Recommended listening: Parry, Burgon

Lately I’ve been listening to a fair bit of C.H.H. Parry’s music (1848-1918).   I’d heard of Parry before, but my new-found interest in him was sparked after I heard the processional anthem “I was glad” at the Royal Wedding last year.   With the full orchestration and the Westminster Abbey choir, it is absolutely magnificent.

Of course, now I realize that Parry wrote two of my favourite English hymn tunes, the almost-national anthem “Jerusalem,” and “Repton,” used for “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.”

Here’s another beautiful piece of his I’ve since discovered, a setting of Tennyson’s text, “Crossing the Bar,” sung by the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir.

Finally, on more recommendation, in keeping with the theme of English choral music.  I stumbled on Geoffrey Burgon’s Nunc Dimittis this past summer.   Samantha and I went to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spyand loved it, so I decided to take out the older mini-series from the library.  I was surprised that Burgon (who also composed the score for the series) chose to use this sacred choral selection for the credits.   It seems a bit out of place for a spy story.  Still, whatever his reasons, I’m glad he made that choice, because I’ve been listening to it a lot lately.

In honour of London 2012: some great English music

In honour of the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, here’s some of my favourite English music, from one of my favourite composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Now, these aren’t the kind of pieces that will inspire great feats of athletic prowess, but they do conjure up quintessentially English landscapes.  Better for meditation than exercise, but I guess that tells you something about the way I tend to spend my days.   I always listen to music as I work, and since I listen to Vaughan Williams more than I listen to any other composer,  I should probably recognize him for the significant contribution he has made to my dissertation.


Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 in E minor


The Lark Ascending


Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

Jerusalem, my happy home

Try to get this song out of your head:

I first heard it in The Tudors, where it features in the final episode of season 2 – the episode where Anne Boleyn meets her end at the Tower.  This haunting melody was a great choice to accompany the story of those sad events.

Though I first watched the episode months ago, I’ve only gotten around to actually looking up the words today.  It seems like it could be a fitting text for Advent, because Advent is traditionally a time when we think about Christ’s future coming in glory.  This poem is all about the longing for the “New Jerusalem,” which Christians believe will be established with that second Advent of Christ.

According to Cyber Hymnal, the words are ascribed to “F.B.P.”, thought to have been a Catholic priest, and the original manuscript, dated ca. 1583, is housed in the British Museum.   It was published in Psalms and Hymns for Public or Pri­vate De­vo­tion (Shef­field, Eng­land: Brit­tan­ia Press, 1795).

In spite of her many faults, you can’t help feeling sorry for Anne Boleyn.  I imagine this song might echo some of the yearnings she felt during her final days.

The text is very long, and I had a hard time finding the verses sung by Anuna on this recording, so I’ve bolded them below (though they’ve altered the words a bit).

Jerusalem, my happy home,
When shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end?
Thy joys when shall I see?

O happy harbor of the saints!
O sweet and pleasant soil!
In thee no sorrow may be found,
No grief, no care, no toil.

In thee no sickness may be seen,
No hurt, no ache, no sore;
There is no death nor ugly devil,
There is life for evermore.

No dampish mist is seen in thee,
No cold nor darksome night;
There every soul shines as the sun;
For God himself gives light.

There lust and lucre cannot dwell;
There envy bears no sway;
There is no hunger, heat, nor cold,
But pleasure every way.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
God grant that I may see
Thine endless joy, and of the same
Partaker ay may be!

Thy walls are made of precious stones,
Thy bulwarks diamonds square;
Thy gates are of right orient pearl;
Exceeding rich and rare;

Thy turrets and thy pinnacles
With carbuncles do shine;
Thy very streets are paved with gold,
Surpassing clear and fine;

Thy houses are of ivory,
Thy windows crystal clear;
Thy tiles are made of beaten gold—
O God that I were there!

Within thy gates nothing doth come
That is not passing clean,
No spider’s web, no dirt, no dust,
No filth may there be seen.

Aye, my sweet home, Jerusalem,
Would God I were in thee:
Would God my woes were at an end,
Thy joys that I might see.

Thy saints are crowned with glory great;
They see God face to face;
They triumph still, they still rejoice
Most happy is their case.

We that are here in banishment
Continually do mourn:
We sigh and sob, we weep and wail,
Perpetually we groan.

Our sweet is mixed with bitter gall,
Our pleasure is but pain:
Our joys scarce last the looking on,
Our sorrows still remain.

But there they live in such delight,
Such pleasure and such play,
As that to them a thousand years
Doth seem as yesterday.

Thy vineyards and thy orchards are
Most beautiful and fair,
Full furnished with trees and fruits,
Most wonderful and rare.

Thy gardens and thy gallant walks
Continually are green:
There grow such sweet and pleasant flowers
As nowhere else are seen.

There is nectar and ambrosia made,
There is musk and civet sweet;
There many a fair and dainty drug
Is trodden under feet.

There cinnamon, there sugar grows,
Here nard and balm abound.
What tongue can tell or heart conceive
The joys that there are found?

Quite through the streets with silver sound
The flood of life doth flow,
Upon whose banks on every side
The wood of life doth grow.

There trees for evermore bear fruit,
And evermore do spring;
There evermore the angels be,
And evermore do sing.

There David stands with harp in hand
As master of the choir:
Ten thousand times that man were blessed
That might this music hear.

Our Lady sings Magnificat
With tune surpassing sweet,
And all the virgins bear their part,
Sitting at her feet.

There Magdalen hath left her moan,
And cheerfully doth sing
With blessèd saints, whose harmony
In every street doth ring.

Jerusalem, my happy home,
Would God I were in thee!
Would God my woes were at an end
Thy joys that I might see!

Handel’s Israel in Egypt: As Good as the Messiah?

I love Handel’s music, and his oratorio Israel in Egypt has become a big favourite of mine.   I think it deserves to be as well known as the Messiah, though I’m sure that will never happen.  As with the Messiah, the text is entirely based on scripture – the first part drawing upon Exodus and Psalms 78, 105, and 106, and the second part based entirely on Exodus 15.

Anyone who can make “He spake the word, and there came all manner of flies” sound this wonderful is an absolute genius.

I’ve collected a few excerpts here from YouTube, for you listening pleasure.   What do you think – is it as good as the Messiah?


He spake the word, and there came all manner of flies and lice in all quarters.
He spake; and the locusts came without number, and devoured the fruits of the ground.
Psalm 105:31, 34, 35


But as for His people, He led them forth like sheep:
He brought them out with silver and gold; there was not one feeble person among their tribes.
Psalm 78:52; Psalm 105:37


The Lord is my strength and my song; He is become my salvation.
Exodus 15:2


And with the blast of Thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.
Exodus 15:8


Thou didst blow with the wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters.
Exodus 15:10

[couldn’t find an orchestral version on YouTube, but this one by Jasmine Haghighatian with piano accompaniment is nice]


The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.
(Exodus 15: 18)

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them: —
(Exodus 15: 20, 21)

Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.
(Exodus 15: 21)

Ten Songs from 2010

In response to Pernell, here are ten songs that I listened to a lot in 2010 (not necessarily released in 2010).

Deep Dark Woods, “Charlie’s (is coming down)” from CBC Radio 2’s Great Canadian Song Quest

Fleet Foxes, “Your Protector,” from Fleet Foxes

Great Lake Swimmers, “Palmistry,” from Lost Channels

Joel Plaskett, “Deny Deny Deny,” from Three

M. Ward, “Jailbird,” from Hold Time

Ray Lamontagne, “Like Rock & Roll and Radio,” from God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise

Ron Sexsmith, “Seem to Recall,” from Whereabouts

Rufus Wainwright, “True Loves,” from All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu

The Swell Season, “Low Rising,” from Strict Joy

Sandra McCraken, “Halfway,” from Under Lights and Stars

Recommended Christmas Listening

This isn’t an attempt to choose my all time favourite Christmas music. I love Christmas music and there are so many great songs to choose from, I don’t think I could narrow it down. Having said that, I want to offer a few eclectic recommendations from the dozens of favourites I’ve been listening to for weeks now.

One of my favourite pieces of classical Christmas music (though it is hard to pick, especially with the Messiah and the Nutcracker in the running) is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols.” It begins with a very mysterious sounding setting of “This is the truth sent from above,” and includes “Come all you worthy gentlemen” and “On Christmas night all Christians sing.”  Vaughan Williams spent part of his career collecting and arranging English Folk melodies – the tunes in this piece are three examples.  If you like this, check out his Norfolk Rhapsody.

Here is a live recording, in two parts, of the Monteverdi Choir Würzburg and the Mainphilharmonie Würzburg, from 2008.  My favourite part is the section which builds from about the 1:00 mark to the climactic 3:00 mark of the second video below.

Ray Charles’ version of “The Little Drummer Boy” is classic.  It’s not often you hear the Rhodes, strings, horns AND steel guitar in one song! The visuals on this clip aren’t too creative, but the audio is good quality.

For Canadian content, I recommend Ron Sexsmith’s “Maybe this Christmas.” I couldn’t find an upload of Ron singing, so here is a nice cover by someone named Phil Hyun.

There’s nothing like singing Christmas carols with David Willcocks’ descants – especially if the choir is as good as this one, from St. Paul’s, London. Here’s his arrangement of Once in Royal David’s City. The descant comes in at 2:18.

My last suggestions is NOT a favourite, but I find it hilarious. My vote for weirdest Christmas song: Bob Dylan, “Must be Santa.” I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan, but I’m not sure what to make of this song, or his entire Christmas album, to be honest.  This video won’t embed, so you’ve got to go here to watch it.