Soli Deo Gloria - A Thousand Noels
Exquisite Baroque masterworks by Charpentier, Buxtehude, and Zelenka alternate with newly-composed compositions by Artistic Director Allen H Simon to present not just the first noel, but the second, third, and more. Christmas music abounds to start your season right hearing the traditional story told in ways old and new!
A thousand noels.
Don't count the noels -- I don't really know how many there are, but it's a lot. Counting them isn't really the point: it's a symbol of telling a story which has been retold thousands of times over the years. Of telling the news, for "noel" comes from a medieval word meaning "news", although in French the word has come to mean "Christmas carol" in general. "Noe" and "Nowell" are variant spellings of the same word.
The "first" noel, according to the song, was the announcement by the angels to the shepherds, but it runs right ahead to the visit of the Magi. I've taken the words from that familiar carol and set them to new music, so I could sneak in the word "noel" more often. But we'll also sing the traditional version at the end, and the audience is invited to join us.
Charpentier's "In Nativitatem," a spritely mini-oratorio, dramatizes the angels' announcement, with arias for the angel and a chorus of shepherds, emphasizing how urgent it is that they check this news out right away.
Starting a Christmas text with Noel was very popular for centuries, as you can see from the span of the 15th-century Busnois motet (which has only that single word as a text), Aichinger's 16th-century "Noe noe, psallite noe", and a mid-18th-century French song, "Noel, noel, benissons le ciel," performed today in an arrangement by John Metz.
Another item of "news" was the angel's visit to Mary, letting her know of her impending pregnancy and destiny to bear the son of God. "The Angel Gabriel" and "Dixit Maria" both address this, as does the macaronic (bilingual) anthem "Nova, nova", which uses the Latin word for "news" along with English text describing the Annunciation. The 13th-century Latin refrain continues by saying "ave fit ex eva", a reference to the medieval idea that Mary's obedience to God's command reversed the sin of Eve in the Garden of Eden, symbolized by the reversing of Eve's name ("Eva") to the first word spoken by the angel to Mary ("Ave"). Mary's joy at the news is best expressed in her famous song Magnificat, in a setting by Bohemian composer Jan Dismas Zelenka.
Also filling out the program is a set by Camerata Gloria with more intimate reflections on the news and its meaning, and a wonderful single-movement cantata by Buxtehude. Join us in rejoicing with the noels, the news!
Christ Episcopal Church (View)
1700 Santa Clara Ave
Alameda, CA 94501
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