En la Fete de Noel - O Holy Night (La Petite Bande de Montreal/ Martin Dagenais) (Naxos: 8.554435)
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O Holy Night
\Grave or na?»ve,spiritual or emotional, languorous or merry, all the Christmas carols of ourformer mother country are charming, exalting the true poetical expression whichreveals this people's very soul."
Ernest Myrand,Quebec, 25th December 1899
There is some evidencethat many of the Christmas traditions which we now practise stem from theSumerian civilisation which arose in Lower Mesopotamia more than 4,000 yearsago. This festival was closely linked to the rhythm of the seasons and withpagan songs and folk celebrations. Over time these became part of later villagecelebrations and were adopted by the early Christian church. Until a centuryago, Christmas Eve Mass and late night supper simply marked the beginning of atwelve-day festival culminating in the Celebration of the Magi (the Epiphany).
It was not until the beginning of this century that Santa Claus, the Christmastree and the exchanging of gifts were introduced. The now traditional scene ofthe Christ-Child in a manger has been attributed to Saint Francis of Assisiwho, with the Pope's approval, embellished his re-creation of the Nativity withpopular Christmas carols. Although Christmas is primarily a religious festival,it is also a joyful celebration and a time for warm-hearted gatherings; whenfood, gifts and music mix with prayer. The musical repertoire that Christmashas brought about bears witness to the many different faces of this festival.
In Christmas music,the popular and solemn often mix, making it difficult to trace the real originof many pieces. For example, Minuit, chretiens ('Midnight, Christians')by Adolphe Adam, the author of the famous ballet Giselle, has becomepart of the French folk tradition, although written by a professional composer.
La nuit ('The Night') was also written by a professional composer,Jean-Philippe Rameau. Allons, gay, gay, berg?¿res ('Let us go, merryshepherdesses') was composed by Guillaume Costelley. The tune for Saintenuit ('Silent Night') is famous in many languages. On the other hand, manycomposers have also been inspired by folk celebrations and music. Around 1890,Charles Gounod published a Christmas carol in English using Henry Farnie's textBethlehem and the tune of Dans cette etable.
French religious folksongs or no?½ls were often inspired by pastoral songs. This genreoriginated in the twelfth century as songs for the Nativity. Nevertheless, thetrue Christmas carol came from Provence and was written in this region'sdialect, often using secular tunes. These no?½ls or carols became fullydeveloped in the fifteenth century and soon after were compiled into books andpublished. This helped them spread in popularity thus becoming a deeply rootedtradition.
The Christmas carolsin this recording are among those most frequently heard among theFrench-speaking people of Canada. Many of them came from across the Atlantic tobecome part of Quebec's regional tradition. According to the historian ErnestMyrand, 'the tune of the future ?ça bergers ussemblons-nous ('Shepherdslet us get together') was first sung by Jacques Cartier's sailors on the deckof their ship, the Grande Hermine in Stadacone [now Quebec City] onChristmas Day of 1535. Over the centuries, Quebec composers have tried to adaptor arrange the most famous carol while still maintaining the original characterof this music'.
Composer and organistRaymond Daveluy, born in 1926 in Victoriaville, has arranged many of the mostpopular French Canadian carols. It is Daveluy's sense of harmony that makes himso suited to this task. His arrangements on this recording include Ah! Quelgrand myst?¿re! ('Oh what a great mystery!'); ?ça, bergers! ('So,shepherds!') and Dans cette etable ('In this stable'). The carol Ilest ne le divin enfant ('The Divine Child is born') was originally fromLorraine; its melody is probably borrowed from La t?¬te bizarde, a hunter's tune from theeighteenth century. Les anges dans nos campagnes ('Angels in our fields') also dates back to the eighteenth century andcomes from Languedoc while Le sommeil de l'enfant Jesus ('The sleep ofthe infant Jesus') comes from Anjou.
Another importantmusician represented on this recording is Donald Patriquin. Born in Sherbrooke,Quebec, in 1938, his works often show the influence of the stories and folkloreof his native region. It is this cultural understanding which makes him such anideal arranger and composer of this music for the Christmas tradition. Hisarrangements include Venez mes enfants ('Come my children'); Quelleest cette odeur agreable? ('What is this lovely perfume?') and Tous lesbourgeois de Ch?ótres ('All the people of Ch?ótres'), a carol from the townof Arpajon.
This recording alsoincludes a variety of non-?¡French music sung in Quebec at Christmas time. Theseworks come from England, continental Europe and the United States but have beenadopted over time by French-speaking people. Adeste Fideles was composedby J.F. Wade. English by birth, Wade lived in Douai, France, and would havewritten this song between 1740 and 1745. It was originally published in Latinbut became popular through the English version O come, all ye faithful. Theorigin of Carol of the bells is unclear, though it is usually regardedas Ukrainian. There is a Flower arranged by John Rutter, and YuletideFires, are English in origin, although both are frequent visitors to QuebecChristmas celebrations. Finally the Huron carol, Jesous Ahatonhia, asarranged by the Canadian composer Healy Willan, is one of the first Christmascarols ever composed in North America.
All of the music on thisCD was written to celebrate one event - the birth of Christ. If there is anyother common thread in all of these carols, it is the importance of a musicthat is close to people's hearts. Over two continents and three centuries thisneed still exists - for simple, meaningful songs that speak to our faith andour hope.