Category Archives: Music

Yes’s 90125: My Favorite Christmas Album

Ok, ok, it makes no sense. I know, I know. Yes, 90125, Christmas? What the heck, Birzer?

And, if you pushed me, I still couldn’t tell you why with any reasonable explanation why 90125 is my favorite Christmas album, but it is.

I can feel no sense of measure

No illusion as we take

Refuge in young man’s pleasure

Breaking down the dreams we make real

Like almost every male of my generation, I purchased 90125 within a week or two of its arrival in the music stores. Combining old Yes, Trevor Horn’s growing signature new wave production, Trevor Rabin’s soaring and BIG guitars, libertarian, ponderous, and (mostly) optimistic lyrics, plus some of the best vocal harmonies of the 1980s, 90125 was a wonder.

I had grown up with Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Yessongs, but I had no prejudice against the new direction of Yes. This was crisp excellence and nothing less. Granted, I missed the intricacies of Roger Dean’s artwork, but the Apple graphics were pretty good and interesting–especially given the Jobs-ian minimalist trends of the day.

Music, good for you!

Music, good to you!

So, why Christmas? Well, because once I bought the album in early November of 1983, I couldn’t stop listening to it. Long before digitized music, I listened to the vinyl with headphones, over and over again. And, one of my most vivid memories of 1983? Laying down on my bedroom floor, staring out the window into the night sky, listening to 90125 with my huge and glorious headphones on Christmas Eve.

Reasonable? No. After all, 1983, Yes, Christmas, 90125. . . Stranger Things, indeed.

Jigsaw puzzle traitors
Set to spill the beans
Constitution screw up
Shattering the dreams
Blood flows in the desert
Dark citadels burning too
Watch! Look over your shoulder

For Christmas Day: “My Lord Has Come” by Will Todd

Shepherds, called by angels,
called by love and angels:
No place for them but a stable.
My Lord has come.

Sages, searching for stars,
searching for love in heaven;
No place for them but a stable.
My Lord has come.

His love will hold me,
his love will cherish me,
love will cradle me.

Lead me, lead me to see him,
sages and shepherds and angels;
No place for me but a stable.
My Lord has come.

Blessed Christmas to all!

— Rick Krueger

For Christmas Midnight: “What Sweeter Music” by John Rutter

What sweeter music can we bring
Than a carol for to sing
The birth of this our Heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!

Dark and dull night fly hence away!
And give the honour to this day
That sees December turn’d to May.

Why does the chilling winter’s morn
Smile like a field beset with corn?
Or smell like a meadow newly shorn,
Thus on a sudden?  Come and see
The cause why things thus fragrant be:
’Tis He is born, whose quickening birth
Gives life and lustre, public mirth,
To heaven and the under-earth.

We see Him come, and know Him ours,
Who with his sunshine and his showers
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.
The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is we find a room
To welcome Him.

The nobler part
Of all the house here is the heart,
Which we will give Him; and bequeath
This holly and this ivy wreath 
To do Him honour, who’s our King
And Lord of all this revelling.

— Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

For Christmas Eve: “A Spotless Rose” by Herbert Howells

A spotless Rose is growing,
Sprung from a tender root,
Of ancient seers’ foreshowing,
Of Jesse promised fruit;
Its fairest bud unfolds to light
Amid the cold, cold winter,
and in the dark mid-night.

The Rose which I am singing,
Whereof Isaiah said,
Is from its sweet root springing
In Mary, purest Maid;
For through our God’s great love and might
The Blessed Babe she bare us
In a cold, cold winter’s night.

“O Herbert, that cadence to A Spotless Rose is not merely ‘one of those things’.  Brainwave it certainly is, but it is much more than that.  It is a stroke of genius.  I should like, when my time comes, to pass away with that magical cadence.”

— Howells’ fellow composer Patrick Hadley

Blessed Christmas Eve to all!

— Rick Krueger

The O Antiphons: O Emmanuel

The O Antiphon for the Magnificat at Vespers on December 23:

O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed of the nations and their Savior: come and save us, O Lord our God.

Healey Willan (1880-1968), professor at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and organist at St. Mary Magdalene Church in the same city, composed a setting of The Great O Antiphons of Advent for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Concordia Publishing House in 1957.  Here’s Willan’s setting of “O Emmanuel,” as sung by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

— Rick Krueger

(Image: O Emmanuel by Linda Witte Henke, Te Deum Designs.)

The O Antiphons: O King of the Nations

The O Antiphon for Magnificat at Vespers on December 22:

O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: come and save us all, whom you formed out of clay.

For their 2016 debut recording Drop Down, Ye Heavens, the London-based student-formed choir Siglo de Oro commissioned a new set of O Antiphons from various British composers, sung in English and set for choir and saxophone.  Here is Gareth Wilson’s yearning setting of “O King of the Nations”:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

— Rick Krueger

(Image: O Rex Gentium by Linda Henke, Te Deum Designs.)

Cecilian Ode #3 (Sort Of): “In Terra Pax”

The British composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956, pictured above) did write a “ceremonial ode” For St. Cecilia in 1946-47, setting a text by Edmund Blunden (1896-1974).  But, with your indulgence, this month’s Cecilian Ode post veers in a different direction!  According to his publisher, Finzi’s “Christmas scene” In terra pax, composed in 1954-56:

conflates Robert Bridges’s poem Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913 and Luke 2: 8–14. Finzi suggested that the Nativity ‘becomes a vision seen by a wanderer on a dark and frosty Christmas Eve, in our own familiar landscape’. In terra pax is a masterpiece in miniature, Finzi’s pacifism at its heart, and his belief that men and women of goodwill should live harmoniously. Weaving through the music are three ideas: the pealing of the bells with their joyous message, a phrase from the carol The First Nowell, and the alleluia refrain from the hymn ‘Lasst uns erfreuen’.

Why not spend 16 minutes with this ravishingly beautiful evocation of the first Christmas in the here and now?  The complete text of In terra pax follows the work:

A frosty Christmas Eve when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above with stars was spangled o’er.

Then sped my thoughts to keep that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels or the bright stars singing.

And there were shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

But to me heard afar it was starry music
Angels’ song, comforting as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me by the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured as I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect of th’ eternal silence.

 

(This is an appendix to a series exploring the Cecilian Ode, a uniquely English poetic and musical genre that spans the centuries from the late 1600s to the present. Check out previous Odes here and here; look for a new ode on or about the 22nd of each month!)

— Rick Krueger