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Pine branch covered in snow

Carol of the Birds

Plough Music Series

Colin Fields

  • Ted Johnstone

    This reached my soul deeply today. !!

  • Stanley

    Absolutely Beautiful, Touch My Soul.

  • Patricia

    Absolutely beautiful!

Pablo Casals was awarded the United Nations Peace Medal in October 1971 for his lifelong commitment to peace and the rights of all people. As he said, “I am a very simple man. I am a man first, an artist second. My first obligation is to the welfare of my fellow man. I will endeavour to meet this obligation through music, since it transcends language, politics, and national boundaries.” For the occasion, the ninety-four-year-old Casals performed “El cant dels ocells” (“The Song of the Birds”), a Christmas carol from his native Catalonia. After his self-exile in 1938 to protest the fascist regime of Francisco Franco, Casals would end concerts with this piece in tribute to the people of his country. He is said to have believed this folk tune to be the most beautiful music ever created by man, an idea which he returned to in his remarks to the United Nations:

I haven’t played in public for nearly forty years. I have to play today.

This piece is called “The Song of the Birds.” The birds in the sky, in the space, sing: “Peace! Peace! Peace!”

The music is a music that Bach and Beethoven and all the greats would have loved and admired. It is so beautiful and it is also the soul of my country, Catalonia.

The performance at the United Nations, including Casals’ moving words, is recorded here:

Because it’s a Christmas carol, here is a vocal version superbly performed by the Spanish soprano Victoria de los Angeles.

The words given below are as most commonly sung in English; here is a more exact translation of the Catalan.

A star rose in the sky
and glory from on high
did fill the night with splendor.
Came birds with joyful voice
to carol and rejoice with
songs so sweet and tender.

The eagle then did rise,
went flying through the skies,
to tell the wondrous story,
sang: Jesus, born is he,
who comes to set us free,
he brings us joy and glory.

The sparrow with delight
said: This is Christmas night,
our happiness revealing.
The sky with praises rang,
as finch and robin sang
their songs of glad rejoicing.

The lark upon the wing
said: Now it seems like spring,
no more is winter pressing;
for now a flower is born
whose fragrance on this morn
to earth brings heaven’s blessing.

Sang magpie, thrush, and jay,
It seems the month of May
in answer to our yearning.
The trees again are green
and blossoms now are seen,
it is the spring returning!

The cuckoo sang: Come, come,
And celebrate the dawn
this glorious aurora.
The raven from his throat
then trilled a festive note
to the unexcelled Señora.

The partridge then confessed,
I want to build my nest
beneath that very gable
where I may see the Child
and watch whene’er he smiles
with Mary in that stable.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

portrait of Dezső Czigány Portrait of Pablo Casals, by Dezső Czigány.
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