s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Christmas carols: Riu, riu, chiu

Friday, January 09, 2009

Christmas carols: Riu, riu, chiu

Riu, riu chiu is a Spanish carol from the 16th century. The first verse of the carol is about a shepherd who guards a precious ewe from a wolf. ("Riu, riu, chiu" was the traditional call of Spanish shepherds to their sheep.) The verse is a actually metaphor for God protecting Mary from Satan. (Oddly, Mary is the metaphorical lamb, and not Christ.) The rest of the verses go on to celebrate the birth of Christ, how it was foretold, and what his glorious mission would be. This isn't a carol that you're likely to hear in an LDS Christmas program any time soon, given that it celebrates the Immaculate Conception (i.e., that's how God was able to protect Mary from sin), but it's still pretty cool.

After listening to many, many renditions of this carol on YouTube, I have learned a few things. One, good pitch is crucial in this song. A soloist who can't hit his high notes just ruins it. Two, it sounds terrible with piano accompaniment. I like it best a capella, but it also sounds nice with recorders, other period woodwinds, or strings. (I assume this has something to do with the piano's even-tone tempering clashing the harmony of the song, but a more music-y reader may know better.) Here are three favorites, plus a couple more.

Coro de la Catedral de San Isidro, 1997

Here's a very traditional arrangement, sung in a cathedral by a Spanish choir, accompanied by a small orchestra. (One bonus of hearing it sung by a Spanish choir is that at least their pronunciation is good!)

Black House Ceilidh, 2008(?)

This is a lovely instrumental version performed on period instruments. (And in period dress, for what it's worth. Also, pay no attention to the fellow who says that "Riu, riu, chiu" is the call of the nightingale. My source is The New Oxford Book of Carols, and I'm sticking with it.)

CBHS Jazz Choir, 2006

Although this high school recording has lower production values, this a capella performance with its tight harmonies is by far the best of all the YouTube videos I listened to.

Bonus track: The Monkees, 1967

OK, I have to confess that I actually first heard this carol on a Monkees LP that my aunt had when I was growing up. (And, for many years vaguely thought that it was a Monkees song, but then I also thought that there were eight days in a week, thanks to the Beatles. What can I say — I was an impressionable child! Anyway, enjoy!)

Honorable mention: Terry McDade and the McDades for their Celtic-style rendition of the carol. (I was going to include this one as #2, but then I found a true instrumental version so it got bumped down.)


At January 09, 2009 5:52 PM, Blogger Mrs. Hass-Bark said...

This is one of my new favorites. I first heard it at my sister's madrigal Christmas concert in New Mexico and liked it a lot. Then I heard it everywhere that Christmas and liked it even more.

Thanks for reminding me of it!

At January 09, 2009 11:50 PM, Blogger Becca said...

I wasn't familiar with this carol. Thanks for doing it on this one! It a cool sounding song.

At January 10, 2009 5:37 PM, Blogger Matt said...

The King's Singers did this at last year's Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert:

At January 11, 2009 1:42 PM, Blogger Giovanni Schwartz said...

I totally was going to recommend that you do this one when you first said you would do this! BTW, I really like Chanticleer's arrangement. And the one that our choir did, but it's probably not on youtube, I don't think.

At January 11, 2009 4:18 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Matt - Thanks for the link!

Gio - I definitely need to hear the Chanticleer version some time.

At January 11, 2009 9:14 PM, Blogger e said...

I first heard this carol a year ago at a DC Men's Camerata concert. I liked it so much that I came home and googled it, only to find the Monkees version . . .

At January 12, 2009 11:39 AM, Blogger Peter said...

I have always liked the Monkees version. It's fun. But let's just say that the pronunciation is less than stellar.

At January 12, 2009 5:34 PM, Blogger ambrosia ananas said...

Wow. That jazz choir rendition is amazing.

At January 12, 2009 8:06 PM, Blogger Katya said...

ambrosia - Isn't it great?

Peter - Don't worry, next week features a Spanish choir singing an English carol, so the shoe will be on the other foot.


Post a Comment

<< Home