I’ve somehow largely been out of the mood for Christmas (not in a bad mood, just having trouble feeling like it’s Christmas), watching no Christmas movies, listening to very little Christmas music, and reading even less Christmas related material. It’s been odd. However, here three Christmasy things relating to music, literature, and cinema that are part of my December that I wanted to share.
Julie London and Christmas
Julie London did not have a very big voice. She said she had “only a thimbleful of a voice, and I have to use it close to the microphone. But it is a kind of over-smoked voice, and it automatically sounds intimate.” She manages to sound both sexy and classy.
My December has been rather warm, because I’m temporarily in California. Usually, my Christmas is damp and chilly (rather than snowy), but this year it is sunny and warm. In two songs, Julie London sings about a warm Christmas, but it’s not because of the sun.
“I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” – written by Irving Berlin in the 1937 film On the Avenue.
And “Warm December”
“I’d Like You For Christmas” was written by Julie London’s husband, Bobby Troup, who acted with Julie London in the TV series Emergency!
Relating to John Milton
I’ve been reading about John Milton, author of Paradise Lost. One random fact I learned in a biography about him – The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography by Barbara K. Lewalski – is that the phrase “Hobson’s Choice” derived from Thomas Hobson, who owned a livery stable and rented horse and carriages to the students at Cambridge (presumably including John Milton). He reportedly would force the students to rent whatever horse and carriage was closest to the door, thus the saying “Hobson’s choice,” which essentially means “no choice.” I mention it because I had never heard the phrase before and caused the title of David Lean’s film Hobson’s Choice to make much more sense. I had previously and rather ignorantly assumed it meant that he really had a choice to make.
But the one Christmas work I have consistently been listening to is Ralph Vaughan William’s “Hodie,” which is a cantata with music set to texts from the Bible and various English poems from authors like George Herbert, Thomas Hardy, and John Milton. The most moving song is “It Was the Winter Wild,” which is adapted from John Milton’s poem “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” Listen how, at the end, the music hushes after the soprano sings about how “Birds of Calm” brood over the music so that it forgets “to rave.”
It was the Winter wilde, While the Heav'n-born-childe, All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies; Nature in aw to him Had doff't her gawdy trim, With her great Master so to sympathize: And waving wide her mirtle wand, She strikes a universall Peace through Sea and Land. No War, or Battails sound Was heard the World around: The idle spear and shield were high up hung; The hooked Chariot stood Unstain'd with hostile blood, The Trumpet spake not to the armed throng, And Kings sate still with awfull eye, As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by. But peacefull was the night Wherin the Prince of light His raign of peace upon the earth began: The Windes, with wonder whist, Smoothly the waters kist, [ 65 ] Whispering new joyes to the milde Ocean, Who now hath quite forgot to rave, While Birds of Calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.
A New Christmas Movie
I have yet to see a single holiday film this December, but thanks to Ruth at Silver Screenings, I have a new Christmas film to watch tonight that I have never seen, or even heard of before. It is called The Holly and the Ivy, starring Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson and Margaret Leighton. It looks to be delightful. For more information and a link to the film, please check out her post, here.
Have a Merry Christmas! I’ll be back before New Year with a look at the past year and some thoughts about the coming new year.