“What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.”
(from In the Bleak Midwinter, by Christina Rosetti)
It’s Monday, January 6th – also known as Twelfth Night, Three King’s Day, and the Feast of Epiphany. Such a time for music! With carols, song cycles, cantatas and music of all kinds written to commemorate the visitation of the Magi in Bethlehem, and the child’s baptism in the River Jordan. Whether it’s We Three Kings, or Do You Hear What I Hear? or the ubiquitous Twelve Days of Christmas, the melodies of this season are as familiar as the well-loved, handmade ornaments now getting tucked carefully back into their boxes for another year.
But the Twelfth Night music doesn’t stop there, thanks to a certain prolific Elizabethan playwright who wrote a comedy for the occasion, and gave his play the holiday’s name. In Shakespeare’s time, the period right after Christmas was a time of (not always sober!) revelry. In fact the dancing, reverse roleplaying and carnival atmosphere much more closely resembled the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia than the sacred season of Epiphany as it’s recognized today.
And Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night has kept on giving in the form of overtures, incidental music, and concert suites – either written to accompany live performances of the play, or for purely orchestral performances inspired by the farcical spirit of the Bard’s lighthearted cross-dressing romance. One of these, Alexander Mackenzie’s Romantic symphonic poem Twelfth Night, even includes a cleverly complex, blustery fugue to represent the scheming character Malvolio as he attempts to win his release from imprisonment by proving himself sane. Oh yes, we’ll hear that one in this morning’s music – we have to, don’t we?
That’s where the “first day” part of the title on this article comes into play. It may be Twelfth Night, but it’s also our first Monday of the new year. And it’s my first day, guest hosting for the month on the morning music show. It’s my great pleasure to be here with you for this time, sharing the music we love and learning a little bit about it together along the way. As always, the request lines are open! Feel free to share your music requests here or on NEPR’s Facebook page.
From all of us at New England Public Radio, wishing you a Happy New Year! And…
“If music be the food of love, play on!” (Duke Orsino, from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night)