Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The 17th Century War Against Christmas


Anna Mitchell and I will talk about the 17th century war against Christmas this morning on the Son Rise Morning Show a little after 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central. Please listen live here and note that Anna will re-air the interview during an EWTN hour of the show, probably tomorrow.

We'll base our discussion on the article I wrote for the National Catholic Register, but I am also interested in this CD from Resonus Classics, A Cavalier Christmas. The Ebor Singers and the Chelys Consort of Viols, conducted by Paul Gameson, perform music by Gibbons, Byrd, Richard Dering, William and Henry Lawes, and George Jeffreys, and others. The liner notes prove my point:

The English Civil War was one of the most turbulent periods of English history, as king and parliament wrestled for influence over the other: the consequences destabilised and eventually redefined the country’s political, social and religious landscape. During the early days of the Civil War, the Puritan-influenced parliament sought to abolish holy days, and in particular Christmas Day, ‘the Old heathen’s Feasting Day in honour of Saturn their Idol-God, the Papist’s Massing Day, the True Christian Man’s Fasting Day’. By contrast, first in London and then at his war-torn court in Oxford, Charles I continued to celebrate Christmas in style, assembling the best musicians and poets to provide entertainment alongside other festivities. Royalist poets, including Richard Herrick, wrote Christmas odes that were performed before the King at Oxford.

According to this website, Charles I and Oliver Cromwell both liked the music of Richard Dering, in spite of the fact that he was a "Papist":

Richard Dering was, like Peter Philips, an expatriate English musician who because of his Roman Catholic faith, lived and worked in the Spanish-dominated South Netherlands. Dering, a generation younger than Philips, most likely began life as a Protestant in England and converted to the Roman Catholic faith during or after a visit to Italy in his early thirties. He was born the illegitimate son of Henry Dering of Liss, Hampshire. By 1610 he had traveled to Italy, gaining a BMus in that year from Christ Church, Oxford. 1612-16 he traveled with the British ambassador to Venice. In 1617 he was organist to the community of English Benedictine nuns in Brussels. He returned to England in 1625 as organist to the Catholic Queen Henrietta Maria and 'musician for the lutes and voices' to King Charles I.

Dering wrote three books of motets with continuo, two of canzonets and one of continuo madrigals, and is represented in many MSS and anthologies. His music shows varying degrees of Italian influence; the continuo madrigals and small concertato motets are very much in the idiom of Grandi or d'India, with wayward modulations and dramatic expression; the Cantio Sacra (1618) contains 6-part motets that recall a more conventionally expressive Italian madrigal-like idiom.

Dering's music must have had a wide appeal, for much of it was brought out by the enterprising Antwerp publisher Pierre Phal├Ęse between 1612 and 1628. Dering's two- and three-voice pieces were published in London by John Playford in 1662, long after the composer's death, but they may have been written in the Spanish Netherlands, for one has a text honoring St James as patron saint of Spain. It is likely that Dering took the pieces with him to England: they were certainly sung in Henrietta's chapel, and they were used for private devotion during the Commonwealth (when they were reputedly Oliver Cromwell's favorite music).

Here are some samples of his work, performed by the Choir of Clare College in Cambridge.

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