Sunday, January 12, 2014

We Have Seen His Star in the East

Tomorrow is the Octave Day of the Feast of the Epiphany:  January 6th, the day on which, according to tradition, the Three Kings ended their search for the Child of whose birth they had read in the stars.  It is an event that has been much celebrated in Western art and in music.  And with the octave day comes the official end of Christmastide.

I though I'd celebrate the last liturgical day of Christmas by sharing several of the Adoration of the Magi works from the wonderful museum at  El Reial Monestir de Santa Maria de Pedralbes and a last piece of music for the season.   The styles - both artistically and theologically - are disparate but none the less celebrate the last Feast of Christmas.

The most famous modern Epiphany carol is, of course, We Three King, written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins Jr, the rector of an Episcopal church in Pennsylvania.  He had written it for a Christmas pageant at the seminary where he taught.  It was the first "American" carol to be included in Christmas Carols Old and New.

And as the most popular Epiphany carol comes from America I thought I'd post another lovely American carol for the Feast as an end to this year's Christmastide musical posts.

Oh Beautiful Star of Bethlehem is a modern carol in the tradition of Southern Baptist gospel music.  It was written by a Tennessee farmer, Robert Fischer Boyce in 1938.   With eleven children in the house Mr Fischer couldn't find peace and quiet so retired to the cow barn and wrote the words for what was to become a much recorded gospel carol.  His daughter Nannie-Lou Taylor helped him with the music and it was eventually published by  James D. Vaughan Music Publishing.  At one point this led to the carol being attributed to Adger M. Pace, an music editor at the company.  As was usual for the time Boyce received a flat fee for the song and gave up all rights and royalties to the music publisher.

 It was first recorded in 1953 but has since become a standard on gospel, country and cross-over Christmas albums.  It has been a feature in many of the Gaither Homecoming Christmas concerts.  I've always loved these concerts - perhaps not the theology behind them but certainly the music and here is a great version from one of their recorded specials.  Ben  Speer is very much in the old style gospel (and sadly his voice has lost much of its power) while Amy Lambert is more modern in her delivery.  But as with so many of the Gaither recordings its the ensemble that makes things take flight.

The tree has been taken down, the decorations put away, the Christmas CDs shelved for another year.  But where we living in another time there would be one more celebration before we went back to the humdrum days of winter.  But more about that tomorrow.

January 12 - 1554: Bayinnaung, who would go on to assemble the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia, is crowned King of Burma.
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1 comment:

David said...

I always feel a bit queasy about the three kings because of course it is their intelligence to Herod that triggers the massacre of the innocents and the flight into Egypt. John Adams captures both sides of the nativity story so daringly in El Nino.

And of course massacre images in art are all hideously gruesome.