R. Christopher Teichler, Composer

A Review of "The First Noel"

Composer Walter Saul of Fresno Pacific University has written a review of my setting of "The First Noel," and I share it, with his permission, here. (From www.waltersaul.com) 


A Setting of The First Noel, by R. Christopher Teichler, Brings Warm Belated Christmas Greetings


I become somewhat of a curmudgeon at Christmastime. It saddens me that much of our musical celebration of this joyous time centers around half a dozen carols that are overexposed while dozens of equally beautiful carols never get sung or played. For me “The First Noel” belongs firmly to the former group, so I postponed listening to R. Christopher Teichler’s stunning setting of this carol until January 7th, which was Christmas Day in Ukraine (I happened to be in Kiev for a week just before our Christmas doing some recording with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine).


Teichler’s recent setting for choir and full orchestra, commissioned by Wheaton College Conservatory of Music for their 2006 Christmas Festival, has achieved several things. It has introduced another and better tune for the terrific lyrics of this carol, it has made the original tune magical in its belated appearance, and it has achieved Teichler’s goal of raising the bar for quality music for the church.


Though the setting starts with fragments of the familiar melody, Teichler wisely waits until the fifth of six stanzas to state the entire tune of “The First Noel,” and introduces us to a new tune that is reminiscent of both the Wexford Carol and Howard Shore’s theme music from The Lord of the Rings.This new tune, with the flexibility of triplets and duples, better underscores the lyrics and, as Teichler states, musically parallels the text in a rich way.


When the original tune appears in the fifth stanza, it is in a gripping yet intimate a cappella setting with rich harmonies that seem inspired by Morten Lauridsen. It is a rare moment for such well-known music to achieve such a new life, but Teichler pulls this off in a masterful and compelling way. Only at the end do we hear the original melody and harmony in a well-prepared climax. Perhaps this was the destiny of this remarkable arrangement to end up, rather than start with the original carol, and, while I found this the weakest moment of this eloquent, ten-minute work, it was a strong “weak moment”! Any Christmas program would be enhanced by this setting.


Yet I would challenge Wheaton College Conservatory of Music and all other entities capable of commissioning new music to do just that, rather than arrangements or fantasies of existing tunes. After all, Psalm 98 encourages us to “sing unto the Lord a new song.” And I would invite Teichler’s next commissioning group to let him go and write completely new music for its members; he has earned the right to be heard on his own terms.


(Listen to "The First Noel:" http://youtu.be/QWTBl_8mJAQ )

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