Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Carols

What Child Is This
This melody is the beautiful Greensleeves. It dates from Elizabethan time, possibly even earlier. The song was first registered in 1850 to Richard Jones with lyrics that were neither religious nor respectable. Shakespeare mentions it by name in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" in which is it played while traitors are hanged. In 1865 William Chatterton Dix (English) wrote "The Manger Throne", three verses of which became "What Child Is This."

We Three Kings of Orient Are
Frequently thought to be much older than it is, the words and music for this American carol were written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins as part of a Christmas pageant for the General Theological Seminary in New York City.

Cantique de Noel (O Holy Night)
This carol was written by Adolphe Charles Adam (1803-1856), the French composer best known for his ballet "Giselle." At the time, it was frowned upon by church authorities who denounced it for lack of musical taste and "total absence of the spirit of religion." The French text is by Cappeau de Roquemaure; the English by American clergyman John Sullivan Dwight (1812-1893).

See how many carols can you find in this circle - Click to enlarge
God Rest You Merry Gentlemen
When Scrooge, in Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", heard this cheerful carol, he grabbed a ruler and the singer fled in terror. It is traditional English going back to the 16th or 17th century. The usual harmonization, like that of "The First Noel" is from Sir John Stainer (1840-1941).

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
The words for this American carol are based on a poem written by Unitarian minister Dr. Edmund Sears in 1849. The following year, inspired by the poem, Richard Storrs Willis, a composer as well as editor and critic for the New York Tribune, wrote a melody called "Carol" to which the words were adapted.
The First Noel

Sometimes given the English spelling, Nowell, it first appeared in print in England in a collection of William Sandys (1833). The words and music are traditional. Most think it is from 16th or 17th century France; others claim it never had any French origins and is very English.

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