A baroque Christmas

The appeal of music at Christmas is sous entendu in my opinion. Music is but another manifestation of the instinctive response which overcomes Nature upon its descent into darkness and famine thus marked by brilliance and feast. To preserve it from becoming entirely tarsome or Bing Croby-ish (apparently he wasn’t very nice to his children), I search the Apple Music library (yet another of their award winning services) for something more in line with my interests or at least less saccharin or repetitive. I sustain this seasonal application until December 24th and no further.  By that time I have indulged myself to the point of gluttony upon everything available whether in the drawing room or my car.

Baroque music (a period or style of Western classical music from approximately 1600 to 1750 originating in Western Europe) is one of the broad musical varieties that I particularly enjoy. Key composers of the Baroque era include favourites such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, Henry Purcell and Georg Philipp Telemann. Beethoven (1770 –  1827) should you care to know is regarded either as a Romantic composer or a Classical period composer who was part of the transition to the Romantic era.

The Baroque period saw the creation of common-practice tonality, an approach to writing music in which a song or piece is written in a particular key; this type of harmony has continued to be used extensively in Western classical and popular music. During the Baroque era, professional musicians were expected to be accomplished improvisers of both solo melodic lines and accompaniment parts. Baroque concerts were typically accompanied by a basso continuo group (comprising chord-playing instrumentalists such as harpsichordists and lute players improvising chords from a figured bass part) while a group of bass instruments—viol, cello, double bass—played the bass line. A characteristic Baroque form was the dance suite. While the pieces in a dance suite were inspired by actual dance music, dance suites were designed purely for listening, not for accompanying dancers.

In my mind a good deal of the persuasion of Christmas is its traditional alliance with many of the earlier secular renditions of Father Christmas and the feasts, yuletide logs in a roaring fire, the Charles Dickens images of a “Christmas Carol” and stormy nights out with Good King Wenceslas. It is no accident that although the month and date of Jesus’ birth are unknown, the church in the early fourth century fixed the date as December 25. This corresponds to the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar which interestingly was nine months after March 25, the date of the vernal equinox and a date linked to the conception of Jesus (celebrated as the Feast of the Annunciation).

It is small wonder that after having endured such a fanciful parade of information and art, we’re so anxious to realign ourselves with more restrained and critical ambitions. Until then however the devotion persists. While for many Christmas constitutes a re-invention of familial undertakings and popular social gatherings, it can also be a time fraught with despair and loneliness. Yet whatever the situation, if one is in a room alone, gazing at a Christmas tree twinkling with tiny lights and tinsel, it is impossible not to extract some sense of amazement.