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:

The First Day of Christmas: Leopold!

Joseph Ebbecke, one of my 3.6 Loyal Readers, asked me a few days ago:

Gonna do a 12 days of Christmas this year? I really enjoyed all the you tubes you posted a year or two ago.

I greatly enjoyed doing that in 2011 (though in fact I did only eleven days, missing Christmas Day itself). People nowadays are altogether too liable to confuse the commercial hurly-burly of the weeks before Christmas with Christmas itself, and to suppose that the holiday is over as soon as the hugely excessive dinner gets cold on December 25. But by long and still living tradition, Christmas Day is in fact the first of the Twelve Days of Christmas; and for that reason among others, my own celebration of the holyday is just getting into full swing when other people are putting it behind them and getting on with the grim business of slogging through the winter.

This year I should like to start with one of the most famous conductors who ever lived, Leopold Stokowski; one of the greatest composers, Johann Sebastian Bach; and one of the best pieces of music ever written, which in English is known as ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’.

Merry Christmas to all.