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Friday 12/7/18

Some rare Christmas art items you might not know about. Though you may. Still, it's nice to put some in one place.


You probably know that Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre gang did a radio production of A Christmas Carol with Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge. That was in 1939. What you might not know is that they also did a version the year before, minus Barrymore, who was ill. Welles played Scrooge. To wit:



Victor Hely-Hutchinson was in his mid-twenties when he wrote his Carol Symphony, which is a fascinating work that utilizes portions of four carols to build four interlocking preludes. Hely-Hutchinson died very young, aged forty-five, of pneumonia, having refused to switch on the radiator in his office because he was trying to save fuel, which was still being rationed in post-war Britain. He's slicing and dicing carols, putting them in different keys, repositing the themes.



This is one of the four carols from the Carol Symphony, in its original form. And not only is it about drinking, it's about drinking a potent brew of hot ale, spices, apples, and mead! Does that not sound like it would hit the spot? To go wassailing was to go from house to house, caroling, drinking from your mug of wassail! Could you do such a thing and have a bad time? I do not think so.



This is the carol "Ding Dong Merrily on High!" carrying on the Carol Symphony's theme of interpolation. Note how the Christian Greater Doxology hymn of Gloria in Excelsis is woven into the musical tapestry.



Someone you know might be writing a piece about this, the greatest Christmas-related jazz performance in the history of the medium--shhhh! Secrets!--which dates to Christmas morning, 1948.



This is Wladyslaw Starewicz's The Insects' Christmas, from 1913. Is it not enchanting? Does it not capture the magic of what you believe transpires as you sleep as a child on Christmas Eve? I don't mean that this exact scenario plays out, but you feel as though wonder has a free hand in the world that evening. Anything magical could be going on.



This is the Who in Hull the day after Leeds, in February 1970. Outrageous drumming.



Do you know how good Judy Garland was at singing? This is the first ever live performance of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." I am going to call it the greatest holiday vocal performance ever. Period. She gets the title wrong when she announces the song. Doesn't matter. The saddest Christmas song of its century, and the most hopeful. The singing on the bridge, actually, is not dissimilar to portions of what Parker would play in his "White Christmas" solo several years later. But this is art. This is real art. Where are the artists like this right now?



If that wasn't enough, this is a studio outtake of the song.



Chances are you are familiar with Handel's Messiah. Chances are you think it concludes with the famed "Hallelujah" chorus, which people tend to lazily conclude is the best part of the oratorio. It is not. The best part--and it is not close--is the concluding Amen chorus, in which Handel takes one word and builds to a musical orgasm of the soul that I cannot hear without weeping. One word. He builds everything off of one word. It is one of the towering pieces of writing in the history of composition, and one of the most powerful sustained moments in Western culture. If you don't almost lose it at the violin break at :44, I don't know what to tell you. And then that chord at 1:05.



The American version of The Office is terrible. Don't waste a second of your life with that. This is from the second segment of the 2003 Christmas special of the British version--one of the immortal cinematic works, I would venture--in which David Brent tells Chris Finch to fuck off. See the whole thing. Trust me. Note how the camera goes from soft to sharp focus when Dawn approaches Tim. Why is this such a big moment? Just go with me on this--see the entire thing. It will impact you to your very depths.



Today on a hockey history forum I am on, a fight broke out as to what the best Beatles album was. Someone said The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. Funny. If you get the joke. Kinks Christmas:



And this is the Beatles performing in Liverpool, before they became too big to perform in Liverpool, on this day fifty-five years ago. It is one of the best Beatles gigs. Someone might also be writing about it soon, too.



Each year, this is my favorite Christmas piece of music I listen to. Experience. But maybe it's more than that still. It is called Dona Nobis Pacem. I go to Sanders Theatre at Harvard for the Revels' annual Christmas production. I go by myself, during this difficult phase of my grand quest. Whatever the year's theme for the Revels, at a point in the proceedings this Christmas hymn is sung, not just by the performers, but by the audience. I reckon that most people there, if they got to know the other people there, would hate the people there, but no one hates anyone when this is sung. Maybe no one even hates themselves when it is sung. Different portions of the audience are assigned to sing at different points. And what happens is what you hear here. It's a canon, its words sourced from the Agnus Dei of the Roman Catholic Latin Mass. They mean, simply, "Grant us peace."