Sunday, April 5, 2015

Where is all that Easter music this weekend?

It is Easter Sunday, the Christian holiday that celebrates Jesus' resurrection from the dead three days after his crucifixion.  Easter is what is known as a moveable feast, as it is one of the few floating holidays in the calendar year, as it is based on the cycles of the moon.

Jesus we are told rose from the dead on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring, so for that reason the holiday can fall as early as March 22nd, as it did a few years ago, or as late as April 25th.  Easter marks the end of the 40-day period of Lent which for many Christians is a period of alms giving and giving up something they particularly enjoy, which for me is usually chocolate.

While many are spending the day with family and/or friends and preparing to feast rather than fast now that Lent is over, I have other things on my feeble mind.

Where is all the great Easter music?

For reasons unbeknownst to me, Santa and his pals have cornered the market on seasonal sounds on the radio and in our hearts, leaving the poor Easter bunny to fend for himself on his special day.  While it doesn't take long (like by September in most grocery stores) for the Christmas music to start flooding the airwaves, Easter music has just never caught on.  Why is that?

Oh sure, Irving Berlin's Easter Parade with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire can take pride of place, but beyond that, what else is there?  Here Comes Peter Cottontail?  Give me a break.  I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket?  C'mon...  Can you come up with anything better?

Now it could be argued we don't really need Easter music at all, and I grant you if we did and it were played to death every year like Christmas music is, we'd all get sick of it, too.  But I thought about the  obvious lack of seasonal music at this time of year and well, an inquisitive mind asks "Why?"

You really have to go back to the classics to really get a handle on some great music for this time of year, and that thankfully will never change.  There are always great performances and recordings available of Bach's St. Matthew Passion and B Minor Mass available, for example, and sometimes even the St. John Passion.  That Johann Sebastian Bach...he really knew how to rock Easter, didn't he?

I jest, of course, but seriously, you don't see the release of new recordings of Easter favourites nearly as often as yet another recording of say, White Christmas or even Panis Angelicus.  That's why I was particularly pleased to see two new recordings out this month geared towards Easter celebrations that are worthy of mention here.

The first is a new recording of Bach's St. Matthew Passion with the Academy of Ancient Music with Richard Egarr directing from the harpsichord.  The three-disc set is on their own label, AAM, and features an all-star roster of soloists performing the original 1727 version of the work.

The second is a new DVD by The Choir of King's College directed by Stephan Cleobury entitled Easter from King's and is the first DVD release of the regular BBC broadcast, which forms the cornerstone of the BBC's Easter programming.  This recording was first broadcast in 2014 from the College's magnificent Chapel, and features seasonal hymns and readings alongside choral favourites such as Allegri's Miserere, the Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem and of course, the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's oratorio Messiah.

Both of these fine recordings are available through my website, A Web of Fine Music, at or by emailing me directly at, by the way.

Speaking of Handel's Messiah, why don't we ever hear the complete work at Easter rather than Christmas?  Every December you find lots of performances the world over, but at Easter?  Not much.

Truth is, Messiah is about Easter just as much as it is about Christmas, as the libretto clergyman and writer Christopher Jennens provided Handel was based around the birth and Passion of Christ.  Handel set the work on the libretto in August, 1741, completing the score in just over three weeks.

The resulting oratorio, performed more in theatres than in churches during Handel's day, by the way, is of course divided into three parts: the first deals with the Prophecy of the Messiah and its fulfillment.  The second moves from the Passion to the triumph of the Resurrection.  The final part deals with the role of the Messiah in life after death.

The first performance of Messiah took place not at Christmas, but April 13th, 1742 at the New Music Hall in Dublin to huge acclaim.  The following year it was triumphantly reprised at London's historic Covent Garden.  And today?  Always in December and rarely at Easter.

Just once I would like see a choir abandon so-called choral protocol and programme Messiah at Easter and see if they can bring in the crowds then, leaving the Christmas season open to any number of other great seasonal offerings.  It is a gamble I suspect could pay off handsomely.

All of which brings us to the outside-the-box thinking of the University of Toronto, which will be observing the 50th anniversary Festival of Medieval Theatre in June of this year with a 12th-century Easter production that will be part of the Poculi Ludique Societas (PLS) at the University in June.

You don't have to wait until June or drive to Toronto to catch this musical theatre milestone, actually.  There will be a special Brock preview of Visitation Sepulchre (The Visit to the Sepulchre) this coming Tuesday evening, April 7th in the Concordia Seminary Chapel at Brock beginning at 7:30pm.

There will be a pre-show talk at 7 with Dr. Brian Power, Music Director for the production, and Stage Director Virginia Reh prior to the performance that will feature Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts students.

This 12th-century Easter music-drama is an acting version transcribed and translated by W.L. Smolden from the "Fleury Playbook" and is a joint production of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Department of Dramatic Arts and the Department of Music at Brock.

The admission charge is by donation, so you certainly can't go wrong if you have some time on Tuesday evening this week to catch a rare glimpse of Easter from Medieval times.

Now doesn't that sound like a rare treat?  I thought so.

Happy Easter!

April 5th, 2015.

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