Bennington, VT - The explorations of European explorers 400 years ago left indelible imprints on our area. Within a few days of each other, in the fall of 1609, Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River as far as present day Albany and Samuel de Champlain investigated the lake that bears his name, and was likely the first European to see what we know today as Vermont. Although he was an Englishman, Hudson sailed for the Dutch East India Company, and established the claim that led to Dutch colonization in the 17th century. Champlain’s was one part of a series of expeditions that led to French domination to the North.
The Bennington County Choral Society has chosen to present a program of Christmas music that reflects the contributions of these two cultures to our region. The concert will include Dutch carols, or Kerstliedjes, from the time of Hudson’s voyage, and Noëls, the French traditional carols of the season, passed along in the traditions of French Canada.
The Netherlands was not a political entity in the early 17th century, but the Dutch East India Company was governed by a group of directors from several cities in the Low Countries. A rich cosmopolitan culture existed in the larger cities, such as Amsterdam, where a lively climate of trade brought in goods, ideas and the arts from throughout Europe and beyond. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was one of the principal composers of the day, at the peak of his productive output at the time of Hudson’s voyage. The choral society will sing “Gaudete omnes,” a refined Christmas piece in five parts from his pen. Samuel Scheidt, a student of Sweelinck’s at this same time, later compiled a collection of harmonizations that included the folk-song carol “O Little One Sweet,” perhaps best known today in a later harmonization by J. S. Bach.
As early as 1539, the collection Souterliederkens included Psalm paraphrases in the vernacular that were to be sung to familiar folk song melodies. The Choral Society will sing “If Ye Would Hear” from this source, as harmonized by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It seems only fitting that English composers should have appropriated these Dutch traditional songs, with the same ready connection across the English Channel that had enabled Hudson to sail for the Dutch. Another such adaptation is “King Jesus Hath a Garden,” harmonized by Charles Wood for the Cowley Carol Book. The Oxford Book of Carols of 1928 is a standard English source of seasonal songs that includes many Dutch and Flemish examples. Several of these will be included in the Choral Society’s program, some in new arrangements made for this concert.
Probably the most readily identifiable “Canadian” carol is “’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime,” the so-called “Huron Carol.” In the early 17th century, Fr. Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary, retold the Christmas story in the language of the Hurons, using images from their culture. The words were sung to a French noël tune, Une jeune pucelle. In the 19th century, Ernest Gagnon, a Québec organist, became interested in the folk-music of his province, and in 1897 published Chansons Populaires, a collection which included five items for the Christmas season. While some of the carols are well-known in France, they seem to form a core repertoire for French-Canadians, as well. The Choral Society will present this group in newly re-worked versions, inviting you to join in for “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Marius Barbeau, a disciple of Gagnon’s, continued the scientific study of folk song throughout French Canada and inspired future generations of collectors. From these sources, we have selected “De la Noël C’est La Fête,” as sung by Alcide Léveillé in Témiscouata in 1918, “Gabriel,” from the singing of Élodie Godin in New Brunswick in 1959, and “Le Noël des Animaux,” sung in 1949 by the 80-year-old Octave Brien in Montcalm, Québec. This will be the first time this group has been presented in a choral version.
Among the best-known of the indigenous folk-melodies of Canada is “D’où viens-tu, Bergère,” which will be sung by the women of the chorus. The men of the chorus will present “La Guignolée,” which has a long and mysterious history. This song is sung at New Year’s, by groups of men, begging at the door for food and drink. Barbeau traces the origins to prehistoric Celtic solstice rituals. Whereas the European tradition has all but disappeared, the practice is continued in Canada and among French-speaking communities in the United States.
Music Director Edwin Lawrence will conduct for this performance. Pianist Noah Lindquist will join the chorus as pianist. A 2008 graduate of Williams College, he was a two-time winner of the Berkshire Symphony concerto competition.
The concert, Kerstliedjes and Noëls, will be performed at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Pleasant Street, Bennington on Saturday, December 5th at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, December 6th at 3 pm. Tickets, at $10 are available at the door or in advance at the Bennington Bookshop or from Choral Society members. St. Peter’s Church is handicapped accessible.