The Virtual Musical Advent Calendar, December 23: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
Our last three days of this Advent Calendar will be closing out over the next three days, as we celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas and St. Stephens Day in quick succession. This is therefore our last “regular day,” and I thought I’d post a few songs that I associate with the Episcopal church my parents, wife, and son have called home.
Let’s start with one of my favorite carol recordings from the past few years, Sixpence None the Richer’s It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear was a poem written by Edmund Sears, one of those Massachusetts Unitarian ministers I talked about in my history of the War on Christmas post — the ones trying to get the nation to adapt Christmas into a spiritual and family event. He wrote the poem in 1949, and the following year composer Richard Willis, a student of Felix Mendelssohn put it to music. (The Animals used to perform the poem to the tune of their signature traditional folksong, House of the Rising Sun, but I have never been able to track down a recording.)
Another poem with a Mendelssohn connection that has been pulled into annual Episcopal duty is Charles Wesley’s Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Wesley wrote the poem in 1739 hoping that someone would eventually put it to music, and in fact many did. Mendelssohn wrote the tune you most likely associate Hark the Herald Angels Sing with one hundred years after its initial publication, but his wasn’t the first. In fact, during Wesley’s lifetime it was mostly associated with the music of G.F. Handel, and was sung to the same tune as Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. (The other poem put to Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes, is still played during advent in Ireland.)
There are many great versions of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, but those that have been following this Advent Calendar will not be surprised at my favorite. After all, the image of it being sung has been the signature image of this entire endeavor:
Lastly, I’ll post a version of my favorite non-popular Anglican carol, Gabriel’s Message. Gabriel’s Message may be the only carol I know that originated as a Basque folk song. Modern listeners may have been introduced to an electronic version by Sting recorded in 1985, which was released as the B-side to his Russians single. But it is this arrangement by Sting, done decades later, that most resonates with me:
Click here to see all selections for The Virtual Musical Advent Calendar.