Muttley's Musical Advent Calendar

Season's greetings. 

Now my children have departed home, there's more chit chat by Whatsapp and less time spent with them (though perhaps they will get locked back into the family home quite soon).  So this year I have sent them a Whatsapp message to kick off Advent and will be sending a new Advent and Christmas musical link every day.  And I decided that you could have it too, but without the loving message from Dad. 

So here goes.  Day 1. We start gently. 

You're in Wells Cathedral. The lights are off and the candles have been snuffed. It's evensong and mid-winter dark.   Once the coughing and shuffling has stopped, silence descends and the Choir start the responses. I Look From Afar - YouTube 

That tenor ascending cadence is superb.  A chord progression to beat all others with a beautiful canon. Signals the start of it all for me. 

Do we think Mutters' grown up children call him:

- Dad

- Daddy

- Pater

- Papa

- Pa-pah

- Father

- Mutant X

- That batty old god botherer

btw, please forgive the crass technical point above that of course this is the Matins Response not Evensong. But apart from that, I hope the opening of the first window gives you some cheer.


I shall crank it up as we go on.

They may be home before you know it whe the 3 years etc is up.......


How lovely. Three of mine including the 2 postgrad students who live at home have advent calendars.

Meanwhile in Lydiasville we await the birth of a child this month so this might be appropriate when it puts in its appearance which I will certainly be singing  .....


Mind you one twin is into KPop. I suppose my interest in North Korea and his in the South's music might bring us together.... the National Anthem of North Korea is not too bad.

Aww, I like this idea. Please keep it up till Christmas. My son is into classical guitar and jazz piano so will develop one Musical Advent Calendar for him tonight.

Do you just send the link to your kids? I mean, how do you present it in your message to them?

Indeed Gwenners. 


I know this piece quite well and have sung it.  People always concentrate on the (very difficult) treble line (which is breathtaking, literally) but can I just say there's a bass note in the sustained chord in there at about 2.18 ("oh come") which is actually makes me shiver.

Music creating "awe" is a theme I will come back to later in the calendar.  The visitation of the Angel Gabriel and the Heavenly Hosts,  and Mary being "sore afraid" in response, is something that composers have grappled with and there are one or two who make you feel you are out there in the sandy desert under the huge dark sky and suddenly it is all going off. There are moments where musical constructs, like architecture, can channel the majesty and thunder of God.  You don't have to "believe" there is a god, just accept that certain things live above everyday humanity such as the inside of a cathedral, Gothic masonry and the beauty of some church music.  


I did Stephen Layton a disservice above. Written and arranged by Richard Marlow (RIP) and this recording by his successor Layton. 


Marlow will, I think, have his place in English church music history alongside Rutter etc in time. Not only for his fabulous arrangements and compositions, his understanding of the dynamics of the four voices, for moving traditional sounds into the 21st century (eg. female voices in front and centre) but also for his organ performances. 

I've not heard this recording before, stunning. Whilst the traditional treble sound has its place, for me, I much prefer the depth and texture of a female chorister - I'm biased though as it always struck me as unfair that I was excluded from some opportunities whilst growing up i.e. only being allowed to sing in the church/cathedral choir when the boys were on their holidays.

It really depends what is being sung.  Some arrangements benefit from the ice-like purity of the treble sound but the richer tone of the female voice is an asset in certain arrangements.   Some people will say that richness makes it unusable when you want to coldest, finest note. And at the start she does have a bit of vibrato going on and this is not an occasion for opera, but the soloist's last note in this recording sees off that point for once and for all. It is sublime. 

It's a very accomplished choir and has been for a long time. There was a recording by Marlow of Trinity Choir in its finest form published by, I think, Conifer Classics called Carols from Trinity. If you can get hold of a download you will love it.  

no probs.

This is going to be fun and at the end of the thread I will be grabbing all the recordings and making my all time fave Advent playlist. 

I have got some smashers lined up. Some old faves and some grand contemporary stuff (still church choral stuff, no crazy happy clappy banjos).

As we are still in emergent Advent the first week will be the darker solemn bits but the light will creep in gradually. 

Day 3 Window

It is still early in Advent so it is still prayers and contemplations. Not yet the visitation or the birth.

And we are still processing around the cathedral. The choir are quite quiet from where you are sitting but as they move up the aisle you see the brightness of their candles in the darkness, and the sound gets progressively louder. As they pass you, you can feel the percussive consonants in unison that only a great choir with practiced enunciation can deliver. Listen out for the ‘t’ and ‘ck’


I think this arrangement demonstrates the value of the thinner, clearer treble line - no soprano female voices - for music that doesnt want a rich, mature solo out front but a gentle ensemble. 

Beautiful. Had I been the conductor - and obviously that would never happen - I would have wanted to try that a smidgen faster.

When you do your list of all the pieces could you do it by spotify rather than youtube?

Yes I am going to do a spotify playlist at the end but some of the bits and bobs are particular recordings and videos (ok that recording by King's doesn't have a vid) so I wanted to deliver those in that form and also Youtube is pretty good at pushing similar so if people are enjoying the "window" they can go on to roam others. Spotify tends to be a bit hit and miss for me on the "if you liked that..." element. Also I think the chat under the youtube vids can be good and sometimes it includes info from the choirmaster or producer.

I think the tempo point is quite interesting. If you are singing that as a hymn, I agree. If you are listening to it as a choir processional anthem then you need to process slowly, not storm the cathedral. Often you end up using the pace of your choir's procession to drive the tempo of the performance in that context.  

It is good to start Advent gradually then get the flywheel up to warp speed with the full register of organ keys and the dazzling light of the Heavenly Host.  



  • Chambers, can you out Muttley?
  • Are you saying he's Brian Sewell?
  • Are you going to out Brian Sewell for something?

It's more technical observation really Chambo.  I think if you have done much choral music in a cathedral or minster choir then the points above are interesting.

On the majesty of church music I make no apologies.

Blooming brilliant Mutters, thank you. 

I am in the middle of learning all the Christmas music now. Delighted to be singing my favourite In Dulce Jubilo. 

You are welcome.

I have always intended to do this. Like some sort of glacial Victorian DJ. It's fun. 

It is going down v well with my daughter in particular who is a very good chorister, really engaged in Christmas music. She knocked out her vocal grades at school and has just done her diploma, and comments on each one as she listens to it on the way to uni lectures etc. Probably not as good as a daily chocolate but Mum's sorted that side of things. 

Of course the lad, who is actually reading music at uni, has yet to provide any feedback other than a thumb's up emoji.  


All good Muttley, just a gentle jibe. Keep up the good work.

I have no real interest in in the details of choral music, I can't really sing.

There is a setting on my effects rack that sounds pretty cathedral like though. Reverb, delay, double track etc. All Alesis and Marshall wizardry.

I can play guitar.


Speaking of Brian Sewell will you be including anything by his father? Not sure he wrote anything seasonally famous.

I have just chosen the next four

I am going to depart from the trad at some point - though not yet - and give you some interesting organ pieces and some more contemporary bits and bobs, one of which I heard at it's maiden outing in St Paul's in the Christmas Eve service in the early 90s. It left me feeling as though the Angel Gabriel and all the Heavenly Host had made an appearance. I need to find a recording that does it justice.

Thank you Muttley for the music and education. I’m passing it all on my not-so-little musical kid. This thread so refreshing! angel

Right you lot. You’ve made it to the first weekend in Advent but we are still at an early stage of the proceedings. The Angel Gabriel appears before the Virgin Mary. A special double window for today and tomorrow. The Annunciation. 

I’m going modern early.  John Tavener, the Winchester cathedral choir, and the only music I know that properly articulates the awe and majesty, her frailty and shock. There will be other Tavener later.


you need this loud


Guessing you all had Friday Christmas Parties so bumping this up so it doesnt get drowned by Covid spazzfights

Taverner rocks. I give today a thumbs up.

Obvs also available to do grime versions on my bontempi if anybody’s interested.

I feel a little mean for only giving you a burst of music yesterday - magnificent though it may have been - so here is one where Joseph gets a bit of attention. 
we are also getting more into carols and away from some of the dramatic contemporary music that some of you may have enjoyed but others may think is a bit out there. 

The Cherry Tree Carol

The rallentando in the last verse is superb musicianship by the choirmaster and organist.  Most recordings don’t do that. 

This is a very old verse - 15th C. An anglicised allegorical story worth some info for those not familiar with it. 

The Virgin Mary and Joseph are travelling to Bethlehem for the census. They are hungry and stop at a cherry orchard. Mary asks Joseph to pick some cherries for her because her pregnancy is making her hungry and he says, with anger, let the father of your child pick the cherries if you want some. Jesus speaks up from womb. The infant commands the cherry tree to lower a branch so that Mary can pick the cherries, which she does.  This causes Joseph to recognise that a higher power is in control and he repents his rudeness to her. 

What an interesting little detail this is in the Christmas story, as it fills in the gap that is not in the Scriptures - that you and I may often have wondered as we heard the readings - about how Joseph came to terms with the fact that his wife was pregnant when they had never consummated the marriage. It is the first ‘appearance’ of the son of God.  It is also an early tale of regretted matrimonial difficulties. 

Here is the verse



Joseph was an old man
and an old man was he,
When he wedded Mary,
in the land of Galilee.

Joseph and Mary walked
through an orchard good,
Where was cherries and berries,
so red as any blood.

O then bespoke Mary,
so meek and oh, so mild:
‘Pluck me one cherry, Joseph,
for I am with child.’

O then bespoke Joseph,
with words most unkind:
‘Let him pluck thee a cherry
that brought thee with child.’

O then bespoke the baby,
within his mother’s womb:
‘Bow down then the tallest tree,
for my mother to have some.’

Then bowed down the highest tree
unto his mother’s hand;
Then she cried, ‘See, Joseph,
I have cherries at command.’

O then bespoke Joseph:
‘I have done Mary wrong;
But cheer up, my dearest,
and be ye not cast down.’

Then Mary plucked a cherry,
as red as any blood,
Then Mary she went homewards
all with her heavy load.







Ok, Byrd noted! 

Then she cried, ‘See, Joseph,
I have cherries at command.’


‘I have God . Your move’ blistering 

‘I have done Mary wrong;
But cheer up, my dearest,
and be ye not cast down.’

you may have to do better than that fella. Pub privileges revoked pending arrival of the Magi, subject to gifts. 




I have always read ‘ heavy load’ as referring both to the Christ child and also the hopelessly incapable Joseph

Monti texted me the other day asking me to thank you for this thread.  No, I don't know why he doesn't just post that himself, the lazy fat bastard.  I think he loves you in the Greek manner.

Warlock wasnt his real name. And don’t let’s get ahead of ourselves with the whole business of how he won the 1929 Telegraph carol competition because he and a friend were discussing Christmas in the pub and realised that their lacK of money meant they were going to have no Christmas. One had the paper with him and noticed the composition competition. So they set themselves the challenge of writing an entry. Warlock (Philip Heseltine) managed to deliver Bethlehem Down which is still one of the finest choral arrangements of all time, and that ensured that they both had a lovely Christmas. 

And you are right Heffalump he does conduct these at glacial pace and I think that one is just too languid although it does showcase their breath control

Loved the Cherry Tree Carol. What an arrangement and what a performance. I'd put a small wager on some of those choristers being practising bazzas and solicitors now. Any on RoF I wonder?

Heff - the Cherry Tree Carol performance is exquisite (arrangement and performance) but hats off to the organ scholar too there. It is a very simple jaunty piece but it is very rhythmic and quick and very "visible". A good choir, well conducted, could easily be let down by a less than clean performance on the organ in that piece. But he smashes it and ,as I said, the rallentando is brilliant and he drives it. You can see him putting the breaks on in the melody between verses. I am so glad they film the organist too for these things as it is part of the ensemble, not just an organ line in the background.

So, in terms of music ahead, I intend to carry on a mix of the advent to nativity story, a few very early pieces and contemporary up against each other then get into the rich seam of carols proper in the second half. 

I have a few extraordinary organ performances as well which I will throw in for good measure, as bonus items rather than day windows. 


how early, Mutters?  Perotin's Beata Viscera perhaps?  You can't get much earlier than that apart from chant.

I promised some organ performance bonuses. Have decided that these should not be Advent "Windows" but little extras - the bag of chocolate money that fell off the tree and nobody noticed.  

Although this might be played as you leave the Cathedral on Christmas day, here it is early:  Louis Vierne's Symphony No. 1, Finale, played by Daniel Cook on the "Father Willis" organ of Salisbury Cathedral. 

He plays this showoffly fast - in fact too fast to allow the slow parts to build gracefully - but you cannot but love this bravura performance so here is your evening treat.

This was written by the organist of Notre Dame de Paris, and imagine that in full blast. 


Looking forward to the extraordinary organ performances. Is this going to be like puppetry of the penis?