The Angel and the Unicorn

Posted on 8th October 2020 by simonbeattie

According to The New Oxford Book of Carols, this year marks the 125th anniversary of the famous carol known in English as ‘Gabriel’s Message’. It is actually a translation, by Sabine Baring-Gould, of a Basque carol, Birjina gaztettobat zegoen, which was collected by the French musician Charles Bordes and published in his Dix cantiques populaires basques in 1895.

Earlier this year, I decided to write a companion piece, The Angel and the Unicorn:

I have used the opening passage from the Basque carol as the accompaniment, in the lower voices, for something new, both in terms of words and music, in the upper parts. Last year I became increasingly interested in the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, and for my new piece decided to translate his poem on the Annunciation from his 1912 sequence Das Marien-Leben:

We all now ‘know’ what angels look like, thanks to medieval art, but Rilke has thought back beyond that. I also find it interesting that Rilke separates that final line from the rest of the poem. In my setting, I decided to extend the idea by including the beginning of that song (the Angelic Salutation, ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you’, which begins ‘Ave Maria’ in Latin) at the end of my piece, giving the words to a solo soprano voice and employing the traditional plainchant used for those words in Ave Maria settings by various late medieval and Renaissance composers:

Obviously, due to current restrictions on choirs singing, I have not been able to perform, let alone make a recording of The Angel and the Unicorn, but I have uploaded a MIDI file to my SoundCloud page to give you an idea of the piece:

Thank you for listening!

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2 responses to “The Angel and the Unicorn”

  1. I have commented before that I love the translation. Thank you. Now the music. Thanks again.

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