Letters from America
Friday 22 December 2017
Today is the Summer solstice, a suitably brilliant time of the year for earth and sky worshippers. And it’s almost Christmas eve.
My mother loved Christmas when we were children, especially Christmas Eve. And I have very happy memories of her Christmas delight, which was so attractive to children. She specially loved the music, all music, and it was endless performance and harmonies by me and my sisters singing into the twilight night. My mother died in June this year and the last music she heard was this Christmas Eve music. I was able to play it for her from my trusty Android.
This music is the Latin Christmas church song O Magnum Mysterium, O Great Mystery. This setting is by the American Danish composer Morten Lauridsen and is best listened to while you have your eyes closed I reckon (especially if classical music is not your thing lol).
In this Latin song the best thing is the presence of the animals in the scene. It’s not all lofty churchy stuff, it is warm animals with warm breath and animal noises and animal restlessness and tiredness in the straw. And if you listen to the music I swear at certain points it actually sounds the way animals move about when they are tethered, the same rhythm. There is a gentle pagan vibe about those animals round the infant’s manger. And an entirely utilitarian and plausible one too: it would have been cold that night. The Latin verse seems very simple but it conjures the picture:
O magnum mysterium,
- et admirabile sacramentum,
- ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
- iacentem in praesepio!
- translates (I am assured):
- O great mystery,
- and wonderful sacrament,
- that animals should see the new-born Lord,
- lying in a manger!
Animals! They get dress circle and see everything first. Would that we return the respect and treat all animals more lovingly (says a slightly preachy Madame MG :-)). And this is the song itself:
In fact there is another Lauridsen song which I actually think is a more beautiful as a song although not as high art perhaps. It also reminds me of the twinkling Christmas Eves with my mother when we were small, and all the stars and endless enchantment of childhood. But you probably have to be in the mood for classical music and it is entirely forgivable if you are not (even permanently not in the mood is OK too).
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far
Of shadows on the stars.
It’s a beautiful poem by an Irish poet, set to Lauridsen’s music:
Love to you, to animals, and the high summer solstice Christmas Eve