A Christmas Diptych
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night (Bethlehem) by William Billings First published in The Singing Master’s Assistant” (1778), this colorful and brief anthem excitedly recounts the story of the shepherds’ startled response to seeing the Angel of the Lord in glory, announcing the birth of the Savior. The opening homophonic texture and moderate tempo give the wanted gravity and grandeur to the first statement of the text. In striking contrast is the “quick-stepped ” fuguing tune of the second section–an exuberant counterpart to the opening.The work has been transposed down a semitone from Billings’ original E major with the tune remaining in its traditional role as the tenor. “Then Jointly All the Harpers Round (Rapture) by Supply Belcher (1752-1836) This short and lively fuguing tune is Belcher at his best. Taken from “The Harmony of Maine” (1794), he offers an indeed ‘rapturous’ narrative of the response of the heavenly host praising God at the birth of Christ, rhythmically resounding in his oft-used “scotch snap”. In accord with contemporary practices, thework may be sung in ‘six-part’ texture, placing a few women on the tenor part and vice versa. A fine anthem to remember Christmas of two centuries past when our nation was in its infancy.