I Sing of a Maiden: 5 New Carols by John Rutter - EP

I Sing of a Maiden: 5 New Carols by John Rutter - EP

John Rutter’s glorious stream of Christmas miniatures has made him, for many, an essential ingredient in the festive season. The composer and conductor wrote what is probably his most popular piece, “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol”, while still an 18-year-old undergraduate at Cambridge—and he has never looked back. “Once I started writing carols, somehow it seemed difficult to stop,” Rutter tells Apple Music. “I’ve been doing it ever since.” Realising that he had a “backlog” of them led him to I Sing of a Maiden, an EP of five new pieces recorded in July 2021. “I’m asked, ‘Do you still enjoy Christmas?’ And actually, I sincerely do,” says Rutter. “Christmas carols are a resilient form of art—folk art, as I’ve often suggested—that have attracted some extraordinarily fine composers. They were adding their little tile to a centuries-old mosaic of devotion, praise, joy, prayer and celebration. It all makes up that extraordinary season of the year that we call Christmas.” Each of the five songs contains its own story, which Rutter is happy to recount in this warming track-by-track guide. “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen” “This is almost, I think, my favourite carol melody and the words, on the theme of the Virgin Mary, are beautiful too. It’s been set many, many times, but I was asked to contribute a setting of it for my friends The King’s Singers, who I’ve known in all their various memberships for a great many years. They were due to make an album with Albrecht Mayer, who’s the principal oboe of the Berlin Philharmonic. I thought I would write something a little more thoughtful, a little more reflective. I love the oboe—it was the instrument I was advised to take up when I had gone as far as I could with the recorder. (I knew, even though I was only 12, that I would have all the makings of a really atrocious oboe player!) And I couldn’t have been more pleased with John Roberts, who is the young principal oboist of the Royal Philharmonic. He had to postpone his wedding to be at the recording session, so I’m deeply honoured and very grateful to his now wife.” “I Sing of a Maiden”  “‘I Sing of a Maiden’ is, for me, perhaps the loveliest of all the medieval English lyrics about the Virgin Mary. It’s so simple, so touching, and that’s why composers have all been attracted to it. When you say, ‘I’m going to have a go at it’, you forget about all the other settings and say, ‘Well, today, I’m just going to look at those words as if for the first time.’ And I hope I will not be compared with any of the illustrious composers who’ve ever said those words before.” “Joseph’s Carol”  “It was written last year [2020] when we were just briefly released from lockdown at the beginning of December. I was asked by [conductor and pianist] Marios Papadopoulos and the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra to contribute to a musical tribute to the Oxford vaccine team. He said, ‘This is going to be a Christmas gift to these people who are toiling away, saving the world behind the scenes. And here in their own city of Oxford, it would be nice to honour them.’” “Christ Our Emmanuel” “‘Christ Our Emmanuel’ actually started life as a piece for harp, ‘Lullaby for Ana Gwen’, which I wrote as part of an album with a wonderful harpist friend of mine, Catrin Finch. She had two enchanting little daughters and said, ‘They would love it if you’d write a lullaby, one for each of them.’ And so, this was a lullaby for one of the two. It was actually a German choir director friend of mine called Nicol Matt who said, ‘John, I can just hear that as a Christmas carol. Could you write words to it and turn it into a carol?’ So, that’s how ‘Christ Our Emmanuel’ came about, simple as that.” “Suzi’s Carol”  “[British conductor] Suzi Digby has been a great force for good in the musical, and particularly the choral, world for many years now. And among her inventions is ORA, which is a wonderful chamber choir that has been commissioning all kinds of music from all kinds of composers. I have been a friend for years, and she said, ‘Oh, go on. I know everybody wants you to do Christmas carols, but would you do just one more for me?’ Of course, I couldn’t refuse, but I couldn’t think what to call it and that’s why I called it ‘Suzi’s Carol’. I suppose knowing that I would have a professional choir—and a very excellent one—to sing it didn’t encourage me so much to make it more difficult technically, but perhaps more refined. Great refinement of blend and expression is something that a professional group can do easily, because they’re not worrying about getting the notes right.”

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