The Colonial Williamsburg Governor's Musick | Christmas Music from Williamsburg

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Christmas Music from Williamsburg

by The Colonial Williamsburg Governor's Musick

The recording was made in Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, Virginia. The musichas been gathered from a wide variety of sources. Its relatively simple character makes it suitable for performing by amateurs at home during the Christmas season.
Genre: Holiday: Kids/Family
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Three Organ Noels: Prelude
0:47 $0.99
2. Three Organ Noels: A La Venue De Noel (At the Coming of Christmas)
2:47 $0.99
3. Three Organ Noels: Au Jo Deu De Pubelle (Today We Sing the Virgin Birth)
1:50 $0.99
4. Three Organ Noels: Joseph Est Bien Marie (Joseph Has Found a Wife)
4:17 $0.99
5. Divisions On Greensleeves
4:08 $0.99
6. Music for a Ball: King William's March
0:50 $0.99
7. Music for a Ball: Bass Minuet
0:45 $0.99
8. Music for a Ball: Regatta Minuet
1:14 $0.99
9. Music for a Ball: Congo
1:00 $0.99
10. Trio Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. 4, No. 9: Preludio, Corrente, Grave, Tempo Di Gavotta
7:23 $0.99
11. Magnificat (My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord) [feat. The Bruton Parish Choir]
5:33 $0.99
12. Three English Carols: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (feat. The Bruton Parish Choir)
1:10 $0.99
13. Three English Carols: The Old Year Now Away Is Fled (Greensleeves) [feat. The Bruton Parish Choir]
1:31 $0.99
14. Three English Carols: To Drive the Cold Winter Away (feat. The Bruton Parish Choir)
1:48 $0.99
15. Sonata in C Major, K. 513
3:53 $0.99
16. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night (feat. The Bruton Parish Choir)
3:26 $0.99
17. O Be Joyful in the Lord, All Ye Lands (feat. The Bruton Parish Choir)
4:02 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Few descriptions of Christmas activities in colonial Virginia survive. Statements such as these indicate a joyful state of mind and are valuable testimony of celebration, at least among the well-to-do citizens. Christmas was generally celebrated at home with family and the seasonal excitement was centered there.
The plantation mistress would have provided a festive dinner, and the working man enjoyed a special meat, or, if lucky, wild turkey, that stealthiest of fowl. On a rainy Christmas in 1709, William Byrd II of Westover plantation went to church, dined on roast beef, walked about the property, and was “merry with nonsense” in the evening. Many times country families could not even get to church although father or mother would certainly have read the nativity story from the King James Bible. Friends might have gathered on plantations to prance to the music of a country fiddler under the watchful eye of a traveling dancing master, while in Williamsburg the royal governor might have hosted a grand ball for the gentry at his sumptuously appointed Palace. The “Christmas guns” were fired to announce the day and occasionally in Williamsburg there were Christmas fireworks. Alexander Purdie’s Virginia Almanack of 1766 printed this verse to set the scene:

Now Christmas comes,
‘tis fit that we
Should feast and sing,
and merry be
Keep open house,
let fiddlers play
A fig for cold,
sing care away.

Curiously, references to colonial Christmas music occur rarely. Carol singing is not an annotated historical activity. Carols, like all true folk music, traveled across the seas as part of the cultural heritage from England. Many colonists were able musicians, among them Thomas Jefferson, John Randolph, and Judge Tyler, who might have played chamber music with Peter Pelham, the respected organist of Bruton Church. Philip Fithian, tutor to the children of the wealthy Robert Carter family at Nomini Hall, noted in his diary that on Christmas 1773 during supper Mr. Carter played his fortepiano for the family’s entertainment. A metrical psalm might have been sung by those able to attend church services. Since there was no formal choir in Williamsburg, it would have taken the skill of actors to have performed anthems. Pelham did know such musicians since he occasionally conducted ballad opera at the theater.
The music recorded here has been gathered from a wide variety of sources. Its relatively simple character makes it suitable for performing by amateurs at home, for many people the most popular setting in which to enjoy Christmas music.
A popular eighteenth-century English carol sums up such a Christmas:
God bless the ruler of
this House,
And send him long to reign,
And many a merry Christmas
May live to see again.
Among your friends and kindred,
That live both far and near,
And God send you
a happy new Year.

Three Organ Noels by Claude-Benigne Balbastre. Thomas Jefferson took his daughters Patsy and Polly with him to Paris where they studied with Balbastre, one of the leading keyboard players of the city. His gallante variations on old French carols show off typical organ registers, flutes, cromorne, trumpet, comet, and others. Works by Balbastre survive today in collections of Jefferson’s music.
Divisions on Greensleeves. Improvising and composing variations, called divisions in England, were common musical practices. This set, included in The Division Flute, a popular anthology, has been further embellished in eighteenth-century style.
Music for a Ball. A grand march, here a melody associated with King William III for whom Williamsburg was named, often began colonial dancing. The guest of honor or a solo couple of special ability might have performed the first minuet. Charles Theodore Pachelbel, the first important colonial musician, composed the “Bass Minuet,” which is preserved in Philadelphia. He worked in New England and Charleston where he taught Peter Pelham. The whole assembly danced succeeding reels, and country jigs concluded the festivities. The “Regatta Minuet” and “Congo” both come from the Bolling family manuscript music books.
Trio Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 4, No. 9, by Arcangelo Corelli. Originally written for two violins and continuo, this delightful chamber work is performed with a soprano recorder replacing the first violin. Infectious dance movements, corrente and gavotte, characterize this music, which was owned and played by Jefferson and his friends.

Magnificat by Charles Theodore Pachelbel. Pachelbel’s brilliant setting of the canticle of Mary from the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel survives only in German. The double chorus scoring and the Latin text would have limited performances in colonial America. One speculates what other music, presently unknown, may have come from this composer’s pen.
Three English Carols.
The absence of recorded carol singing in colonial Virginia is inexplicable. In view of the long history of this popular activity in the Old World, a custom going back for centuries, one feels that it probably happened as a matter of course, something too ordinary for general discussion. We know that “Greensleeves” was known in Virginia through its inclusion in The Beggar’s Opera and the New Year’s text dates from the seventeenth century. The poem “To Drive the Cold Winter Away” is found in Pills to Purge Melancholy, a popular verse anthology in colonial libraries. Many such lyrics were intended to be sung “God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen” has been called the best-known carol in eighteenth-century London. Surely it emigrated to tidewater Virginia with the hundreds of other folk melodies that comprise our song tradition. These carols appear to be among the most likely pieces enjoyed in Yuletide celebrations.
Sonata in C Major, K. 513, for harpsichord, by Domenico Scarlatti. The middle section of this composition quotes a popular Italian Christmas song, probably of folk origin.
While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night. Tate and Brady’s hymn by the translators of the New Version of the Psalter was beyond doubt the best-known Christmas poem in the colonies. The arrangement here by James S. Darling demonstrates four customary ways of congregation singing: lining out between the parish clerk and the people, melody in the tenor, melody in the soprano, and with organ interludes in the manner of John Blow and Daniel Purcell. The hymn tune “Winchester Old” has long been associated with the poem although other melodies could have been used.

Three Organ Noels
James S. Darling, organ

Divisions on “Greensleeves”
Herbert Watson, alto recorder
John Barrows, viola da gamba

Music for a Ball
Annie Loud, violin
Thomas Marshall, harpsichord

Trio Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 4, No. 9
Herbert Watson, soprano recorder
Annie Loud, violin
John Barrows, viola de gamba
Thomas Marshall, harpsichord

Magnificat (My Soul doth Magnify the Lord)
The Bruton Parish Choir
Marion Wilson, soprano
Mary Deppe, soprano
Beverly Kelly, alto
Ryan Fletcher, baritone
Herbert Deppe, bass
Thomas Marshall, organ
James S. Darling, director

Three English Carols
Ryan Fletcher, baritone
James S. Darling, harpsichord

Sonata in C Major, K. 513
Thomas Marshall, harpsichord

While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night
The Bruton Parish Choir
Ryan Fletcher, baritone
Thomas Marshall, organ
James S. Darling, director

O be Joyful in the Lord, All ye Lands
The Bruton Parish Choir
Mary Deppe, soprano
Beverly Kelly, alto
Ryan Fletcher, baritone
Herbert Deppe, bass
Thomas Marshall, organ
James S. Darling, director


Three Organ Noels Claude-Benigne Balbastre

[1] Prelude
[2] A la Venue de Noel (At the coming of Christmas)
[3] Au jo deu de pubelle (Today We Sing the Virgin Birth)
[4] Joseph est bien Marie (Joseph has Found a Wife)

[5] Divisions on Greensleeves Anonymous

Music for a Ball
[6] King William’s March Anonymous
[7] Bass Minuet Charles Theodore Pachelbel (1690-1750)
[8] Regatta Minuet Anonymous
[9] Congo Anonymous

[10] Trio Sonata in B-flat Major, Arcangelo Corelli
Op. 4, No. 9 (1653-1713)

Preludio, Corrente, Grave, Tempo di Gavotta
[11] Magnificat Charles Theodore Pachelbel
(My Soul doth Magnify the Lord)

Three English Carols
[12] God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen
[13] The Old Year now away is Fled (Greensleeves)
[14] To Drive the Cold Winter Away

[15] Sonata in C Major, K. 513 Domenico Scarlatti

[16] While Shepherds Watched Traditional
Their Flocks by Night

[17] O be Joyful in the Lord, All ye Lands William Croft

The recording was made in Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, Virginia. AEolian-Skinner organ designed by G. Donald Harrison, 1955, with tonal revisions by Kinzey and Angerstein, 1978. Harpsichord by William Dowd, 1968.

All income from the sales of this recording is used for the purposes of
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which operates the Historic Area of Williamsburg,
and to carry forward its educational programs. Colonial Williamsburg also welcomes
tax-deductible contributions. Friends interested in discussing gifts to the
Foundation are asked to write the President, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
P.O. Box 1776, Williamsburg, Virginia 23187-1776.

Recording Engineer
Richard B. Tisdale, Jr.

J.S. Darling

©1981 by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation



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