Childhood Christmas: Victorian carols and music (CD)

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Various Artists

An old fashioned programme of Christmas songs and carols that children will love to listen to. From the story of 'Cock Robin' to well-known Christmas carols, with a fascinating mix of sounds - bells, music boxes, accordions and pianos.

Christmas carols, Christmas trees with presents around them - many of our favourite 'traditions' appear centuries old. The truth, however, is that many of these things can be traced back to the Victorians. Queen Victoria and her husband Albert were responsible for introducing many of our hallowed customs. This album celebrates Christmas from the perspective of a Victorian child. Traditional carols performed on unusual instruments add extra spice to the mix of music that could have been heard in many a Victorian drawing room or nursery or out and about in the streets where braziers of hot chestnuts could be found under the dim lamp light. Music boxes add further charm, playing favourite pieces of the day.

Christmas Eve
Our programme begins on Christmas Eve when a star appeared in the sky and the shepherds were called to the manger. 'Twinkle, twinkle' performed here with charming, gentle bells - is every child's favourite. Musical box and traditional English country songs lead to the appearance of father Christmas, his sleigh pulled across the sky by the reindeer whose hooves can clearly be heard in the piano piece by Schumann (track 5). This section ends with the lovely Victorian carol, 'Away in a manger'.

Christmas Day
More traditional English songs mix with a musical box and a Victorian carol. This group of pieces concern Christmas preparations - keeping track of the time (possibly to wake up early to open presents!), preparing food and drink, and a carol which tells the Christmas story. Goss's 'See amid the winter's snow' first appeared in 1871. Its simple charm remains evident to us today. Its performance here with melodeon gives it a folk-music style far removed from the sanctity of the church choir. 'The holly and the ivy' is one of the most beautiful and ancient of English carols.

Snow and Ice
Christmas is traditionally associated with cold and snowy weather. Good King Wenceslas helps somebody worse off than himself, by offering support against the elements, and the sort of food and good cheer that we hear about in the 'Gloucestershire Wassail', perhaps. 'The Skaters Waltz' reminds us of a suave young man skating on the frozen village pond, trying to impress onlookers, particularly any pretty girls. The snowman is a familiar Christmas image, while we have all made footstep in the snow, and marvelled when a frost holds them in shape overnight. The north wind does indeed blow in the wintertime, and we all have memories of poor cock robin and the complicated arrangements his friends make for him in his absence.

Snug by the Fireside
Away from the weather, the warm hearth beckons us as we fling off our heavy outdoor clothes and settle down by the fire for a recital of Christmas music. Schumann's 'By the fireside' sets the mood, as does the musical box which follows. Little Jack Horner gets comfortable in the corner and we hear Mendelssohn's 'Christmas Pieces', sometimes also known as 'Children's Pieces'. The six short pieces are all variable in mood and remind us of anything from toy soldiers (track 24) to snow falling (track 29). Finally there is a knock at the door and the wassailers burst in, singing their Christmas song and no doubt looking for a warm drink or two before they go on their way.

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1 Twinkle, twinkle little star Sara Stowe* and Matthew Spring^
2 Starlight Waltz 3 disc symphonium
3 Sussex Carol Sara Stowe* and Matthew Spring*
4 The Wren Boys Song Ian Giles and John Spiers
5 We've been a while a wandering Sara Stowe* and Matthew Spring*
6 Father Christmas (Schumann) Martin Souter
7 Away in a manger Sara Stowe and Martin Souter

8 Past three o'clock Sara Stowe and Matthew Spring^
9 See amid the winter's snow Ian Giles and John Spiers
10 Dame get up and bake your pies Sara Stowe and Matthew Spring^
11 The Holly and the Ivy Ian Giles and John Spiers
12 Dance tune from Hansel & Gretel (Humperdinck)
13 I saw three ships Sara Stowe and Matthew Spring^
14 Gloucestershire Wassail Sara Stowe* and Matthew Spring*

15 Good king Wenceslas Ian Giles and John Spiers
16 The Skaters Waltz (Waldteufel)
17 Dance of the Melting Snowman Mark Baigent and Matthew Linley
18 Footsteps in the Snow (Debussy) Martin Souter
19 The north wind doth blow Sara Stowe and Matthew Spring, lute
20 Who killed cock robin Sara Stowe and Matthew Spring, lute

21 By the Fireside (Schumann) Martin Souter
22 The Music Box
23 Little Jack Horner Sara Stowe and Martin Souter

Six Christmas Pieces Op 72 (Mendelssohn) Martin Souter
24 Allegro non troppo
25 Andante sostenuto
26 Allegretto
27 Andante con moto
28 Allegro assai
29 Vivace
30 Here we come a wassailing
Ian Giles and John Spiers

Sara Stowe voice, bells*
Matthew Spring hurdy-gurdy*, cittern^
Ian Giles voice
John Spiers melodeon
Martin Souter piano
Mark Baigent didgeridoo
Matthew Linley bells

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