Tuesday, November 29, 2011

CONCORA's Christmas Through the Ages: "Masters in This Hall"

Next week, CONCORA has its final rehearsals for its holiday concert, “Christmas Through the Ages,” which we will present in Hartford, Hampton, and Norfolk, Connecticut, on these dates:

Sunday, December11, 2011, 4:00 p.m.
Center Church, 60 Gold Street, Hartford, Connecticut
Snow date: Monday, December 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Information: www.concora.org or 860-293-0567
Directions: http://www.centerchurchhartford.org/contact/directions.html

Friday, December 16, 8:00 p.m.
Hampton Congregational Church, 163 Main Street, Hampton, Connecticut
Directions: http://hamptonucc.org/

Thursday, December 22, 8:00 p.m.
Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, Route 44, Norfolk, Connecticut
Information, Tickets, and Directions: http://www.infinityhall.com/ or 866-666-6306

You can read all my posts about CONCORA’s Christmas programs here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/search/label/CONCORA%20Christmas

I feel so privileged to be able to prepare the program notes for many of CONCORA’s concerts, including this one. I had promised to share some of the notes here, in advance of the program. Here’s the first, a note about “Masters in This Hall,” a lively carol that has its origins in the French country dance. CONCORA will sing this as a processional; it will be a challenge not to dance as we come down the aisle.


The “traditional French carol” we know as “Masters in This Hall” has a fascinating history. The tune, a contredanse well-known in 17th-century France, was included in Raoul-Augur Feuillet’s popular 1703 collection, Recueil de contredanse. The popular melody was also heard in the opulent court of Versailles, when Marin Marais (1656-1728), who enjoyed a successful career as court musician and composer in the royal household, incorporated the dance in his 1706 opera Alcyone, calling it a Marche pour les Matelots (Sailors’ March). In England, the tune had been published as “The Female Saylor” in a 1710 collection called For the Further Improvement of Dancing. A century and a half later, a young William Morris (1834-1896), who would later become famous as a writer, textile designer, and founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, penned the poem “Masters in This Hall” in 1860 expressly for the old French tune. Morris, who enjoyed part-singing and glee-singing with his friends, wrote many poems and song lyrics in addition to this. This over-the-top arrangement on CONCORA’s concert is by American composer and conductor Mack Wilberg (b. 1955). (The verses shown in italics below are not used in the Wilberg setting.)

Masters in this hall
Hear ye news to-day
Brought from over sea,
And ever I you pray:
Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell sing we clear
Holpen are all folk on earth, Born is God’s Son so dear:
Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell sing we loud!
God to-day hath poor folk rais’d, And cast down the proud.

Going over the hills,
Though the milk-white snow,
Heard I ewes bleat
While the wind did blow.
Nowell! etc.

Shepherds many an one
Sat among the sheep,
No man spake more word
Than they had been asleep.
Nowell! etc.

Quoth I, ‘Fellows mine,
Why this guise sit ye?
Making but dull cheer,
Shepherds though ye be?’
Nowell! etc.

‘Shepherds should of right
Leap and dance and sing;
Thus to see ye sit
Is a right strange thing.’
Nowell! etc.

Quoth these fellows then,
‘To Bethlem Town we go,
To see a mighty Lord
Lie in manger low.’
Nowell! etc.

‘How name ye this Lord
Shepherds’ then said I,
‘Very God,’ they said,
‘Come from heaven high.’
Nowell! etc.

Then to Bethlem Town
We went two and two
And in a sorry place
Heard the oxen low.
Nowell! etc.

Therein did we see
A sweet and goodly May
And a fair old man,
Upon the straw she lay.
Nowell! etc.

And a little Child
On Her arm had She
‘Wot yet Who this is?’
Said the hinds to me.
Nowell! etc.

Ox and ass Him know
Kneeling on their knee,
Wondrous joy had I
This little Babe to see,
Nowell! etc.

That is Christ the Lord,
Masters be ye glad!
Christmas is come in,
And no folk should be sad.
Nowell! etc.

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