Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


John Rutter

Christmastide has for centuries been a season in which the Christian church both reflects on the human sinfulness that made the Incarnation necessary and rejoices in the precious details of that Incarnation: the manger, the virgin mother, the shepherds, the wise men. Much of the rejoicing is expressed in music and composer John Rutter over the course of his career has contributed many anthems, carols, and other pieces of music to the church's celebration of Christmas. His Candlelight Carol was a response to a commission, a specific request for music from the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption outside Pittsburgh, PA. Rutter composed both the text and the music for this carol, a poignant little tribute to both the Christ child and His mother (patron of the church that commissioned the work), with a powerful subtext of the light that came down at Christmas. Each of Rutter's three verses of text emphasizes different aspects of the earthly events of Christmas: the love of the mother, the first cry of the baby, the kneeling adoration of the shepherds and wise men, the lullaby of Mary the mother, the child sleeping in the straw of the manger. Each time, he contrasts these mundane and earthbound images with a refrain that explodes into "Candlelight, angel light, firelight, and starglow." Each time, he creates music that similarly escapes into the heavenly host of angels who are singing Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Rutter's anthem begins with a very brief instrumental introduction, originally written for organ but later scored for strings and woodwinds. The women's voices take the first verse, appropriately enough for the text of the mother's love and the baby's cry. Their simple tutti melody powerfully contrasts to the first a cappella choral refrain, as all voices erupt into full harmony and counterpoint as the various sources of light are first mentioned; the angels' cry of Gloria soars upwards in the sopranos and also returns the instrumental accompaniment. The men begin the second verse, singing of the shepherds and wise men (the former with a pastoral oboe obbligato); the fourth line of the text pointedly returns to the image of Mary singing a lullaby and leads into a luminescent second refrain. The third verse arrives in intimate, close a cappella harmonies, once again returning to the image of Mary in its fourth line of text, once again leading to a scintillating refrain invoking the ritual candlelight of Christmas morning.