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An epiphany about some music...

posted Jan 2, 2011, 10:17 AM by Steven Vaughan
Did you realize that Deacon John Henry Hopkins, Jr. wrote both the lyrics and the music to We Three Kings right here in Chelsea for the Episcopalian General Theological Seminary’s 1857 holiday pageant?  Two years later “across the pond,” 29-year-old William Chatterton Dix, an English insurance manager, found himself confined to bed with a near fatal illness.  So he begins writing hymn lyrics, and on the Epiphany pens As With Gladness Men of Old to the same tune as the Thanksgiving hymn For the Beauty of the Earth.  Six years later in 1865 he writes What Child Is This to the traditional tune of GREENSLEEVES

French Latinist Charles Coffin wrote the vesper hymn What Star Is This in 1736 for Beauvais College at the University of Paris, set to the 15th century tune puer nobis.  Midnight Stars Make Bright the Sky is a Chinese hymn from the 1930’s.  And De Tierra Lejana Venimos is a Puerto Rican carol that translates to “From a distant home the Savior we come seeking…”

But hymns aren’t the only music associated with Epiphany.  Gian Carlo Menotti was inspired by Bosch’s The Adoration of the Magi (which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art) to create his 1951 one-act opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, in which a disabled boy with a penchant for storytelling encounters them.  Commissioned by NBC, it’s the first opera specifically composed for television in the US, and celebrates its 50th Golden Anniversary now by being one of America’s most popularly produced.

There are Italian folk songs about La Befana, the old woman unable to give the Magi directions.  In parts of Europe and Russia, the Star boy’s singing procession walks from house to house, “singing at the doors, with a star on a pole” and the young men are treated to money, sweets or gifts for caritas – their charity projects.  In German and Austria, these Sternsinger even write the year and initials of the Three Kings’ names above the front door to confer blessings on the occupants.
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