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Britten, Ceremony of Carols: Pronunciation



I'm posting on behalf of a colleague.
James Kempster
Pacific Union College
jkempster(a)puc.edu


Dear Choral Colleagues,

It appears that I am not the only one out here floundering around with
the
pronunication of "Ceremony of Carols." This makes me feel much better.
The general consensus is that no one really knows for sure. So I guess
what ever you believe to be correct is probably correct. Here are some
of
the helpful responses that I received from, what appear to be, very
reliable sources. I will not reveal the source names because I did not
ask
for
their permission. Thank you for all of the prompt responses.

********************************************************
There are different ways to pronounce Latin. What I assume you mean by
"liturgical Latin" is the Italianate pronunciation mandated by Pope Pius
X
about 1905: O- dee- ay Chree- stoos na- toos est etc. But before that
everybody pronounced Latin as if it were their own vernacular. Thus in
England the so-called English pronunciation survived in Anglican
circles,
and that may be what is on your English recording: Hoe- dye [as in dye
for
clothes] Chris- tuhs nay- tuhs est etc. Every country had its own
national pronunciation going back at least to the fifteenth century.

I would suggest you listen to (and read the notes) for the CD by the
Philadephia Singers directed by the late Michael Korn (founder of Chorus
America. You will probably have to special order it, but Tower Records
or
Borders should be able to get it for you. Michael was my mentor and a
brilliant man. He was a stickler for accuracy and got a prof. from U.
of
Pennsylvania to help with pronunciation. Different movements are
pronounced differently depending upon the era the poetry came from.
Largely it is dependent on whether it was before or after "The Great
Vowel
Shift" Thus "There Is No rose" has almost a Scottish accent, while
"This
Little Babe" is pretty straightforward.
The CD is RCA Victor Red Seal 7787-2RC and also includes Poulenc's 4
Christmas motets and Resphigi's Laud To the Nativity.

I would be pleased to receive a copy of your results. My part to share
is
that I have a Ph.D in my choir whose specialty is middle English, and
she
says the truth is, no one has a CLUE what a lot of this sounded like.
She
also thinks that the spelling has been tampered with, but since spelling
was by no means standardized (that is a relatively recent and
unfortunate
practice, in her opinion. Take "ought," for example, now forever
"standardized" to be spelled in a way it is no longer pronounced!) there
is
really no way to pin down some of the words' pronunciation. So current
choral "tradition" is what is available, but not accurate historical
verities. Ever since she has been around, I have enjoyed taking more
liberties with
the words! A happier vowel is a better-sung vowel, to me!

This is can of worms. I have done a ton of research on this topic. In
short, don't bother with alternate pronunciations, just use the guide.
The
poetry, by in large, is not "Chaucerian" English. In other words, they
were written after the "Great Vowel Shift". There are many different
English
dialects and it is impossible to pin down which one "might" be correct.
. .
.. and for a host of other reasons not the least of which is the
composer
took the poems from a dimestore book and in his own recordings didn't
bother with any alternate pronunciations (at least I can't tell that he
did).

Here's my nickel's (tuppence?) worth:
-Wolcum = WUHL-come
-sall (as in shall without the h)
-Thomas (just as you would pronounce the name) (maybe broaden to
TAW-muss)
-seintes (SAIN-tez) (the final syllable is really very light - schwa
e)(also, careful not to make a huge diphthong out of that first
syllable;
it's really more like "sent" with a brighter 'e', definitely NOT
saaayyyynt.
-lefe (leef?) yup!
-messe (mess?) yup!
-Quene (queen?) yup!
-vertu (too or tyoo?) -tyoo (careful not to Americanize the t to ch as
in
ver-chyoo; sounds like a sneeze! Also use the Brit English 'R'
throughout
ALL this stuff - that is, drop it it the middle of a word (vuh-tyoo) or
flip it at the beginning of a word. Also, get your singers to get their
t's
and
d's right up to the front of their teeth. These are very crisp, 'dental'
consonants. Americans tend to use 'stopped' t's and d's. Doesn't work
very
well in Brit music.
-space (ay or ah) -ay
-persons (er or air) -er but minimize (drop) the 'r'! (PUH-sons)
-aungels (ayn-jelz?) yup!
-yonge (yung-ee) nope- YUNG-eh, with a VERY light final syllable, almost
vanishing schwa
-gan (gan - as in man?) yup! it's the last syllable of 'began'
-minstrelsy (see?) - yup!
-nightingale (umlaut over e) (night-in-gay-leh?) NIGHT-in-GAY-luh
(again,
VERY light last syllable)
-makeles (may-key-less?) nope. MAKE-eh-less. (means mate-less, not
matchless
(without peer).
-ches (chess or chez or chose?) chez
-moder (muh-der?) yes but no 'r' at the end and same business about that
final UNaccented syllable
-grass (ahs uhs?) (to rhyme with was?) doesn't rhyme with was. Pretty
much
like the American pronunciation, but with a bit broader ah sound. In the
midwest we have a horrible time with singers nazalizing that 'a'. Don't
overdo it though; it SHOULDN'T be 'grawss'.
-bour (bah-oor or bohr?) [Should not bour and flour rhyme?) yes, bour
and flour SHOULD rhyme. The trick is to make them sing as if they were
almost
ONE syllable words.
-flour (flah-oor or flohr?) difficult: like the American flower, but
DON'T
sing the -wer part of the word but a kind of a vaninshing sorta flipped
r
at the end. (I TOLD you it was difficult) like FLAH(r)
-ensigns (en-zinns or en-zines?) en-zinns OR en-sinns (although I think
it
easier to use the Z because it's vocalised and can thus be sung through)
-wound (wownd or woond?) woond, just like in the good ol' USA
-pight (pite?) yup!
-ward (ward or wahrd?) to rhyme with guard, right?
-Birdes (beer-deezs or bir-deez) BIR-dez (but NO R in BIR!) (BEH-dez)
-ibounden (ee-bown-den?) ih-BOWN-den
-bond (bahnd or bohnd?) the latter, JUST like whatsis British actor in
the
007 movie:"Bond......James Bond." (i.e., bohnd)
-I hope this helps a bit. It's difficult, sometimes, to get the idea
across
in print. In any case, have you chorus think VEDDY, VEDDY PRISSY, UPPAH
CLAHSS DICTION. Flipped R's and all. It's incredibly difficult to get
American choirs to get comfortable with this, because they feel it's SO
affected. In the long run, though, those beautiful pure vowels (no
diphthongs), the elimination of the dreaded R's (which just lower the
soft
palate and wreck sound anyway) and nice crisp consonants do wonders for
choral sound, even in non-Brit music. Again, the other part of this is
to
NOT make a big deal of the unstressed syllables. Ultimately, don't worry
TOO much about diction authenticity. As you already know, even in
England,
there's some disagreement. I guess I'm most tempted to go with what I've
heard and sung most: Cambridge collegiate choirs (King's and St. John's,
mostly) under Willcocks and Guest, respectively; two giants of English
choral sound, and both real nazis when it came to diction!....and they
both
pretty much agreed on what I've given above.
-PS. The issue about end-of-line words rhyming with one another in NOT a
big issue in English poetry from this period. The fact that they LOOKED
alike
qualified them as rhyming words. Also, the variation of both
pronunciation
(dialect) and the vagaries of a completely non-standardized system of
spelling in that period help to confuse the issue. A kind if 'common
practice' had settled in in the English choral world up until about the
1980s when things started to get confusing again in the light of "new
linguistic scholarship." My (very reactionary) preference is to stick
with
the older 'common practice.' It's pretty much what you'll hear on
whatever
English recordings you can lay your hands on performed anywhere from the
1950s through the 1970s. Grab some recordings of collegiate (Oxford,
Cambridge) and cathedral choir doing this stuff. Even then, you'll hear
some variation, but you'll also hear some wonderful choral sound!

Well, there you have it. Sorry this is so lengthy, but it has been
helpful
to
me.

SINGcerely,

Jim

James L. Klein, Minister of Music
American Lutheran Church
1085 Scott Drive 86301
Prescott, AZ

--
Dr. James Kempster, Professor of Music and Associate Dean
Pacific Union College
Angwin, CA 94508




Thanks to all for who responded to my request for help of the
pronunciation of the text from “A Ceremony of Carols” by Britten. I
have learned through this process that there is no authoritative answer
to this question. There are many indications that Britten intended a
more 20th century pronunciation of many of the words. Here is a
compilation of the responses I received.
Lee Dengler
Leedng(a)tln.net
==========================================================================
There's a recording of the Britten by the Philadelphia Singers that uses
Middle English pronunciation. It's really quite interesting. I believe
it's on the RCA label but don't have it in front of me right now--you
could probably do a search on CDNow or look in a current Schwann
catalogue. Hope this helps!
==========================================================================
I did the Ceremony years ago with my Ann Arbor church choir. A doctoral
linguistics student was one of my tenors. HE claimed that there were
actually many ways to pronounce the texts because English had not yet
been standardized around various sections of Britain when the texts were
written. He listened to the old Shaw recording with women. He
mentioned that Shaw's pronunciation had favored the Norman (French)
style sounds, which he thought was acceptable. But he also mentioned
more Saxon or Norse type pronunciations. He told me that the most
important thing might be to maintain consistency. Ever since then I have
used the pronunciation of Shaw's old recording, although I've heard some
English boy choirs use different sounds. I'm afraid I've never had the
time to research the matter any further. Best of luck.
==========================================================================
I had a choral conducting workshop with David Willcocks many years ago
and asked him what pronunciation Britten preferred for the Middle
English portions. His response was that Britten had told him that he
preferred a pronunciation that would emphasize the intelligibility of
the text--modern English pronunciation [Eye sing of a maiden that is
may-kuh-luhs], King of all kings to her son she chess]. I have always
preferred the Middle English pronunciation (West Midlands), in which the
words are rendered more or less as if they were in German [Eee seeng oaf
ah maheeden that ees mah-keh-less, Keeng oaf all keengs toe hair sohn
shay chaiss]. However you do it, it's a crap shoot.
==========================================================================
See the huge file on this subject in the ChoralNet repertoire section
(search for it).
==========================================================================
Always wondered myself if there was a published guide or if someone
actually knew how to pronounce this. The R. Shaw women have an old
recording that I have used as a guide.
==========================================================================
If you go to ChoralNet (www.choralnet.org), then in the left-most column
of the home page click on "Search...Choral Net", then enter the words
"Ceremony of Carols", and then select the SECOND entry:

No Title (resources/repertoire/composer/brittencere.txt) you will find
an exhaustive explanation.
==========================================================================
It appears that I am not the only one out here floundering around with
the pronunication of "Ceremony of Carols." This makes me feel much
better. The general consensus is that no one really knows for sure. So
I guess what ever you believe to be correct is probably correct. Here
are some Of the helpful responses that I received from, what appear to
be, very reliable sources. I will not reveal the source names because I
did not ask for their permission. Thank you for all of the prompt
responses.
==========================================================================
There are different ways to pronounce Latin. What I assume you mean by
"liturgical Latin" is the Italianate pronunciation mandated by Pope Pius
X about 1905: O- dee- ay Chree- stoos na- toos est etc. But before that
everybody pronounced Latin as if it were their own vernacular. Thus in
England the so-called English pronunciation survived in Anglican
circles, and that may be what is on your English recording: Hoe- dye [as
in dye for clothes] Chris- tuhs nay- tuhs est etc. Every country had
its own national pronunciation going back at least to the fifteenth
century.
==========================================================================
I would suggest you listen to (and read the notes) for the CD by the
Philadephia Singers directed by the late Michael Korn founder of Chorus
America. You will probably have to special order it, but Tower Records
Or Borders should be able to get it for you. Michael was my mentor and
a brilliant man. He was a stickler for accuracy and got a prof. from U.
of Pennsylvania to help with pronunciation. Different movements are
pronounced differently depending upon the era the poetry came from.
Largely it is dependent on whether it was before or after "The Great
Vowel Shift" Thus "There Is No rose" has almost a Scottish accent,
while "This Little Babe" is pretty straightforward. The CD is RCA
Victor Red Seal 7787-2RC and also includes Poulenc's 4 Christmas
motets and Resphigi's Laud To the Nativity.
==========================================================================
I would be pleased to receive a copy of your results. My part to share
is that I have a Ph.D in my choir whose specialty is middle English,
and she says the truth is, no one has a CLUE what a lot of this sounded
like. She also thinks that the spelling has been tampered with, but
since spelling was by no means tandardized (that is a relatively recent
and unfortunate practice, in her opinion. Take "ought," for example,
now forever "standardized" to be spelled in a way it is no longer
pronounced!) there is really no way to pin down some of the words'
pronunciation. So current choral "tradition" is what is available, but
not accurate historical verities. Ever since she has been around, I have
enjoyed taking more liberties with the words! A happier vowel is a
better-sung vowel, to me!
==========================================================================
This is can of worms. I have done a ton of research on this topic. In
short, don't bother with alternate pronunciations, just use the guide.
The poetry, by in large, is not "Chaucerian" English. In other words,
they were written after the "Great Vowel Shift". There are many
different English dialects and it is impossible to pin down which one
"might" be correct... and for a host of other reasons not the least of
which is the composer took the poems from a dimestore book and in his
own recordings didn't bother with any alternate pronunciations (at least
I can't tell that he did).
==========================================================================
Here's my nickel's (tuppence?) worth:
-Wolcum = WUHL-come -sall (as in shall without the h)
-Thomas (just as you would pronounce the name) (maybe broaden to
TAW-muss)
-seintes (SAIN-tez) (the final syllable is really very light – schwa
e)(also, careful not to make a huge diphthong out of that first
syllable; it's really more like "sent" with a brighter 'e', definitely
NOT saaayyyynt. -lefe (leef?) yup!
-messe (mess?) yup!
-Quene (queen?) yup!
-vertu (too or tyoo?) -tyoo (careful not to Americanize the t to ch as
in ver-chyoo; sounds like a sneeze! Also use the Brit English 'R'
throughout ALL this stuff - that is, drop it it the middle of a word
(vuh-tyoo) or flip it at the beginning of a word. Also, get your singers
to get their t's and d's right up to the front of their teeth. These are
very crisp, 'dental' consonants. Americans tend to use 'stopped' t's and
d's. Doesn't work very well in Brit music.
-space (ay or ah) –ay
-persons (er or air) - er but minimize (drop) the 'r'! (PUH-sons)
-aungels (ayn-jelz?) yup!
-yonge (yung-ee) nope- YUNG-eh, with a VERY light final syllable, almost
vanishing schwa
-gan (gan - as in man?) yup! it's the last syllable of 'began'
-minstrelsy (see?) - yup!
-nightingale (umlaut over e) (night-in-gay-leh?) NIGHT-in-GAY-luh
(again,VERY light last syllable)
-makeles (may-key-less?) nope. MAKE-eh-less. (means mate-less, not
matchless (without peer).
-ches (chess or chez or chose?) chez
-moder (muh-der?) yes but no 'r' at the end and same business about that
final UNaccented syllable
-grass (ahs uhs?) (to rhyme with was?) doesn't rhyme with was. Pretty
much like the American pronunciation, but with a bit broader ah sound.
In the midwest we have a horrible time with singers nazalizing that 'a'.
Don't overdo it though; it SHOULDN'T be 'grawss'.
-bour (bah-oor or bohr?) [Should not bour and flour rhyme?) yes, bour
and flour SHOULD rhyme. The trick is to make them sing as if they were
almost ONE syllable words.
-flour (flah-oor or flohr?) difficult: like the American flower, but
DON'T sing the -wer part of the word but a kind of a vaninshing sorta
flipped r at the end. (I TOLD you it was difficult) like FLAH(r)
-ensigns (en-zinns or en-zines?) en-zinns OR en-sinns (although I think
it easier to use the Z because it's vocalised and can thus be sung
through)
-wound (wownd or woond?) woond, just like in the good ol' USA
-pight (pite?) yup!
-ward (ward or wahrd?) to rhyme with guard, right?
-Birdes (beer-deezs or bir-deez) BIR-dez (but NO R in BIR!) (BEH-dez)
-ibounden (ee-bown-den?) ih-BOWN-den
-bond (bahnd or bohnd?) the latter, JUST like whatsis British actor in
the 007 movie:"Bond......James Bond." (i.e., bohnd)
-I hope this helps a bit. It's difficult, sometimes, to get the idea
across in print. In any case, have you chorus think VEDDY, VEDDY PRISSY,
UPPAH CLAHSS DICTION. Flipped R's and all. It's incredibly difficult to
get American choirs to get comfortable with this, because they feel it's
SO affected. In the long run, though, those beautiful pure vowels (no
diphthongs), the elimination of the dreaded R's (which just lower the
soft palate and wreck sound anyway) and nice crisp consonants do wonders
for choral sound, even in non-Brit music. Again, the other part of this
is to NOT make a big deal of the unstressed syllables. Ultimately, don't
worry TOO much about diction authenticity. As you already know, even in
England,
there's some disagreement. I guess I'm most tempted to go with what I've
heard and sung most: Cambridge collegiate choirs (King's and St. John's,
mostly) under Willcocks and Guest, respectively; two giants of English
choral sound, and both real nazis when it came to diction!....and they
both pretty much agreed on what I've given above.

-PS. The issue about end-of-line words rhyming with one another in NOT a
big issue in English poetry from this period. The fact that they LOOKED
alike qualified them as rhyming words. Also, the variation of both
pronunciation (dialect) and the vagaries of a completely
non-standardized system of spelling in that period help to confuse the
issue. A kind if 'common practice' had settled in in the English choral
world up until about the 1980s when things started to get confusing
again in the light of "new linguistic scholarship." My (very
reactionary) preference is to stick with the older 'common practice.'
It's pretty much what you'll hear on whatever English recordings you can
lay your hands on performed anywhere from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Grab some recordings of collegiate (Oxford, Cambridge) and cathedral
choir doing this stuff. Even then, you'll hear some variation, but
you'll also hear some wonderful choral sound!

Well, there you have it. Sorry this is so lengthy, but it has been
helpful to me.

James L. Klein, Minister of Music
American Lutheran Church
1085 Scott Drive 86301
Prescott, AZ

==========================================================================
Like so many of you, I am preparing the Britten Ceremony of Carols. Does
anyone know what "King of all Kings to her Son she ches" means? In the
score it says that ches means chose, but elsewhere I have seen that ches
means cherish or cherishes. Neither case seems to make sense, if he
non-poetical sense of the phrase is - She ches King of all Kings to her
Son. Why *to* her Son?
==========================================================================
As for pronunciation: last Christmas I sang this work with the
Philharmonia Chorus in London under Robert Dean. "Ensigns" as clearly
pronounced as if the second syllable were the word "signs" (the ah-ee
diphthong) - and Aprille as the mode in April, except that the accent
was on the second syllable. Another country heard from!


Thank you to the many who responded so rapidly. Sorry this has taken so long to post. Computer problems. My original query:
Do you know of any on-line resource for the pronunciation of "Ceremony of Carols" ? I have already tried choral-net and musica. Did I miss something there?
As many of you probably know, the Boosey & Hawkes score includes a
glossary/pronunciation guide--but does neither of those things thoroughly.
Thanks very much. Mimi S. Daitz msdaitz(a)rcn.com

__My understanding has always been that Britten originally intended
that most of the English words, even in the Middle English texts, be
pronounced mostly the way they would be in modern English, with the
few exceptions indicated in the glossary in front of the score. Later
on it became kind of the thing to do to attempt to go more in
accordance with more recent notions of Middle English pronunciation.
On the other hand, in the much later Sacred and Profane, he was
clearly trying to get closer to the Old English pronunciation, so
it's possible that he changed his mind about the earlier piece as
well. I wish I know more about pronunciation sources--sorry.
Hayes Biggs
hayesbiggs

__I love Britten's comments about this at the end of this short article.
http://www.californiaboyschoir.org/britten002.html

You may also find this helpful.
http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~rl513/ceremony.pdf
Jim Heffinger
tunesmith(a)adelphia.net

__Three comments as you evaluate responses to this:

1. The texts come from as early as the 12th century to as late as the
16th, and English pronunciation changed tremendously during that
time. See http://choralnet.org/resources/1430

2. Some texts come from a transition period in pronunciation so there
isn't necessarily a "right" way to pronounce them, just several choices.

3. Britten may not have known about these details of historical
pronunciation, some of which were discovered later; remember, he
wrote this on an ocean liner with limited library resources. So it
might make just as much sense to use Boosey's guide and otherwise
just pronounce the text as modern English.
Allen Simon allen(a)choralnet.org

__There are several but remember that Britten himself did not favor any particular pronunciation other than to say that the audience should understand the words!

The choir directors were therefore privy to the wishes of the composer regarding the proper pronunciation of the old English verses of "Ceremony".
When asked by Mr. Willcocks, Britten replied, "Sing it as you like; there is no authentic pronunciation for the verses, and it would be better for today's audiences to understand the texts."

The "rules" are here: http://www.pronunciationguide.org/English.html

And there's a lengthy ChoralNet discussion here:
http://choralnet.org/resources/viewResource.phtml?id%15&lang=en&category=1
Kathryn C. Evans

__I can tell you from personal experience that the best way to find a
proper pronunciation for this work is to contact a university
professor who is a specialist in early and middle English studies.
We did that here at the Univ. of Iowa. She told me that the guide in
the Boosey & Hawkes score was entirely wrong. I am not aware of the
correct pronunciation given anywhere on the internet, but, of course,
I may be wrong. I hope you find what you're looking for.
Richard Bloesch
richard-bloesch(a)uiowa.edu

__There are recordings of British choirs conducted by Britten singing this.
As long as it's a choir that Britten prepared, I trust their pronunciation.
It's not authentic medieval pronunciation -- it's what British people
thought in the mid-20th century.
Nina Gilbert ninagilbert(a)yahoo.com

__Not that this answers your question... but for what it's worth, when I did this piece a few years ago, I listened to about 6 different recordings and found GREAT variety in the pronunciation of many words. (Shaw's was particularly unusual, with some movements being very much in "Old English,"
with i = "eye" and so on... but other movements using a more conventional one). I also came upon a quote from Britten where, when asked what pronunciation he had in mind for a certain word, he said something to the effect of, "It really doesn't matter, I suppose whatever would be the easiest for the audience to understand."
Ethan Nash

Using two computer systems I may have omitted one or more of your
answers. Sorry.
After I sent my original post to choralist I remembered what Yves Tinayre said to me ca. 40 years ago about the pronunciation of old French in poems set by Debussy, Bréville, et al: those composers didn't know what the original pronunciation was. They pronounced the words as in modern French.
Mimi