs or  split logs could be burned in them and burned at a high temperature.  A small fire could give heat that would last up to six hours after the fire had died down.  This meant that a single fire could handle much of the cooking needs for the day.

The decorative tiles on the back splash would have also retained and reflected heat as well as being a source of both religious contemplation and, possibly,  amusement. 

I recently found a great little free programme which creates mapping links on photos in a few easy steps.  I've used it to allow close ups of the charming primitive tiles on the back guard of the Monastery stove.  As you move your mouse over each tile a left click or use the links at the bottome of the picture to enlarge the tile in another window for a closer look. Thanks to image-maps.com for a very cool tool.

 December 14 - 1287: St. Lucia's flood: The Zuiderzee sea wall in the Netherlands collapses, killing over 50,000 people.
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