This Christmas program opens a new CD collection focusing on the great moments of the liturgical year at Notre-Dame de Paris. The Paris Cathedral Maîtrise choir wishes to highlight the beauty of congregational songs and hymns through professional-quality performances. The idea behind the project is to collect and promote this cultural heritage and offer a pleasurable musical moment inviting listeners to share the joy of Nativity.
Traditionally, in the Christian religion, the role of music is to elevate and open the listener’s spirit to the “heavenly spheres”, but Christmas music has something special in that it comes down “from heaven above to earth”. Angels look down to the earth and their hearts embrace the horizon. From above they watch round the newborn baby, like the little group of shepherds in Bethlehem. With its long history of celestial voices, Christmas music is where heaven and earth meet.
The listener embarks on a journey through time and across several continents. In spite of their stylistic differences, the pieces all share a simplicity and naturalness of tone and an almost invariably joyful atmosphere, due to the very story of Christmas and its artistic representations, which combine sacred art and popular tradition. The colorful biblical narrative with its wealth of imagery has always fueled the creativity of artists. The representation of Nativity soon took root in the plurality of Western cultural traditions: not only the Bethlehem “crèche” became Provencal, Neapolitan or Scandinavian but singing and music making was inseparable from the Christmas celebrations. Popular tunes developed and spread worldwide, like Silent Night (the title track of this album). Art music permeates traditional songs: the influence of Gregorian chant and medieval music is unmistakable in the cheerful melodic
lines of Circa Canit.
But Christmas also inspires contemporary composers: Une Vierge féconde and Christmas Day draw on ancient themes revisited by 20th-century musicians. Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium is an example of a new and original motet, modernizing and rejuvenating the repertoire. From medieval times down to the present day, the common thread connecting these pieces is their authors’ genuine reference to popular art. Every musical evocation of Christmas is firmly grounded in the music of past centuries.