A Parlor Guitar Christmas
LINER NOTES FROM ALBUM COVER
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Parlor music, simply put, is music performed in the home for small
gatherings - family & guests entertained by an acoustic musician in the
front room. The "parlor music era" is the time before the invention of
the microphone, when a soft instrument like the guitar was best suited for small
rooms and attentive ears. A few years ago I recorded an album of guitar solos
called "Parlor Guitar" celebrating the popular music of the era and
the tone of a smaller, quieter guitar. In this follow-up holiday collection, I
am offering sacred and festive yuletide music of the parlor era. All the pieces
here date from before 1920 -- some much older. But I don't pretend to re-create
an early-music performance style of a century ago. In bringing this music to the
guitar, I try to honor the original melodies to the best of my talents. I've
taken care not to ornament the music with out-of-place modern sounds, but at the
same time tried not to stifle my own creative sensibilities. Modern digital
recording and editing tools were used, but no studio gimmickry - no overdubbing
or multi-tracking. What you hear is one man with one guitar.
The guitar I play on this recording was built in 2009 by the studio of Bryan
Galloup in Big Rapids, Michigan. It is the "Spartan" model of his
Great Lake Guitar line: a curly maple wood body, spruce top, mahogany neck,
ebony fingerboard & bridge with a bone nut & saddle. It has exceptional
tone and resonance. Steel and bronze strings of medium gauge were used in
standard tuning. Played with bare fingers & natural nails, I used capos at
various frets to help achieve the key and timbre I chose for each piece.
1 Wexford Carol 2:56
One of the oldest Christian carols, the 12th c. text is of Anglo-Irish origins.
In County Wexford itself, the tune is called "Enniscorthy".
2 The First Nowell 3:10
This is indeed the original English spelling. Most scholars think this 16th c.
carol is probably from Cornwall.
3 Il est né, le divin Enfant! 2:09
"He is Born, the divine Christ Child" is the usual translation of the
19th c. French text. But the tune is 17th c. and may be from Normandy.
4 While Shepherds Watched their Flocks 2:06
Nahum Tate's text has had many different settings. This hymn tune, aptly named
"Christmas," is most popular in America, and is derived from George
Frideric Handel's 1728 opera, Siroe.
5 Stille Nacht (Silent Night) 3:30
Austria, 1818. The day before Christmas Fr. Josef Mohr, the assistant pastor in
little war-weary Oberndorf, had written a small nativity poem and asked his
friend and local music teacher, Franz Gruber, to write a tune for it. The two
young men sang it together that night at midnight mass - just two voices and
guitar, with the small church choir echoing the last line of each verse. I play
from Gruber's original Austrian melody here, but if you listen carefully you
will hear those soaring high notes of the familiar American version in the final
6 Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus 2:19
This cheery Welsh tune is named "Hyfrydol," written by young
Rowland Huw Prichard in 1830. It has become the setting for several well-loved
hymns, but was first used for the Advent text by Charles Wesley from 1744.
7 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing 2:40
Felix Mendelssohn's bright tune premiered in 1840, in part 2 of his Gutenberg
Cantata, celebrating 400 years of moveable type. Charles Wesley's Christmas text
was later wed to it posthumously.
8 We Three Kings of Orient Are 3:17
John Henry Hopkins, Jr. wrote both words & music of this musical tableau in
1857, for a Christmas pageant he was staging at his seminary in New York City.
It has been a staple of Sunday School holiday programs ever since.
9 Wassail Song (Here We Come a-Caroling) 1:40
Though some elements are undoubtedly much older, this "Wessel Cup
Hymn" was being sung on Yorkshire doorsteps by about 1860.
10 Up on the Housetop 1:52
Abolitionist activist and songwriter, Rev. Benjamin Russell Hanby wrote this
song in 1864, arguably America's first secular Christmas song (Pierpont's
"Jingle Bells" came seven years earlier, but written for
11 O Little Town of Bethlehem 3:01
Written in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve of 1868, church organist Louis Redner
was on deadline to compose music for the tender poem his pastor (Phillip Brooks)
had written two years prior. The Church of England sings it to a different tune,
but this American one came first. In old hymnals the tune itself is called
"St. Louis," a name chosen by the publisher for no particular reason.
12 Toyland 3:04
Victor Herbert's Christmas-themed operetta, Babes in Toyland, was the toast of
Broadway's 1903 season, and its hit song "Toyland" became an instant
13 In the Bleak Midwinter 2:38
Christina Rossetti did not intend her 1872 poem to be sung, but modernist
English composer Gustav Holst fashioned this hymn tune ("Cranham") for
it in 1905.
14 Gesu Bambino 2:58
My closing piece is the most recent. Italian organist Pietro Yon wrote it in
1917 while working at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City. Quoting the
18th c. Latin hymn, Adeste Fideles in his refrain, Yon's tuneful melody
has become an enduring favorite with operatic singers.
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