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Solstice Jubilo - Exploring Winter

Once the initial bite of winter has taken hold it seems to me that winter tide could flow in several ways when dealing with the inspirational muse of the winter elements. Shakespeare, for example, directly drew upon the bareness and bleakness of winter when discussing an emotional state

in the summer season in his 97th Sonnet.

How like a winter hath my absence been From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year! What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen! What old December’s bareness everywhere! And yet this time removed was summer’s time

Poet, Emily Dickinson, in her poem ‘It sifts from leaden sieves’ describes the way in which snow moves and becomes spectral and ghostly as it settles upon the landscape, obscuring the scene which came before.


It sifts from leaden sieves, It powders all the wood, It fills with alabaster wool The wrinkles of the road.

It reaches to the fence, It wraps it, rail by rail, Till it is lost in fleeces; It flings a crystal veil

Musically, I have certainly always been drawn toward the traditional carol ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ (in sweet rejoicing) and many of its reworkings and interpretations over the centuries. Johann Sebastian Bach for example used the opening melody in several of his works. The Choral Preludes BMV 703 and BMV 724 both feature this opening phrase.

Thought to have been written by Heinrich Seuse around 1328, the original lyrics to the song where written in a mixture of German and Latin. The use of multiple languages in this way is known as macaronic. Bach’s interpretation of In Dulci Jubilo as a chorale work features a double canon sung at an octave where one measure separates each voice. At measure 25, there is a change where the voices in canon are separated by 2 measures instead of one. Interestingly, Bach stayed within strict canon guidelines in his writing, however eventually the alto and tenor voices move to free polyphony after their canon giving a greater depth and feeling to the layers of voices.

Another reworking of this piece was made in 1975 by English instrumentalist composer Mike Oldfield. This work contains a layering of multiple instruments such as recorder, kortholt, acoustic and electric guitars and snare drum. Although certainly a contemporary approach to the work, there is a sensitivity to the piece and it’s driving rhythm and solo guitar a certainly an inspiration to me as a musician. This version evokes the powerful childhood feelings of nostalgia and ‘joy’ associated with the Christmas season.

Drawing upon the imagery of winter such as described by Emily Dickinson and the nostalgia and elation which accompanies ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ I wanted to compose a piece for solo guitar which would reflect contemplation and joy.

The piece is in the Key of G and uses a variety of different chordal and picking techniques. The opening for example uses the chords C G F#m7b5 and D7 or IV-I-vii-V7. This introduction is played in free time and uses a typical pop/jazz type of chord progression to set an opening tone which would sound simple yet thoughtful. Once the first section begins, I wanted to use a choral sounding progression which featured a repetition of the theme an octave higher. In this case, the chord pattern uses 1st and 3rd notes only and proceeds Em-F#m-G-Am-G-F#m-G then Am-Bm-C-Bm followed by Em where the bass notes create a counterpoint run in returning to the Em chord whilst reflecting the opening motif. Following this the chords follow a fast descending run, jumping back one chord every four changes then returning to the tonic. This quick progression ending the movement reflects a joyous and jumping feeling which is followed by a repetition of the part. In the middle section of this piece I started again using the 1st and 3rd notes on the bass strings to play the progression but in the second half of the section I attempted to emulate a jazz run which would reflect the previous bass section but with a ‘jazz’ flavour to the chords.

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