Posts Tagged ‘ Feast of the Holy Innocents ’

Feast Of The Holy Innocents 2014: Coventry Carol

December 28, 2014

On the 28th of December The Feast of The Holy Innocents is celebrated. It's the day when The Church remembers the children murdered by order of King Herod who had been made aware of a prophecy that a new born boy born in Bethlehem would become King of the Jews. Fearing overthrow Herod tried to thwart the prophecy by ordering his soldiers to massacre every male infant under the age of two living in Bethlehem. Mass murder of children as an act of political expediency. Christmas has become a time when we the lucky people of the rich countries eat, drink, and consume to excess forgetting (if we ever knew) that Christ started his life as the refugee son of impoverished parents and narrowly escaped with his life, and forgetting (if we ever knew) the children slaughtered so that a politician could hang on to power. There is nothing new about atrocities targeting children. Our ancestors who lived in far more violent and savage times than we do did not forget the children of Bethlehem as the many depictions of The Massacre of The Innocents in painting, religious dramas, and music can testify. Musically the best known of these is the Coventry Carol which gets its name from the fact that it was part of the religious dramas enacted in Coventry from Medieval times until they were finally suppressed by Elizabeth I as part of her enforcing religious conformity. The text's author and date are both unknown but it was already very old when it was written down by Robert Croo in 1534. The oldest known printing of the melody was in 1591. it's traditionally sung a capella as here, whem it was perfomed as part of the the pageant, the carol would have been sung by three actors representing three women of Bethlehem, who entered on stage with their children and sang immediately after Joseph had been warned by an angel to flee with his family to Egypt. The carol's melody dates from Croo's time but like the text's author its composer is unknown. 


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Jacobus Clemens non Papa (±1510 – ±1555): Vox in Rama

December 28, 2013

Massacre of the Innocents (detail) Pieter Brueghel the Elder captioned 300x400

Vox in Rama audita est, ploratus et ululatus:

Rachel plorans filios suos:

noluit consolari, quia non sunt.

Matthew 2:18, citing Jeremiah 31:15

(A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and wailing:

Rachel lamenting her sons:

she will not be consoled, for they are no more.)

Matthew 2:18 cites Jeremiah 31:15:

Thus says the Lord: A voice was heard on high of lamentation, of mourning, and weeping, of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not.

Of all the penitential texts this is surely one of the most harrowing Clemens non Papa's four-part setting of it was published in Antwerp in 1553 in 'Liber secundus ecclesiasticarum cantionum quatuor vocum'. Clemens composed it  'In Festo SS. Innocentium' – (for the Feast of The Holy Innocents) which is celebrated on December 28th. This feast which commemorates the children murdered by Herod's soldiers in his attempt to find and kill the new-born Christ child is largely overlooked in our prosperous and ultra-materialistic societies  but in Clemens' time it was an important part of Christmas.  His setting is short (only seventy two breves), spare and bleak, with a sense of musical desolation that matches Rachel's despair as she mourns her children who 'are no more'. It's also very very beautiful. You'll find it below sung by the Brabant Ensemble conducted by Stephen Rice.


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Feature: Libera: Coventry Carol

December 28, 2012

Massacre of the innocents Cogniet 600x581

I remember very clearly the first time I saw Cogniet's "Massacre of the innocents".  Cogniet's paintings can be a bit mannerly but there's nothing polite or bland about terror and Cogniet's depiction of a terrified mother desperately trying to keep her child quiet lest they be discovered by Herod's soldiers as they massacre all the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem captures some of the essence of terror. Who can doubt looking at that poor woman's face that she is out of options and out of luck and that she knows in her heart of hearts that she and her son are next. In all the years since I first saw it Cogniet's painting has stayed with me as a referent for the words "terror" and "atrocity". Luther famously remarked that Christmas takes place 'in the shadow of the Cross' what he was getting at was that while the story of the Nativity celebrates the joy of Jesus' birth it also tells of terror, flight, and the horror of infanticide. 

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