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Traditions Series: Births

The first program of our Traditions Series explores the different musical facets surrounding birth. Plus, a new release of bassoon music by Antonio Vivaldi.

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Of the many famous Western births from the last two centuries, one stands out above all others: the birth of Jesus Christ.  The stories surrounding his arrival have been as varied as the cultures that have embraced Christianity.  In particular, the tale of the wise men and their three gifts has been a popular theme to set to music time and time again.

Any mother with a newborn will attest to one thing: babies cry, all the time.  This is, in fact, the way they communicate with the new world they are discovering.  Different cultures have looked at a baby’s cry as a necessity.  The Portuguese composer António Margues Lésbio embraced crying as an expression of beauty when he set the villancico “Dexen que llore me niño,” or “Let my child weep tears.”  The song likens tears to cleansing pearls and interprets them as a form of love.

The cradle song is common to many cultures.  The quiet and subtle gesture of a mother rocking her child to sleep is unmistakable.

The arrival of a male heir has been important to many a monarchy.  For the birth of the Duke of Berry, the celebration included a ballet composed on a mythological theme by Jean-Philippe Rameau.  Entitled “The Birth of Osiris,” the event marked an auspicious beginning for the life of the future Louis XVI, in spite of its tragic ending.

Our new release of the week brings us the music of Antonio Vivaldi on the Et’Cetera label.  Selected concertos with bassoon are performed by soloist Frans Berkhout and the ensemble La Suave Melodia, directed by Pieter Dirksen.

Here’s a video of soprano Agnes Mellon and Ensemble Barcarole performing Tarquinio Merula’s “Canzonetta spirituale alla nanna,” a cradle song for the baby Jesus:


The music heard in this episode was performed by Ex Cathedra, The Boston Camerata, Huelgas Ensemble, Zefiro Torna, Montserrat Figueras, and Capella Savaria.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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