The Messiah, Music and Metre

We can tell Christmas is hurtling ever closer by the fact that today’s broadcast of The Hallelujah Chorus was followed immediately afterwards by I Know that My Redeemer Liveth, thus tipping the musical hand, had we not already caught on, that this was The Messiah in full. We resisted the urge to protest at the radio that it had just trespassed into Easter and that technically you can no more say ‘Hallelujah’ in Advent than you can in Lent, the liturgical year being ever symmetrical. Instead we made tea and enjoyed the music.

The tea was Chocolate Orange, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a black tea with essence of orange (don’t ask; we’re afraid to) and chocolate. It’s a good combination, or at any rate, we’re less likely to grouse about it than we are about other chocolate-and-tea blends. Though the strength of this one comes largely from extracting the tea infuser after the first cup. While the orange is flavourful, the chocolate and tannins conspire to drown it. It could very quickly become the kind of tea to take paint off a car if left to steep unchecked.

The Messiah on the other hand, was top-heavy, that is, biased towards the soprano, a fact which delighted us. Modern editors being what they are, no two editions can agree on who sings what when, and often include appendices. Thus we have previously sung How Beautiful are the Feet as a chorus, and it’s a good chorus too, if overlooked. We mention it only inasmuch as the all-hands-round approach is itself highly interpretive; the vocal colour a soprano brings to And the Glory of the Lord Shone all Around Them is brighter and lighter than it is in the hands of an alto, or even a tenor. Not necessarily better, but certainly different. And this was a bright, light Messiah. More like sleigh bells, say, than trumpets, and a lovely accompaniment to tea. Perfect, as it were, for rapidly-approaching Christmas.

It turns out we’re hard-pressed to find good poetry on music. It’s a tricky subject, and since describing it well is a bit like trying to catch moonlight, we’re not sure we blame the poets of the age for the omission. Instead, here’s Thomas Hardy on dancing. Taught the fiddle as a young boy, you can practically here the triplets in this piece.

The Night of the Dance

Thomas Hardy

The cold moon hangs to the sky by its horn,
And centres its gaze on me;
The stars, like eyes in reverie,
Their westering as for a while forborne,
Quiz downward curiously.

Old Robert draws the backbrand in,
The green logs steam and spit;
The half-awakened sparrows flit
From the riddled thatch; and owls begin
To whoo from the gable-slit.

Yes; far and nigh things seem to know
Sweet scenes are impending here;
That all is prepared; that the hour is near
For welcomes, fellowships, and flow
Of sally, song, and cheer;

That spigots are pulled and viols strung;
That soon will arise the sound
Of measures trod to tunes renowned;
That She will return in Love’s low tongue
My vows as we wheel around.

For more on Hardy and music, try his Fiddler of the Reels. It’s the kind of short read that will lose you an afternoon, and the descriptions of music are radiant. Just don’t, whatever you do, read it for the characters. Never read Hardy for the characters. That way madness lies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s