The Crown of Roses – words Pleshcheev (1825-93) tr. Drearmer, music Tchaikovsky (1840-93)

Did you know that carols, like puppies, are not just for Christmas? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a carol is a song characteristically of religious joy, associated with a given season, with uniform stanzas or verses that may alternate with a refrain. The musical emphasis is on melody and rhythm rather than harmony. Interestingly, the medieval words carol (French) and carole (Anglo-Norman) could even mean a ‘popular dance song’. No wonder traditional ‘choirs’ used to dance! Carols in all their forms disappeared swiftly and almost completely after the reformation, but were reintroduced on the late 18th century, and focused mainly on Christmas.

All contemporary choirs – including Maggie’s Music Makers – have complete sets of the book “100 Carols for Choirs”, and it generally makes an appearance around late October, going back into storage sometime in early January. But why? This excellent resource of carols contains many that relate to the Easter season. As Deborah says in her letter to the parish this month, by the time you receive your copy of the March magazine, we will already be in Lent. So, this is a good time to think about songs – carols – that tell the Easter part of Jesus’ story, and Tchaikovsky’s “The Crown of Roses” is a very moving example. The text is:

    • When Jesus Christ was yet a child
    • He had a garden small and wild,
    • Where he cherished roses fair,
    • And wove them into garlands there.
    • Now once, as summertime drew nigh,
    • There came a troop of children by,
    • And seeing roses on the tree,
    • With shouts they plucked them merrily.
    • ‘Do you bind roses in your hair?’,
    • They cried, in scorn, to Jesus there.
    • The boy said humbly, ‘take, I pray,
    • All but the naked thorns away’.
    • Then of the thorns they made a crown,
    • And with rough fingers pressed it down,
    • Till on his forehead fair and young
    • Red drops of blood like roses sprung.

I find this an incredibly moving carol to sing. The boy Jesus is quietly cultivating peaceful beauty, which is stripped bare by humanity, leaving only thorns. There are powerful messages here for us all.

Did you know that the word ‘rosary’ actually means ‘crown of roses’? Thus, whenever anyone says the rosary devoutly, a crown of 153 red roses and 16 white roses is placed on the heads of Jesus and Mary.

You can listen to a beautiful recording of Tchaikovsky’s “Crown of Roses” here, sung by the Choir of All Saints’ Church, Nottingham

Carol P

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