Piece of the Week 43 – Christmas Recipe

Those brought up in the traditions of the Church of England may know that the Collect for last Sunday begins ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people’. But for many of us, ‘Stir-up Sunday’ (the last Sunday before Advent) is literally the time when the kitchen gets busy with the stirring up of mincemeat, Christmas cakes and puddings, and other delights of the season! And, certainly, some lovely aromas have been drifting from our kitchen over the last few days, and mince-pie ‘tasting sessions’ have already taken place.

All of which brings me to this week’s ‘piece of the week’ – Christmas Recipe. For unaccompanied choir SATB, this song is based on a traditional Christmas recipe from an early nineteenth-century cookery book. It’s one of those recipes where you start small and end large, and is obviously aimed at the capacious bellies of those who had cooks and housekeepers to look after them! So to begin:

Take a large olive, stone it, and stuff it with a paste made of anchovies, capers, and oil. Put the stuffed olive inside a boned lark. Put the stuffed lark inside a fat quail. Put the quail…. (and so it continues, with a partridge, pheasant, a goose, all put inside the turkey). And then:

Put in a saucepan with olives and cloves, and carrots and celery and small squares of ham, and parsley and bay-leaves and black peppercorns…. And so it goes on – you get the idea – and finally our Christmas Feast is served!

The general pomposity of this kind of recipe, and the time that it was written, suggested a traditional unaccompanied style reflecting the music of two hundred years ago, so that’s what I did, and I hope that choirs and audiences enjoy its humour. Although often sung separately, it’s actually a movement from my cantata ‘A Feast for Christmas’ which is a predominantly lively and secular approach to Christmas cheer, for SATB choir, piano or brass quintet, and optional narrator and childrens’ choir.  This was commissioned in 2007 by the South Chiltern Choral Society and their then conductor, the late Gwyn Arch (father of Dave Arch, the MD for Strictly Come Dancing!).

If you would like to make this Christmas Recipe – or simply enjoy the music – here is a link to the scrolling score, and here is a link to purchase it. You can also see details of the complete ‘Feast for Christmas’ here.

And don’t forget to get started on making those pies and puddings!