Okay, this has nothing to do with David…. except that this is a captivating holiday song and one that many of us would be overjoyed to hear David sing. Perhaps we could view this song as a “palette cleanser” – a bit of musical variety in between our journeys into the David vortex. And please forgive me for getting all music teacherly on you here, but this song begs for analysis. Listen to this song and enjoy. Then imagine David’s smooth and silky voice singing it. Pure delight!
Gabriel’s Message, by Sting.[audio:https://www.thedavidchronicles.com/wp-content/uploads/gabrielsmessage1.mp3]
The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, His eyes as flame.
“All hail,” said he. “thou lowly maiden Mary.”
Most highly favoured lady. Gloria! Glor-
“For known a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel, By seers foretold.”
Most highly favoured lady, Gloria! Glor-
Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head.
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.”
Most highly favoured lady, Gloria! Glor-
Gabriel’s Message is from Sting’s holiday album, “If On A Winter’s Night.” This album has songs that celebrate the winter season – not so much the chirpy mood of sliding down the hill on a sled, but more the cold, bleak winter of bare tree branches etched against the snow with a distant gray sky. This perhaps is a holiday album to celebrate the solstice, that turning of the planets from the darkest day of the year into the beginning of the light. Many of these songs have an earthy richness that evokes the stark beauty of a crisp, bitter-cold day where you see your breath, and all you hear are your footsteps crunching in the snow.
Gabriel’s Message is a stand-out on the album. This song tells the story of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Even though this event is part of the sacred Christian story, this song is far from the style of other traditional Christmas carols like Joy to the World or O Come All Ye Faithful. The words of the song tell a traditional Christmas story, but the minor melody and the simple, spare arrangement evoke a sense of humility and awe in the face of the grand and mysterious patterns of nature.
It is interesting to analyze what it is about this song that makes it so sophisticated and mesmerizing. Certainly the instrumentation is key here. A flugelhorn, with its warm, dark, bluesy timbre, opens the song with a languorous melody over a rhythmic guitar accompaniment and subtle claves. The voice enters in a minor key with the lovely surprise of uneven phrase lengths. The piece is basically in a 4/4 meter, the most common type of meter, but switches into a meter of three occasionally to great effect. The beginning words: “The angel Gabriel from hea…” are in four, and then the words “…ven came” are in three. This combination of four plus three creates a phrase length of seven beats, instead of the usual eight. This unexpected metric complexity surprises and delights. On “Gloria” two female voices are added in close harmonies that subtly evoke early music harmony with open fourth and fifth intervals. The second “Glor-” doesn’t resolve, that is, it doesn’t come to a musical resting place, as Sting’s voice continues with the second verse. This lack of resolution adds to a sense of uncertainty and mystery.
In the break, one and then two flugelhorns dance around each other in intertwining melodies that delicately rise in pitch to a harmonic resolution. Succeeding verses add interest by adding more vocal harmonies and a touch of flugelhorn. The last drawn out “Glor-” at last resolves to a musical resting place, and creates an ending to a thoroughly satisfying aesthetic experience.
David – are you listening? This song tells a sacred Christmas story and acknowledges the dark and mysterious nature of that story. The arrangement is sophisticated and subtle. Sting’s rough-hewn voice does this song great justice, but with your smooth, velvet voice the song would be a masterpiece.