Dec 17, 2010
Last year I posted comments on The Greatest Gift, a CD of unashamedly devotional Christmas music from Alexis Cole. In a season where "Christ" is left out of "Christmas" all too often, Ms. Cole keeps her eyes on the prize at all times.
This year I present one of the tracks from that CD, her version of the 16th century French carol, "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella", done as medley wiht her own composition "The Call". The carol was first published in 1553 in France, and was subsequently translated into English in the 18th century. The song was originally not a song to be sung at Christmas, but rather dance music for the French nobility.
The words were evidently composed by an unknown author in the 1500s. The carol, with both words and music, first appeared in a French book of Christmas Carols published in 1553. In French, it is called, “Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle.” It appears to have come from the region of Province. To this day in Province, children dressed as shepherds carry torches and candles as they go to church for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve while singing this and other carols.
Who was Jeanette and who was Isabella? Our best clue is that shortly after this carol became popular, the great French painter, Georges de La Tour, apparently inspired by this song, reportedly painted a nativity scene in which two milkmaids had come to the stable to milk the cows on that first Christmas morning. They were so filled with excitement that they took their torches and ran to the village to spread the news that the newborn Christ was sleeping softly in the hay. The whole village, bearing torches, thus came to see the Christchild.