by Daniel Hathaway
For its sixth annual round of Christmas concerts on December 19, 20 and 21, Quire Cleveland under the direction of its founder, Ross W. Duffin, will feature music from a single national tradition. French Christmas carols, or Noëls, have a long, folk-based history both in their country of origin and wherever French culture has been spread — including by Jesuit missionaries in what is now French-speaking Canada.
Literary scholars began collecting the texts of these carols as early as 1537, when Pierre Sergent gathered 150 of them into his anthology, Les Grans Noelz. By the late seventeenth century, the Noëls had inspired Parisian composers to write sets of organ variations on their delightful tunes. Marc-Antoine Charpentier based an entire setting of the midnight mass on eleven of them for use in L’Eglise Saint-Louis, the Jesuit church in the Marais district of Paris. One carol tune was even pinched by English composer John Gay for his 18th century Beggar’s Opera, where it was set to the distinctly secular text, “Fill every glass, for wine inspires us.” [Read More…]