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There’s something about ‘coming home for Christmas’ that has inspired crooners, festive films and car radio stations throughout the ages. But as we return to our annual December tour throughout mainland Scotland, nothing is more at home in our candlelit Cathedrals, Churches and Kirks than Brahms, Schubert, and Beethoven. Time and time again especially in these short days and longer nights, we slip on our favourite arrangement, nibble on a mince pie, and think of the many notes that have echoed from strings in stone halls spanning countries and generations.

Scottish Ensemble are aware as we are packing up various mic stands and filling the road caddy with sweet treats and teas for the players, that many in 2021 are faced with another Christmas of uncertainty and that not everyone has the privilege to join us in person.

So if you are one of those dearly missing in action or just wanted to get to know the music prior to the performance, this playlist is for you. Crank up the volume, put something nice (and possibly boozy?) into your favourite glass and settle in. We’ll see you soon.

Henry Purcell ‘In Nomine in 7 parts’, Dorian

Death by chocolate anyone? This fateful (or lovely) way to go is supposed to have befallen the great English Baroque composer Henry Purcell, that or being locked out the house by his missus. Nonetheless, his rather short career in years is made up by the plethora of pieces he managed to immortalise before his departure at 35, with over forty musical plays produced alone. The darker feel of Purcell’s ‘Nomine in 7 parts’ in the Dorian mode*, evokes a mood of contemplation, and takes its name from a phrase perhaps many of us will recognise from Midnight mass; in Latin, ‘Benedictus qui venit in nominee Domini’ or ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Henry Purcell is said to have taken a rather snobbish route to musical appreciation, having taken a note of his works that were most enjoyed by the general population and aiming to make those after, difficult as possible.

Julia Wolfe Four Marys for string orchestra

In contrast, Julia Wolfe’s music, as she herself puts it, is ‘not meant to be ‘clever’ or ‘well-written’ but rather entered into by the listener’ resulting in a restless, constant evocation of sound. Four Marys is a study of the Appalachian instrument, the dulcimer, and named after a Scottish folk tune Wolfe heard the American folk artist Jean Ritchie perform. This interconnection of influence results from her wide-ranging love of music from late Beethoven to Led Zeppelin and is deeply rooted in traditional American folk. When you listen to Wolfe, you are really listening to the strands that teases or indeed wrecks genre altogether. Wolfe, like her name, is restless and wants the listener to be too.

Ludwig van Beethoven Molto Adagio Heiliger Dankesang (Holy song of thanksgiving) from String Quartet No.15 (arranged for string orchestra by Iain Farrington)

Named as a major influence by Wolfe, the arrangement Molto Adagio Heiliger Dankesang or ‘Holy song of Thanksgiving’ from Beethoven’s late quartets has been described as one of the highlights of all music. It’s emotional, as well as structured gait, perhaps marries well our lives over the last two years. Our Concerts by Candlelight, Guest Director Matthew Truscott says of this piece: ‘there’s some struggle in it, but lots of light too’ and in this way is a lovely musical testament to the regaining of health and the perfect accompaniment for warmth and restoration at our ‘Concerts by Candlelight.’

*If you have been puzzling about the ‘dorian mode’, don’t worry, it just means that every 3rd note on the scale is lowered by a half-step with a flattened 7th note, which creates quite a dark and melancholic sound. Take a listen to So What by Miles Davis or Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles- they were written in the same mode.

Concerts by Candlelight: Music for Warmth and Restoration is on tour across Scotland from 2-8 December. Find out more here