Archives for 26 December 2013

The Second Day of Christmas: Personent hodie

I have a particular liking for some of the very old Christmas carols, the ones that can trace their pedigree back to the Middle Ages and are still commonly sung in Latin. ‘Personent hodie’ is a hardy perennial in this line. First sung as a monophonic chant about 1360 in Bavaria, it was published in 1582 in the Finnish songbook Piae Cantiones, and the Germans and Finns have been arguing about it ever since. In recent years, however, it has been a staple of choirs the world over: YouTube alone has versions recorded everywhere from Trois-Rivières to Singapore. It is often performed in Gustav Holst’s arrangement for organ, or Lara Hoggard’s arrangement for brass, but the melody lends itself to a seemingly inexhaustible range of interpretations.

Here, for instance, is a version that starts out faithfully in the Middle Ages, but breaks loose into a fusion of traditional and modern arrangements; for a brief spell it becomes terribly Irish, but pulls itself back together in time for what, to me, is a strikingly satisfying conclusion. I hope you’ll like it.

This is ‘Personent hodie’, as performed by Serpentyne: