Today’s carol is brought to you by the magic of the Internet, and I am using the word magic in something very close to its technical sense. As we have seen so far, by providing performers of mediaeval and Renaissance music with a worldwide audience, the Net amply fulfils the old expression, more hopeful than realistic till recently: ‘Everything old is new again.’ But it is equally true to say that everything new is newer than it has ever been.
This performance is a fine example of both trends. ‘Fum fum fum’ is a fine old Catalan Christmas carol; which is to say that it is the fruit of a tradition so old and ramifying that the very myths and legends of Catalonia are bound up with its Catholicism, and even the landscape has been, so to speak, baptized. The outstanding natural landmark of Barcelona is the mountain called Tibidabo – ‘I will give thee’ in Latin – in honour of the belief that it was from this very mountain that Satan tempted Christ by offering him all the kingdoms of the earth. Every patch and corner of Europe has its local saints and its miracle stories, but sp far as I know, only the Catalonians have the cheerful effrontery to make their oldest saint Our Lord himself. It is not good history, perhaps, but it is good art, and it is the very perfection of myth.
In any case, ‘Fum fum fum’ was composed about four hundred years ago, and I am assured, has remained popular in Catalonia and elsewhere ever since. The words have been translated into many tongues, including Spanish, the language of the version below. A little while ago, the choir of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación in Marbella recorded this lively performance; and the video was posted to YouTube, as I write this, just seven days ago. The video has not ‘gone viral’: it is utterly devoid of the kind of shocking or prurient interest that helps so many YouTube videos do that. But in one little week, it has leapt across the Atlantic to delight an obscure Canadian writer and blogger, and now I am passing it on to you.
Nothing like this could have happened in the days when the distribution of recorded music was in the hands of the record companies. Therefore I find myself giving thanks for the spirit of faith and human ingenuity that makes it possible for people to reach one another so quickly and effortlessly. It is good to remember (as George Orwell said in the 1930s, and someone else will be saying a thousand years hence) that our age has not been altogether a bad one to live in.
Here is ‘Fum fum fum’, as performed at the church of Our Lady of the Incarnation.