The truth is, winter is ugly around here. We get beautiful fall and spring, and summer is not that bad, especially if you are just looking at it through the windows from an air-conditioned room, but winter has little to recommend it.
Here’s a nice mysterious-sounding song to cheer you in case you also live in a place that is ugly in winter. “The Angel Gabriel” is a popular Advent hymn in the higher churches. American churches, for those unfamiliar with the system, can be placed on a continuum from high church (Catholic is the highest) to low church (Pentacostal might be the lowest). High church style Protestant hymnals such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian ones normally have this song. Low church hymnals don’t usually have any songs about Mary. I used to attend a church where a song we were singing which included the words “Hail, Mary” was changed to “Oh, Mary,” after a protest from a member. It totally spoiled the song. It sounded like “Yo, Mary.” Since we’re talking about music here and not theology, I leave all disputations on this question entirely to the reader and move on.
The song is about an angel (Gabriel, natch) coming to visit Mary and clueing her in that she would be the mother of God. This is a pretty dramatic scene.
Ozarque has been having a discussion about angels over at her place. She doesn’t want them speaking casually in the vernacular (I think Ozarque would never have fussed over the words “Hail, Mary,” because angels ought to speak impressively, and “Hail” is distinctly more impressive than “Oh,” which ought to be followed by “by the way, sweetie.”)
The angel Gabriel in this song appears with his eyes aflame. Mary is pretty relaxed about it. She bows her head meekly. This is because the words were written by an eminent Victorian. Modern songs about Mary tend to present her as brave rather than meek.
The eminent Victorian in question is Sabine Baring-Gould, a folklorist and expert on werewolves who is probably best known for writing “Onward Christian Soldiers” to a tune by his friend Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan. Sullivan never intended to be famous for his comic operettas and that one now-controversial hymn. He thought his opera “Ivanhoe” and other serious works would be his claim to fame. Baring-Gould never, I am sure, expected that the little poem he wrote for a kids’ processional would be the thing he was remembered for. It just goes to show.
Anyway, the tune is “Becancon” (I don’t know how to put the little tail on the c there), an old French tune and a very good one, too. You can do terrific things with dynamics on this song if you have a choir. If you don’t have a choir, you can just belt it out. In fact, the tune is perfect for drunkenly shouting as you lumber three abreast holding one another up after a party. Not that I recommend that you do that. It would also be good for ice skating. It would sound very good on a violin.
Sting recorded it, and so have a number of choirs and classical musicians of various flavors, mostly under the name “Gabriel’s Message.” Why it tends to be recorded under one name and published in hymnals under another I do not know.
I did go to that ornament exchange party last night. I took one of my tree charms and came home with this nice little retro santa. It follows as the night the day that I have not reconstructed the lost fact-checking assignment, cleaned my house, or made any further progress on Christmas presents. I have three parties coming up this weekend, plus working an extra half day, plus making 6.5 dozen cookies for a fundraiser. I haven’t prepared for tonight’s class, either, and the grocery shopping we did over the weekend has evaporated — or possibly been gobbled up by the teenage boys who are eating me out of house and home.
I must go make some more food for them.