Monday, December 26, 2011

The Roches: Good King Wenceslas

I figured that I would feature the best known carol for the Feast of Stephen which falls on December 26 or December 27 depending on one’s religious calendar. It is typically lumped into the realm of Christmas carols as its proximity to the primary holiday of the season.

After listening to a half dozen versions of “Good King Wenceslas,” I chose the vocal treatment by The Roches from their Christmas LP “We Three Kings.” While the trio of Irish-American sisters of Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy Roche never achieved commercial success, they did have critical acclaim. I just liked their simple arrangement of this 19th century English carol.

The song was written about Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia, who braced the cold of St. Stephen’s day to give alms to a peasant. Wenceslas was later martyred by his younger brother Boreslav the Cruel who ascended to the leadership of the Duchy of Bohemia. Although only a duke in his lifetime, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously applied the regal title to Wenceslas – hence he became “Good King Wenceslas.”

John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore authored the lyrics and applied it to a 13th century Finnish folk tune, “Tempus adest floridum.” Neale and Helmore’s version was first published in 1852.

I typically don’t comment on the video treatments found on YouTube, I try to find versions that do not have stupid videos. Unfortunately, that was not the case with The Roches’ treatment of the song uploaded by a fan. You can close your eyes and listen to their voices and disregard the silly bouncing duck.

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