HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS MUSIC
AN ADDRESS BY HEALEY WILLAN, MUS.D., F.R.C.O.
Chairman: The President, The Honourable G. Howard Ferguson.
Thursday, December 29, 1940
THE HONOURABLE G. HOWARD FERGUSON: Ladies and Gentlemen: The time is getting on and we have a bit of a programme. I only want to say a word or two, particularly to the guests who have been good enough to favour us with their presence here today. I am sure I need not tell them what the purpose and function and object of the Empire Club is. It is the promotion of the cause of the Empire in every phase, and Canada's relation to the Empire, and the purpose of our Club is to disseminate that view and that opinion all through Canada and as far as we can, influence our friends to the south of us.
It is not only unusual but it is a unique privilege we have today and it gives me the greatest pleasure imaginable to welcome our guests from the Old Country. (Applause.) I think all Canadians regard it as a great privilege to have the opportunity of entertaining you as guests, not only at a function like this, but all during the trying ordeal through which your people are being brought and that your friends in the Old Country are suffering today. I cannot ever get out of my mind the part that the Britishers are playing in this great world conflict, because it is a world conflict. Great Britain has set the pace. She has made sacrifice inestimable. The little Cockney in the east end of London deserves as much credit as any of the higher officials for the heroic part he has played in the defence of his home and in the defence of the principles which Great Britain represents. (Applause.)
I have said many times before, and I should like to repeat, that when the story of this war is recorded properly, I think that none will occupy a more prominent and impressive place in history than will the East Enders in London, those who have lost everything they have, many with their families gone, their property, their prospects, and vet they are prepared to say, every day when they crawl out from under the heap of debris, sore and wounded, just living and that is all, "Jerry can't get us down." (Applause.)
That is the sort of spirit that has stirred the world. That is the sort of thing that has given leadership to-clay to this great movement that is rolling up behind Britain and the fight that she is making for all civilization as she fights alone, as Mr. Churchill said, but not for herself alone. She is fighting today for everybody and it is a very small part that we play when we ask them as we have many times, if they would send us their friends, their relatives, to Canada, and we will regard it as a privilege to take care of them as best we can until all this trouble passes and they are able to go back to that land of beauty and of peace again.
Now, we have with us today Dr. Healey Willan, a celebrated musician. I can't say much about him because I don't know anything about music, except that I like it, but I have read of him and heard of him and I have seen him, and I know he is going to give us a delightful bit of entertainment with his Choir, that he has brought with him today. I am going to turn the Chairmanship of this meeting over to Mr. Willan now and ask him to carry on the balance of the programme. (Applause.)
HEALEY WILLAN, Mus.D., F.R.C.O.: Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: I think that perhaps of all the occasions when the principles of education were most aptly elucidated, the most apt is found in Nicholas Nickleby. You may remember a certain gentleman there, Dr. Wackford Squeers. He summoned a small boy from his class and said, "Boy, spell window." "W-i-n-d-e-r," said the boy. "That is quite right," said Dr. Squeers, "Now, go and clean it."
Now, I call that perfectly sound from every point of view and I am therefore quite sure when I have to talk to you about carols you won't want to hear how they are spelled, you want to know how they sound, and I am therefore going; to make my remarks very brief, indeed, so you may hear them sung.
The word carol obviously means a song, and a carol is a type of ecclesiastical folk song. There are carols for all sorts of occasions; but those for Christmas have become far better known than any others, probably due to the humanity of the subject, the time of year, and everything connected with the Christmas season, but there are carols for all the seasons of the yearsummer, winter, spring, autumn. There are carols for all the great church seasons-Easter, Epiphany and Lent and there are carols for specified days, such as May Day. The May Day carol is sung every year from the tower of Magdalen College, Oxford, and there are the Cornish May Day songs which may be found in profusion in Cornwall. In the old days there were specific carols written for specific Saint's clays. I think I can hardly do better than quote to you this description of a carol:
"The carol is a song with a religious impulse.It may be the embodiment of piety, and devotion, it may breathe a mysticism only too rarely found today. It may tell the story in ballad form and it may also be hilarious, for we must not forget the fact that the song and dance are closely allied. Wholesome merriment is the logical result of a deeply imbedded faith, and seriousness is only sad when it becomes superficial."
I think it would be very difficult to find a better description of a carol than that. The carol as we regard it today actually made its appearance rather late in Christian history and although there is evidence of its earlier beginnings, it is not safe to say that the carol, per se, existed much before the fifteenth century. Chaucer speaks of the Sequence, Angelus and Virginen, which because of its lilting melody might almost be regarded as a carol. And we read of Nicholas, the clerk of Oxenford in The Miller's Tale, singing one evening to the accompaniment of his "gay sautrye"
"On which he made a brighter melodye, So sweetly that all the chambre rang And 'Angelus ad Virginen' he sang."
This Sequence is from a manuscript in Cambridge and originated in Dublin about the year 1360.
We are going to sing you six carols today and I think it might be advisable, perhaps, if I said a few words about the carols before we sing them to you.
The first one is All My Heart This Night Rejoices. This carol is by a German writer of the seventeenth century, George Ebling. As we know, the carol literature of Germany is one of the most beautiful heritages of the musical world and a sad contrast to the doings of today. The next one, Lullay Myn Lyking is by Gustav Holst, and the words are fifteenth century. Holst died about six or seven years ago.When I was in Chichester in 1935, I walked around the north transept of the cathedral and saw a tablet on the wall to the memory of Thomas Wilkes, some time organist of the cathedral. He died in 1627, I think. A little further along the wall I saw a tablet to the memory of Gustav Holst, and underneath it, read, "Friend of the music in this cathedral." A very noble epitaph.
The third carol is Alleluia pro Maria Virgine.This is a very old type and the manuscript was found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, dated about 1544; it has been arranged by the late Sir Richard Terry.
The next is a slumber song, a lullaby, again from a German source, Come Rock the Cradle, one of the most beautiful tunes ever written and dates from about the year 1670.
The fifth one is written upon a legendary subject, King Herod and the Cock. There is a legend that at the time of the birth of Christ, a rumour reached King Herod to the effect that there has been born a Child who should be a greater king than Herod, greater indeed than the kings of all the earth; this message was brought to Herod as he sat at the banquet table; he swore an oath and said, "If this thing be true, then the roasted cock in front of me here shall rise in his dish and crow three times." The legend says, if I may resort to old English phraseology, that "So it did befall".
The sixth carol is a most interesting one, In Dulci Jacbilo. This is one of the type known as the Macaronic carols in which there are occasional lines of Latin interspersed. There is a legend that it was revealed in a vision to the great Spanish mystic, Henry Suso, in the year 1336. The legend runs that he heard the carol sung to him in a dream by angels dancing, that he was invited to take part in the dance, and (lid so, and so learned the carol. The carol appeared in Germany about 1540 and it was translated into the English tongue in 1547. The occasional Latin line rhymes most perfectly with the English translation and is a very remarkable piece of work. The melody is of fourteenth century origin. The version we are singing to you today is by the English composer, Richard de Pearsall who lived from 1795 to 1856. He has taken the old melody and the words, of course, and has set it in a most beautiful and, at the same time, most erudite fashion. The character of the carol is emphasized, and under his very skilful treatment it becomes a work of real artistry.
Those are the six carols, Ladies and Gentlemen, which we propose to sing to you, and because of the lateness of the hour perhaps it would be wise if we begin now.
Carols were now sung by the Choir, under the direction of Dr. Willan. (Applause.)
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: I have no doubt you are aware that one of the chief characteristics of the old English carol was that you first of all had a very good meal, which I presume you have already had, and then at the close of the meal, or during the meal, the itinerant singers joined the party and entertained the guests. They sang some carols with a refrain to it, and the guests there assembled did not know the entire carol, but they did know the refrain, and knowing the refrain they all joined in. I am going to suggest that you do the same thing.
In response to the applause "NOWELL" was sung by the Choir, the audience joining in the refrain. (Applause.)
THE HONOURABLE G. HOWARD FERGUSON: Ladles and Gentlemen: I am going to ask our expert musical commentator to say a word on our behalf-The Reverend Dr. Parker.
THE REVEREND STUART C. PARKER, D.D.: Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: The President an any rate seems to have come to the conclusion that I have, if only one grace, at least a very choice one, the grace of a thankful heart, for this is now the second occasion in quick succession on which he has jumped upon me to express the thanks of the Empire Club. But I do so on this occasion with every readiness, if not with the ease that he imagines, and with willingness at least, partly because of the nature of the address and programme which have been presented to us and partly because of our speaker himself.
There have been people who have questioned the propriety of Christmas observance this year because of the world horror which is upon us. Well, I think that all depends upon how you observe Christmas. If Christmas observance to us is only the ill-fated turkey, plus some holly, Christmas cards and ballyhoo generally, then I think I would agree, but if Christmas observance is to us what it ought always to be, the calling to mind of the greatest fact in human or in cosmic history, then I see every reason why in these black days we should celebrate even with an unusual enthusiasm. And if there is any way in which to celebrate Christmas it is by the singing of carols which still, I hope in the case of the modern ones, as it was certainly in the case of the ancient or the older ones, the people's expression of their faith in the incarnation. It was expressed in a crude and rude way sometimes. Sometimes in a comical way, but the faith was there and if we need anything in these days it is to do just what the carols do for us and did for those who first composed them. In them we repeat over and over again to ourselves the assurance that God is not only in His Heaven, so that all is right with the world, but God is in the world, and therefore all will yet be right with this world.
As for Dr. Healey Willan himself, I would go a long way to hear him speak about carols or anything else connected with music and a still longer way to hear him play the organ. (Applause.)
I remember, indeed, an occasion when to hear him play I hurried so much that I was fined $3.00. It was an occasion when he and a visitor from England and a couple of other men went in my car to lunch. I think it was at the Old Mill or some place of the sort. We all came back in my car to Dr. Willan's organ to hear him play certain things, and somebody else was going to sing. I remember the church was bitterly and cruelly cold, but we sat through it that afternoon. But we were in such a hurry to get back to the organ that I failed to stop at a stop street--to stop dead. I didn't feel like stopping dead, I was never so much alive as at that hour, and I was fined $3.00, but I count it very cheap to be with Dr. Willan and to hear him-even for $3.00. Very cheap, indeed.
Dr. Willan, as I may say, for the benefit of those who do not follow music, and we all have our own interests of course, Dr. Willan is one of the most scholarly living musicians, as well as being a very great organist. There are among us here in Canada and notably in Toronto--which is a very, very great musical school and centre--a few men--more than are gathered together, I think, in any other large city, perhaps I might say in any other large city in the world-a few men who are absolutely at the top of their profession and whose names are known the world over. Of these not the least is Dr. Healey Willan, whose compositions for the organ, particularly, are played wherever there is a pipe organ, and all over this round earth. He is, I hope, not another example of the prophet without honour in his own country. I wish I had the eloquence to prove to him that he is given honour in his own country. He is one of the greatest, he is certainly one of the greatest composers in the field of literature for the organ and he is, according to any standard, one of our great living composers. Any of you who have heard, as I have heard twice now, his great "Te Deum", scored for orchestra, will know that I am not exaggerating. It was played, when I heard it first, by the Summer Symphony-by Mr. Reginald Stewart and the orchestra and sung by the Choir. It was played immediately after Cesar Frank's great symphony in D Minor, and I think the most illuminating and at the same time most flattering comment I heard afterward was from a young man who was very silent, whom I had to ask as to his opinion about the "Te Deum". He said, "There was no falling away in standard after Cesar Frank." It was the greatest compliment that could have been paid to Dr. Willan. Anyone listening to that great work of his might know that we have in our midst here in this city one who is an ornament to its musical life and also the musical life of the larger world.
Now, I say that just in order to show you that these Scots--I am still not a Philistine-can appreciate good music. I still think the pipes are the best music. I know that isn't an opinion which all of you share. I might tell you a story before I sit down. This is also about a soldier. I think I told you a story about a soldier the last time I was here.
This is a sad story about a soldier near dying at the hospital at Rouen during the last war and the doctor told the Sister of the ward when he was going out that she could give jock anything he wanted now, because he was headed for death and the Sister was very sorry. They all were, for they liked Jock very much. So she went to Jock and said, "What would you like?" and he took a quick look at her and said, "Has it come to that, Nurse?" "Yes, Jock, it has come to that." "Well," he said, "I would like to hear the pipes before I go. "She said, "Jock if there is a piper in Rouen I will get him. "She duly got a piper who played outside the hospital all that afternoon, walking up and down, prancing, as the fashion of pipers is. When the time for his evening round came, the doctor arrived and found the ward in a state of gloom. Knowing how popular Jock was he said to the Sister, "Is Jock gone? "She said, "No, but all the rest are."(Laughter.)
In spite of all that, I still love the pipes and I think Dr. Willan would agree with me that they have a place of their own in human life and in musical life, and I tell you it is a place that it is not easy to drown them out of. Well, we are very grateful to Dr. Willan and to his singers for being with us this lunch time and giving us this seasonable and very pleasant entertainment. (Applause.)
THE HONOURABLE G. HOWARD FERGUSON: I know as good a story about the Scotch as that. Two of them were going along and a motor car struck one of them and injured him. A crowd gathered about. They thought the old man had been hurt very badly. After a bit he straightened up and said, "Give me a drink of water," and his friend, Jock said, "Faith, he is still delirious."
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen: I am very grateful to Dr. Parker. You know, I always have a clergyman close by when I am in difficulty and I have found it most convenient and useful. We are also very grateful indeed to Dr. Healey Willan and his Choir for the delightful, though brief entertainment they have given us here today.
May I say to our guests, those who are with us for a short time, how delighted we are to have them here today and how sincerely we hope they have enjoyed their luncheon and entertainment with their friends in the City of Toronto.