Winter-Night Canticles (1996)

Christmas suite in six movements for flute and guitar, 18 minutes

 

Instrumentation: flute, guitar

 

Six settings of Christmas carols for flute and guitar.

 

Movements:

1. A French Carol (The Friendly Beasts)
2. Epiphany (We Three Kings)
3. Coventry (Coventry Carol)
4. Calypso (O Little Town of Bethlehem)
5. Rose (Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming)
6. Dulci Jubilo (Good Christian Men, Rejoice - In Dulci Jubilo)

 

Audio:

1. A French Carol (The Friendly Beasts) (excerpt)

2. Epiphany (We Three Kings) (excerpt)

 

PDF:
» excerpt I
» excerpt II
» excerpt III
» excerpt IV
» excerpt V
» excerpt VI

 

Program Notes:

Winter-Night Canticles was composed for the flute-guitar duo of Jill and Douglas Rubio, the latter member of which is on the faculty of the State University College of New York (SUNY) College at Potsdam in 1996, and was premiered by them at the Crane School of Music in December 1996. 

 

The work is a suite of short pieces based on Christmas tunes: some of which are  very well-known, others less familiar.  In each piece, the tune’s identity is preserved, though its essence is distilled through the filter of the flute and guitar medium. 

 

 “A French Carol,” the first movement, is based on a lovely and lesser-known tune called “The Friendly Beasts,” the beasts being those gathered around the infant Christ in the manger.  The flute presents the melody above an ever-changing guitar accompaniment.  Later in the movement, another well-known tune, “Greensleeves,” is heard played by the guitar during a transition. 

 

 “Epiphany,” the second movement, sets “We Three Kings,” a popular Victorian carol.  The particular setting given the tune in this movement, however, responds to Middle Eastern influences, both in the percussive and high-timbred sound of the guitar and in the ornamented melodic style of the flute melody.

 

The English “Coventry Carol” is the source of the third movement, a melancholy setting which creates tempo and mood contrast with the surrounding movements.  The subdued mood also reflects the subject of the source carol, King Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents, in which that sovereign ordered the killing of all boys under the age of two in his realm, to eliminate, as he hoped, the announced newborn King. 

 

The darkness of the previous movement gives way to bright sunlight in the following movement, “Calypso,” a whimsical and  Caribbean-influenced setting of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” 

 

Rose” sets the German carol of Michael Praetorious, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” with the most delicate and economical textures for the duo. 

 

The finale, “Dulci Jubilo,” is based on the anonymous, rollicking Medieval carol.  Set in 6/8 time, the instruments begin by making initial attempts at the tune before finally developing a steadily fast tempo.  One of the intriguing corners of this tune, a repeated note on the English words of the first verse, “News, news,” is given several additional repeats, exaggerating this aspect of the piece.

 

--Andrew Earle Simpson

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