Christmas Tunes History

Angels We Have Heard on High

"Angels We Have Heard on High" is a Christmas carol to the hymn tune "Gloria" from a traditional French song of unknown origin called Les Anges dans nos campagnes, with English lyrics that were translated by James Chadwick. Chadwick's lyrics are derived and inspired and in parts a loose translation, from the French original. The song's subject is the birth of Jesus Christ as narrated in the Gospel of Luke, specifically the scene in which shepherds outside Bethlehem encounter a multitude of angels singing and praising the newborn child. (WIKI)

Auld Lang Syne

"Auld Lang Syne" (Scots pronunciation: [ˈɔːl(d) lɑŋˈsəin]: note "s" rather than "z") is a Scots-language poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). It is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world, its traditional use being to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. (WIKI)

Carol of the Bells

"Carol of the Bells" is a popular Christmas carol, with music by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914 and lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky. The song is based on the Ukrainianfolk chant "Shchedryk". Wilhousky's lyrics are under copyright protection (owned by Carl Fischer Music); the music is in the public domain.

The music is based on a four-note ostinato and is in 3/4 time signature. The ringer of the B-flat bell, though, feels it in 6/8 time. The carol is metrically bistable, and a listener can focus on either meter or switch between them. It has been performed in many genres: classicalmetaljazzcountry musicrock, and pop. (WIKI) 

Gaudete

“Gaudete” (English: /ˈɡaʊdeɪteɪ/ GOW-day-tayEcclesiastical Latin[ɡau̯ˈdete]; "rejoice [ye]" in Latin) is a sacred Christmas carol, thought to have been composed in the 16th century. It was published in Piae Cantiones, a collection of Finnish/Swedish sacred songs published in 1581. No music is given for the verses, but the standard tune comes from older liturgical books.

The Latin text is a typical medieval song of praise, which follows the standard pattern for the time – a uniform series of four-line stanzas, each preceded by a two-line refrain (in the early English carol this was known as the burden). Carols could be on any subject, but typically they were about the Virgin Mary, the Saints or Yuletide themes. (WIKI) 

Go Tell It on the Mountain

“Go Tell It on the Mountain" is an African-American spiritual song, compiled by John Wesley Work Jr., dating back to at least 1865, that has been sung and recorded by many gospel and secular performers. It is considered a Christmas carol as its original lyrics celebrate the Nativity of Jesus. (WIKI)  

Greensleeves / What Child is This?

“Greensleeves/What Child Is This?" is a Christmas carol whose lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix, in 1865. At the time of composing the carol, Dix worked as an insurance company manager and had been struck by a severe illness. While recovering, he underwent a spiritual renewal that led him to write several hymns, including lyrics to this carol that was subsequently set to the tune of "Greensleeves", a traditional folk song. (WIKI)   

The Holly and the Ivy

"The Holly and the Ivy" is a traditional British folk Christmas carol. The song is catalogued as Roud Folk Song Index No. 514.   The words of the carol occur in three broadsides published in Birmingham in the early nineteenth century.  . . . The usual melody for the carol was first published in Cecil Sharp's 1911 collection English Folk-Carols.  . . . . The melody is notable in being confined to the notes of the hexachord. (WIKI)   

Huron Carol / Twas in the Moon of Wintertime

"Huron Carol" (or "Twas in the Moon of Wintertime") is a Canadian Christmas hymn (Canada's oldest Christmas song), written probably in 1642 by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons in Canada. Brébeuf wrote the lyrics in the native language of the Huron/Wendat people; the song's original Huron title is "Jesous Ahatonhia" ("Jesus, he is born"). The song's melody is based on a traditional French folk song, "Une Jeune Pucelle" ("A Young Maid"). The well-known English lyrics were written in 1926 by Jesse Edgar Middleton and the copyright to these lyrics was held by The Frederick Harris Music Co., Limited, but entered the public domain in 2011. (WIKI) 

I Wonder as I Wander

"I Wonder as I Wander" is a Christian folk hymn, typically performed as a Christmas carol,written by American folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles. The hymn has its origins in a song fragment collected by Niles on July 16, 1933. 

While in the town of Murphy in Appalachian North Carolina, Niles attended a fundraising meeting held by evangelicals who had been ordered out of town by the police. In his unpublished autobiography, he wrote of hearing the song:

A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievable dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins. ... But, best of all, she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song. 

The girl, named Annie Morgan, repeated the fragment seven times in exchange for a quarter per performance, and Niles left with "three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material—and a magnificent idea". (In various accounts of this story, Niles hears between one and three lines of the song.) Based on this fragment, Niles composed the version of "I Wonder as I Wander" that is known today, extending the melody to four lines and the lyrics to three stanzas. His composition was completed on October 4, 1933. Niles first performed the song on December 19, 1933, at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. It was originally published in Songs of the Hill Folk in 1934. 

Niles's "folk composition" process caused confusion among singers and listeners, many of whom believed this song to be anonymous in origin. Niles undertook lawsuits to establish its authorship and demanded royalties of other performers of the song. (WIKI)   

In the Bleak Midwinter

"In the Bleak Midwinter" is a Christmas carol based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti. The poem was published, under the title "A Christmas Carol", in the January 1872 issue of Scribner's Monthly, and was first collected in book form in Goblin Market, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (Macmillan, 1875). The poem first appeared set to music in The English Hymnal in 1906 with a setting by Gustav Holst. (WIKI)     

The King Shall Come

“The King Shall Come” (Advent) Tune: "Consolation," which has been traced to John Logan’s Sixteen Tune Settings, 1812.  In 1813, it was included in John Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music: Part Second (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) and renamed "Morning Song" (and who is sometimes given credit for its composition). The tune has been included in numerous nineteenth century collections and is one of a very few early USA melodies to be included in recent British hymnals.  (https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com) 

Mary, Did You Know

"Mary, Did You Know?" is a Christmas song addressing Mary, mother of Jesus, with lyrics written by Mark Lowry in 1984, and music written by Buddy Greene in 1991. It was originally recorded by Christian recording artist Michael English on his self-titled debut solo album in 1991. At the time, English and Lowry were members of the Gaither Vocal Band, and Greene was touring with them. The song reached Number 6 on CCM Magazine's Adult Contemporary Chart. Lowry would record the song several times himself, most notably with the Gaither Vocal Band on their 1998 Christmas album, Still the Greatest Story Ever Told. (WIKI)  

Noel Nouvelet

"Noël Nouvelet" is a traditional French Christmas and New Year’s carol. The song was long ago translated into English as "Sing We Now of Christmas," though the lyrics are somewhat different. (Thoughtco.com) 

Noël Nouvelet (Sing We a New Noel) is a traditional French carol that dates back to the early sixteenth century. The carol is also known by the English translations Christmas Comes Anew, Sing We a Glad Noel and Sing We Now of Christmas. (https://trnmusic.com/noel-nouvelet

O come, O come, Emmanuel

"O come, O come, Emmanuel" (Latin: "Veni, veni, Emmanuel") is a Christian hymn for Advent and Christmas. The text was originally written in Latin. It is a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons, a series of plainchant antiphons attached to the Magnificat at Vespers over the final days before Christmas. The hymn has its origins over 1,200 years ago in monastic life in the 8th or 9th century. Seven days before Christmas Eve monasteries would sing the “O antiphons” in anticipation of Christmas Eve when the eighth antiphon, “O Virgo virginum” (“O Virgin of virgins”) would be sung before and after Mary’s canticle, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46b-55). The Latin metrical form of the hymn was composed as early as the 12th century. 

The 1861 translation by John Mason Neale from Hymns Ancient and Modern is the most prominent by far in the English-speaking world, but other English translations also exist. Translations into other modern languages (particularly German) are also in widespread use. While the text may be used with many metrical hymn tunes, it was first combined with its most famous tune, often itself called Veni Emmanuel, in the English-language Hymnal Noted in 1851. Later, the same tune was used with versions of "O come, O come, Emmanuel" in other languages, including Latin. (WIKI)

O Come Divine Messiah

Author: M. l”abbe Pellegrin;   Translator: Sister Mary of St. Philip (1877); Tune: Venez, Divin Messie       Music: 16th C French Carol (Hymnary.org)

Over the Hill and Over the Dale

“Over the Hill and Over the Dale” (Epiphany)

Latin text: In Vernali Tempore (in Piae Cantiones, 1582).  Words: Anonymous. Translator:  John Mason Neale (c. 1854) (https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com)

Saw You (Ye) Never in the Twilight

Written by Cecil Frances Alexander (1853) to a 15th C. French melody (Chartres)

Silent Night

"Silent Night" (German: "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht") is a popular Christmas carol, composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. It was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011. The song has been recorded by many singers across many music genres. (WIKI)

The Snow Lay on the Ground

“The Snow Lay on the Ground”

Tune: Venite Adoramus (The Hymnary.org)

Sussex Carol

The "Sussex Carol" is a Christmas carol popular in Britain, sometimes referred to by its first line "On Christmas night all Christians sing". Its words were first published by Luke Wadding, a 17th-century Irish bishop, in a work called Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs (1684). It is unclear whether Wadding wrote the song or was recording an earlier composition. Both the text and the tune to which it is now sung were discovered and written down by Cecil Sharp in Buckland, Gloucestershire, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, who heard it being sung by a Harriet Verrall of Monk's Gate, near HorshamSussex (hence "Sussex Carol.")  The tune to which it is generally sung today is the one Vaughan Williams took down from Mrs. Verrall and published in 1919.  (WIKI)   

To Drive the Cold Winter Away

“To Drive the Cold Winter Away” (Winter) "All Hail to the Days", also known as "Drive the Cold Winter Away", "In Praise of Christmas", and "The Praise of Christmas", is an English Christmas carol of Elizabethan origins. The carol first appeared as a broadside in circa 1625, though its origins are unclear; Thomas Durfrey is sometimes erroneously identified as the lyricist. Though obscure, the carol has featured in numerous hymnals over the centuries. It is traditionally sung to the tune "When Phoebus did rest", under which it is printed in the Pepys and Roxburgh collections and Playford’s The English Dancing Master. (WIKI)

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