I usually look forward to rehearsals starting up in September for the Civic Chorale I sing in. But I especially welcomed the start of rehearsals season tonight, because we are singing a selection of Baroque Christmas music.
It includes four choruses from Handel’s Messiah, which by now I have sung with this group enough times to feel less intimidated by it – with the exception of the melismas in “For unto us a child is born.” It includes the first movement of Vivaldi’s Gloria, which I thought I was unfamiliar with – until the director played it on a CD. I’ve never sung it, but the music is so familiar, I’m guessing I have heard it (probably every year) at the high school Christmas choir concerts. I look forward to singing it myself this year.
The bulk of the concert is the Midnight Mass for Christmas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, a composer I had never heard of. I’ve always loved Baroque music (even before I learned about the different musical periods/styles), and collected a number of albums of Baroque music. I could name a number of Baroque composers, but until tonight there would not have been a single French name among them. All the French composers I knew of came from later periods, particularly the Romantic period (which is not among my favorites, though there are a few pieces I do like). The idea of a French Baroque composer would have struck me as odd, though if I’d thought about it I’d have realized that of course there must have been French composers during that period.
One interesting aspect of the Midnight Mass is that the melodies are based on French Christmas carols. Not a single one is familiar to me, however – nor to our group’s director, who is also the director of the music program at the local community college. (I’ll have to get out our Oxford Book of Carols and look for them.) But listening to the mass (on a CD), it doesn’t surprise me at all to learn that these are carol melodies.
It’s going to be a fun rehearsal season.