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Soli Deo Gloria - Fowre Thowsand Wynter
Grace Lutheran Church
Palo Alto, CA
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Soli Deo Gloria - Fowre Thowsand Wynter

The phrase four thousand winters (to use its modern spelling) is synecdoche for the four thousand years which supposedly elapsed between the Fall of Adam and the birth (or crucifixion) of Christ. Medieval writers based this four-thousand-year estimate of this time from the genealogy provided in the Book of Luke, and whatever clues were provided in the Old Testament. The poem Adam lay ybounden, from which this phrase is taken, dates at least from the 15th century, but similar estimates of this timespan date back to Eusebius (c. 260-340) or before. Here are two versions of the poem, one from the earliest version, and one from a couple of centuries later:

Adam lay i-bowndyn,
bowndyn in a bond,
Fowre thowsand wynter
thowt he not to longAdam lay ybounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter,
Thought he not too long.
And al was for an appil,
an appil that he tok.
As clerkes fyndyn wretyn
in here book.And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took.
As clerks finden,
Written in their book.

clerks = clergy
their book = the Bible
Ne hadde the appil take ben,
the appil taken ben,
Ne hadde never our lady
a ben hevene quen.Nay had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Nay had never our lady,
Of been heaven queen.
Blyssid be the tyme
that appil take was!
Therefore we mown syngyn
Deo gratias!Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we maun singen:
Deo gratias!

Thanks be to God!

Although its thought that the text was set to music at the time it was written, there are no extant settings that I could find before the mid-20th century, when Benjamin Britten included it with a tapestry of other texts in A Ceremony of Carols (1945), and then Boris Ord introduced his setting to the world-famous Festival of Nine Lesson and Carols at Kings College, Cambridge.

The apple is another medieval affectation, since the original story in Genesis doesnt specify what type of fruit Adam and Eve ate. Some scholars suggest it might have been a fig, since they subsequently made clothing out of fig leaves,, but there are other theories as well. No one is sure why the apple came to be identified with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but it may be just because the words for apple and evil are quite similar in Latin. The poem seems to suggest, however, that the centuries-long imprisonment (ybounden means bound in the sense of tied up) of Adam was over a trivial matter, an apple, ignoring the disobedience of Gods commands (original sin) which it symbolizes.

Curiously, the poem seems to rejoice in Adams Fall, since it led to the Incarnation and the crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven. The final phrase Deo gratias (thanks to God), spelled gracias in some texts, became the thematic text of the work in Brittens setting as well as Bevans.

We performed a work of Allan Bevans, Nou Goth Sonne Under Wode, in 2009, and it was very well received, and at the same time the composer gave me a score of his then newly-composed work, Fowre Thowsand Wynter, which was premiered by Pro Coro Canada the same year. This year, I asked him to re-orchestrate it for our needs, and he extensively revised it, adding solo parts for Mary and Gabriel and new instrumental parts, replacing the narrators parts (which in the original version were more apocalyptic) and changing the order of the movements. The selection of texts, a combination of Latin, Middle English, and modern English texts, is similar to Brittens Ceremony of Carols, but the format of the work, with narrated passages from familiar Christmas gospels, calls to mind Lessons and Carols services. Several of the musical themes come back in multiple movements.

Other works on the todays program were chosen to complement this holiday theme. Machet die Tore weit is one of Telemanns most frequently performed cantatas (out of some 1,700 he wrote), and was composed in 1719 for Advent in the court of Eisenach; he performed it again in Hamburg and Frankfurt am Main. It follows a typical pattern for cantatas from the period, starting with a chorus, followed by a couple of solo movements and a closing chorale. Bach was intrigued by the work, and performed it as his own church in 1734; C.P.E. Bach also performed it, and made an annotated version of the arias with added ornamentation.

Berliozs LEnfance du Christ is a full-length oratorio focused on the massacre of the innocents and the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. The excerpt we are performing today is from the centrer of the work, as the family is preparing to flee, and receiving the farewell of the shepherds. The oboes, traditional instruments representing shepherds, are featured.

We hope you also enjoy the series of settings of Adam Lay Ybounden, sung by Camerata Gloria, Carol of Joy by composer Dan Forrest, the beloved A Spotless Rose by Herbert Howells, and a new version of A Carol Suite, a piece which Julia and I co-wrote for my very first Christmas concert with SDG in 1991.


Grace Lutheran Church (View)
3149 Waverley St
Palo Alto, CA 94301
United States


Arts > Performance
Music > All Ages
Music > Choral
Music > Classical
Other > Family-Friendly
Other > Holiday

Kid Friendly: Yes!
Dog Friendly: No
Non-Smoking: Yes!
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes!


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