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Christmas programme

Pavan 1  Anthony Holborne

Pavane La Venissiene and Galliard Claude Gervaise

Pavana alla Ferrarese Joan-Ambrosio Dalza

Sussex Carol English Traditional Carol arranged by Garth Rowe for recorders after Willcocks arrangement for voices

Christmas is a time for celebration. Over the past 2,000 years, it is interesting how the festival has developed from being a significant date in the Christian calendar to being a much broader cultural festival - one which is celebrated in one way or another by a majority of the world’s countries.


All those celebrating Christmas have developed their own traditions. In Australia, most of us share food and give presents. For those who attend services or concerts, we are treated to music that is steeped in tradition. Even most of our contemporary Christmas music contains echoes of a previous time.


When choosing music for today’s program, we thought about the origins of some of our most enduring musical traditions.


Christmas was first celebrated in 336 BCE, a time when it is believed that all music was essentially one line – something later referred to as plainsong.


We begin today’s Christmas celebration with O come, O come Emmanuel, a traditional carol that is based on an early medieval processional melody. The familiar chant has been adapted and arranged by David Willcocks to create a much-loved Christmas hymn.

It wasn’t until the 1200s that music in two, three and more parts started to appear, both within the church and without. At the same time as medieval music was flourishing, we see an outpouring of exquisite art and architecture.


The person most often glorified by this medieval art and music was the Virgin Mary. During the Middle Ages, Mary was revered above all women and was even included as part of the Holy Trinity. Although that tradition has now changed, with Mary replaced by the Holy Ghost in the Trinity, the inspired musical outpourings from the period remain.


The next three pieces celebrate the Virgin Mary, starting with Nowel - tydings true, a stirring 15th Century carol telling the tale of the Annunciation. Lumina will perform this in the original Middle English.


One of the most significant composers of the late medieval period is John Dunstable. Believed to have been born in England, he spent much of his life composing in Italy.


Although the majority of his works are in three-parts, Lumina will today present a rare four-part work by this master of the Middle Ages: Gaude Virgo Salutata.


Where late medieval masters like Dunstable and Binchois left off, early Renaissance composers such as Dufay, Ockeghem and Josquin took up the baton. Ave nobilissima creatura is one of Josquin’s most beautiful works dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

We now jump into the late Renaissance, with Lyrebyrd recorders playing a cheerful dance called Tourdion, followed by one of many settings of the delightful tune In dulci Jubilo by Michael Praetorius.

Before we leave the adoration of the Virgin Mary, Lumina’s sopranos and altos will perform Virgo, rosa virginum, a 21st-century setting of medieval words by Australian composer David Yardley.


We return to 15th-century Prague, where a special collection of musical works was compiled. Most of these works celebrate Christmas and Lumina will perform three of these with the help of Lyrebyrd’s Cacofonix consort of crumhorns, cornemuses and sackbut.

Sophia nasci fertur | In natali Domini | Nobis est natus


We begin the second half of today’s Christmas celebration with a piece by Lumina composer Rachel Sag. Rachel’s late-20th century work is based on a text by 16th-century poet Robert Southwell. Behold a silly tender babe welcomes the Christ-child and marvels at the miracle of his birth in an humble manger.


Like so many of our traditions, the meaning of the word ‘silly’ has changed much over the years. Originally meaning happy, it then developed to mean blessed or pious and then innocent. It was only after the 16th century that it came to mean foolish or lacking in reason. Thus Rachel’s work straddles 400 years of change and harks back to an earlier time.

Another popular piece marvelling at the story of a babe born in a stable is Away in a manger. Rather than the more familiar tune, Lumina will perform the traditional Normandy tune harmonised by Reginald Jacques.

Some of the oldest Christmas songs from England are the lullabies developed to lull a sleeping child to sleep. These songs often had a broader use than just at Christmas time, yet were none-the-less steeped in the story and symbolism of the original Christmas story.

The evocative words ‘Lullay, lullow’ appear in dozens of carols from the medieval period, many of which Lumina has sung in previous concerts. Today we premiere a new work by Lumina composer Anna Pope.

'Inspired by medieval lullabies and carols, my Christmas lullaby  is also a lovesong.

The mother sings to her child, full of hope and unconditional love.

She will stay by his side forever.

Ostensibly about Mary and her baby Jesus, it is really a song for

anyone who loves - parents, children, then and now.'

The words “Lullay, lulla” also appear in the powerful 16th-century Coventry Carol. Originating in a play created by the 'shearmen and tailors' of Coventry in England, this work develops the idea of a lullaby into a cautionary tale about Herod’s appalling slaughter of innocent children at the time of Christ’s birth. Lumina will perform this in the original Middle English.

Another common type of carol in medieval England begins with “Nowell”. In the words of Bernard Mageean, scholar and former member of Lumina:


'Nowells' proclaim and picture God in the Christmas message in a way that is typical of English Christmas music of late medieval times. There is an enthusiastic delivery of good tidings and the provision of repeated chorus sections, suitable for group participation. The word 'Nowell' or 'Noel' is related to the Latinate 'natus' or 'natale' pointing to birth.'

We performed a 15th century annunciation carol at the beginning of our program today and now present the popular 15th-century carol Nowell, sing we both all and some, followed by Nowel, el, el, a setting of medieval words by David Yardley.

We finish our celebration of Christmas music through the ages with two uplifting carols. First, another setting of the beautiful In dulci jubilo. Earlier in the program, you heard Lyrebyrd’s recorder octet playing the version by Praetorius. Lumina will now sing the lovely setting by early Victorian composer Robert Pearsall.

Finally, we wish you a Christmas full of peace and joy and leave you with this beautiful work from the Baroque period by Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Salve Puerule.

Programme notes by Anna Pope December 2022

O come, O come Emmanuel

Nowel - tydings true

Gaude Virgo Salutata

Ave nobilissima

Tourdion (Lyrebyrd)

In dulci jubilo (Lyrebyrd)

Virgo, rosa virginum

Sophia nasci fertur

In natali Domini

Nobis est natus


Behold a silly tender babe

Away in a manger

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child

Coventry carol

Nowell Sing We, Both All and Some

Nowel, el, el

In dulci jubilo

Salve puerule


Anonymous, English C15

John Dunstable (1390?-1453)

Josquin des Pres (1450?-1521)

Pierre Attaignant, c1530

Michael Praetorius (1571-1621)

David Yardley (b 1978)

Anonymous, Codex Specialnik, C15

Anonymous, Codex Specialnik, C15

Anonymous, Codex Specialnik, C15


Rachel Sag (b 1974)

Normandy tune

Anna Pope (b 1968)

Anon, England C16

Anon, England C15

David Yardley (b 1978)

Robert Pearsall (1795-1856)

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)

Lumina & Lyrebyrd at Christmas 1
Lumina & Lyrebyrd at Christmas 2
Lumina & Lyrebyrd at Christmas 4
Lumina & Lyrebyrd at Christmas 5
Lumina & Lyrebyrd at Christmas 6
Lumina & Lyrebyrd at Christmas 7
Lumina & Lyrebyrd at Christmas 8
Lumina & Lyrebyrd at Christmas 9
Lumina & Lyrebyrd at Christmas 10
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