Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gabriel's Message

This carol has an unusual history. While it is based on a Basque carol (Birjina gaztettobat zegoen), its melody and words may actually have roots in the thirteenth or fourteenth century hymn Angelus Ad Virginem.

The Basque carol was copied down by French composer and musicologist Charles Bordes, who published it in an 1895 volume of Basque folk tunes. The Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, best known for his hymn Onward Christian Soldiers and author of more than 100 books, took some liberties in translating the text and produced verses of great beauty.

The melody has a stately, yet angelic quality about it, having what some think is a more "spiritual" character than many of the perkier, more commercially fit Christmas carols. The theme has an almost ecstatic glow and seems quite the perfect match for its text about Mary and the angel Gabriel, about whose appearance to her ("His wings as drifted snow/His eyes as flame") Baring-Gould describes with some of his most striking poetry. This is a fine Christmas carol that deserves to be better known. (Adapted from Robert Cummings)

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
'All hail', said he, 'thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favour'd Lady,

'For known a blessed Mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honour thee,
Thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favour'd Lady,

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her heard,
'To me be as it pleaseth God', she said,
'My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name,
Most highly favour'd Lady,

Of her, Emmanuel the Christ, was born,
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
Most highly favour'd Lady


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