Irreligious tones? (1 of 2)

December 15, 2011

Felipe Fernández-Armesto ("Bless us with a silent night", 8 December) has been listening to the wrong tunes.

While Shepherds Watched, a paraphrase of Luke 2: 8-14, may be a little dull when sung to Winchester Old (though hardly a "dismal tune", inspired as it is by a melody by Christopher Tye), but goes with a swing when sung to Cranbrook, better known as the tune to the Yorkshire folk song On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at. This splendid gallery hymn from 1700 was the first (and for more than 80 years the only) Christmas hymn that Fernandez-Armesto's "joyless old Puritans" permitted to be used in Anglican churches.

The First Nowell, both words and music, is based on a traditional West Country carol and should be accepted on its own unsophisticated, bucolic terms. As to O Come, All Ye Faithful, if the translation offends, let us sing Adeste Fideles instead. Skating over his confusion of Christmas with Advent, I would point Fernandez-Armesto towards such seasonal gems as Boris Ord's Adam lay ybounden, Wesley and Madan's great Advent hymn Lo! He Comes, with Clouds Descending and, a personal favourite, the archaic, haunting Basque carol The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came.

I have not attempted to defend Once in Royal David's City (though it was never intended for an adult congregation), but if Fernandez-Armesto casts his musical net a little wider, he might find both Advent and Christmas not just bearable but an aural joy.

Peter Crisp, Dean, Law School, BPP University College

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