Welcome to the new Thirteen Strings Blog!

By Music Director, Kevin Mallon

See into my mind, as I express some thoughts about the upcoming concerts, enhancing your enjoyment of the beautiful music presented by your own Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra!

Next concert: Eternal Light Divine (Tuesday, December 6, 2011)
Dominion Chalmers Church, 355 Cooper St. Ottawa – 8:00 p.m.


One of the most satisfying concerts of my first season with the orchestra was the Christmas concert last year at Dominion Chambers. Of course, the church is beautiful and it seems to lend itself to the season, but there is also nothing quite like hearing the whole audience conclude the concert singing Christmas carols. (I know– you spent the holidays telling everyone how you had performed with Maestro Mallon!)

As I prepare for the upcoming Thirteen Strings concert, I am equally excited. In tandem with this, I am preparing Bach’s Christmas Oratorio for Windsor and Messiah to do in Toronto and Halifax. As such, the Christmas sentiment gives me reason to pause and reflect on peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, positive beliefs, love, peace and joy.

Since the Middle Ages, the liturgy of the Christmas story has been expressed in shepherd, or pastoral plays. It was here the baroque composers found inspiration. The folk music-like 12/8 Pastorale movement, with a drone in the bass, become such a staple of Italian life that it was played in Rome every year on Christmas Eve by shepherds from the Campagna on the shawm (a type of primitive oboe) and on the zampogna (a bagpipe typical of the region). This tradition survives to this day.

Arcangelo Corelli provided a musical model of this in the last movement of his Concerto grosso in G minor (Fatto pour la notte di natale)— one of the works featured in our Christmas concert.

Listen to my old pal Roy Goodman play and direct this movement. (The pastorale is at 3’.27” on the video):

Christmas celebrations in Rome took on an even greater significance for the Accademia dell’Arcadia, a Roman society of artists and noblemen reacting to the excesses of the late baroque and looking to a simpler vision in that of Arcadia. Central to the Accademia’s activities were the Nativity stories of the shepherds and musical celebrations of the Christmas season. Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti were members of this institution and it may have been for one of its Christmas celebrations that Scarlatti wrote the beautiful  Cantata PastoraleO di Betlemme altera (“O humble city of Bethlehem”). With its evocations of gentle lullabies, shepherd’s pipes and bagpipe drones, it was perfectly suited to the Accademia’s tastes and traditions.

The work is organized in the traditional Italian cantata form of a Sinfonia, and three arias, each proceeded by a recitative.

Why not have a listen to the beautiful singing of Nancy Argena and follow along with the words below:




O di Betlemme altera
povertà venturosa!
Se chi fece ogni cosa,
se chi muove ogni sfera
in te discende
e l’autor della luce,
nei suoi primi vagiti,
a te risplende.
O humble city of Bethlehem,
how art thou now blessed!
For the maker of all things,
in his infinite mercy
descends to you,
and the author of light,
in his first stirrings,
shines upon you.


Dal bel seno d’una stellaspunta a noi l’eterno sole.
Da una pura verginella
nacque già l’eterna prole.
From the fair womb of a star
the eternal sun appears to us.
From a pure Virgin
has been born the eternal child.


Presa d’uomo la forma,
alle gelide tempre
d’inclemente stagione
soggiace il gran bambino.
E d’acerbo destino
per sottrare al rigore
l’umanità cadente,
del suo corpo innocente
fa scudo a noi
l’appassionato amore.
Assuming the form of man,
in the icy temperings
of a cruel season,
the wondrous child lies.
And to save fallen humanity
from the harshness
of a bitter fate,
with the impassioned love
of his innocent body,
he makes a shield for us.


L’autor d’ogni mio bene
scioglie le mie catene
e stretto è in fasce.
E tutto ei fè da nulla
eppur lo veggio in culla,
e in terra nasce.
The source of all my blessings
loosens my chains
and lies wrapped in swaddlingclothes.
And he made everything from nothing,
yet I see him in a crib
and on earth he is born.


Fortunati pastori!
Giacchè v’è dato in sorte
che il Signor della vita,
immortale, increato,
respiri fra di voi
l’aure primiere
a dolce suan giulivo
di zampagne innocenti
d’un Dio fatto mortale
correte a celebrar Santo Natale!
Happy shepherds!
Since fate has granted to you
that the Lord of life
immortal, uncreated,
should take
his first breath among you
to the sweet and joyous sound
of the simple bagpipes,
make haste and celebrate the holy birth
of God made mortal!


Toccò la prima
sorte a voi, pastori,
perchè si fa Gesù
di Dio l’Agnello.
Lasciate i vostri armenti
e la capanna,
abbandonate si
le pecorelle.

Offrite alla sua cuna
i vostri cuori,
mirate quanto è vago
e quanto è bello.

V’è una speranza
in lui che non v’inganna,
e che vi può dar
loco in fra le stelle.

Fate chose you first,
for Jesus is become
the Lamb of God.
Leave your flocks
and shepherdhuts,
abandon even
your lambs.

At his cradle offer
your hearts,
see how lovely he is,
and how beautiful.

In him is a hope
that does not deceive,
and that can give you
a place among the stars.


I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hear our soprano soloist for the night, Ottawa girl, Shannon Mercer sing this on December 6th!

The two works described, set the scene for our concert—we have another string work: the Festive Suite by Telemann, which like his many other suites, is written in the French style. This was a response to the insatiable demand in 18th century Northern Germany for French culture.

Shannon will also join the strings to perform a perennial favorite, the aria Rejoice Greatly from Messiah!

Perhaps it is Messiah, which gives us the key to the other striking element in this concert. We all know the moment in Handle’s oratorio when we are told:

And suddenly there was with the angel a

multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying:

Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill towards men.

It is on the word Glory that we hear the first entry of the two trumpets! So by way of emulating this effect, we have engaged two trumpet players of our own: Stephen Van Gulik and Michael Fedyshyn.  Our trumpet lads will perform the festive concerto for two trumpets and orchestra by Francesco Manfredini. Here’s a sneak preview—but I gotta tell you—our lads will do a better job!

The trumpets will join forces with Shannon and the orchestra to perform two beautiful arias by Handel: “Let the Bright Seraphim” from Samson and the work from which we get the name of the concert, the evocative “Eternal Source of Light Divine” from the Birthday Ode of Queen Anne.


Oh yes, and lest I forget, we have the carols sung by the audience. I can’t wait to hear Dominion Chalmers resound with happy voices!





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