CSOTD 12/25/2015: It’s Latin to me

Merry Christmas to all my readers! I hope that my choices for Christmas Song of the Day have made your holiday season better in some way.

For December 25, I’ve decided to go back to a song that, at the absolute latest, was written in the late 16th century, as that was its first known publication. Its liturgical themes indicate that the melody may date from the medieval period. Even more amazing is that a version of this ancient song made the top 20 of the British charts in 1974, even though it was sung a cappella and entirely in Latin.

“Gaudete,” which means “rejoice,” first appeared in print in the songbook Piae cantiones (Pious songs) in 1582. The refrain – “Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus ex Maria virgine. Gaudete!”  – translates to “Rejoice, rejoice, Christ is born from the virgin Mary. Rejoice!” The verses also mention grace, Ezekiel, salvation and praise. “Gaudete”is every bit as joyful as the event it celebrates.

Over the years, “Gaudete” has become part of the standard repertoire of groups that specialize in madrigal and Renaissance music. Much of that popularity can be traced to a British folk revival group, Steeleye Span.

On the suggestion of group member Bob Johnson, who had heard the song at a service of folk carols, Steeleye Span  recorded “Gaudete” for their 1972 album Below the Salt. Their British record label, Chrysalis, released it as a single that fall. The label thought that the other side of the single, a version of the better-known carol “The Holly and the Ivy,” was more likely to be a hit, as it released a special promo 45 with that song on both sides. Initially, the single failed, but it was reissued two years later, and the unorthodox “Gaudete” got to #14 on the UK charts. It remains a Christmas favorite in England.

In the United States, Chrysalis also released “Gaudete” as a single twice, in 1972 and 1974, but it generated no interest.

On the LP, the song slowly fades in, hits peak volume at its halfway point, and just as slowly fades out. The British 45 stays at constant volume throughout. Here is that single version. Rejoice!

 

 

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