Christmas carol lovers have a lot of people to thank for the carols we sing now. Most weren't written by Americans or within the last couple of centuries. The history of carols began a few thousand years ago in Europe as pagan songs sung while dancing. Every season was celebrated this way, with song and dance. Then early Christians, I’m talking VERY early, like 160-700 AD early, started writing songs for people with the same religious beliefs. But because most of the songs were written in Latin, a language with Roman roots dating back to around 753 BCE, lots of folks didn’t understand the words, consequently, singing them passed by the wayside.
Until St. Francis of Assisi spoke up in 1223.
languages the general population can understand and join in singing. Well, his idea was a hit and soon composers in France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany and other European countries were writing carols.
Some of my favorites are:
~ The Conventry Carol, or Lullay, Thou Little Tiny Child, English melody, 1591, text by Robert Croo, 1534.
~ God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: composer unknown, English carol dating back to the 15th c.
~ O Come O Come Emmanuel: Gregorian chant 8th c; French text 12th c; translated by John M. Neale, English composer, 19th c. Mr. Neale also wrote Good King Wenceslas and Good Christian Men, Rejoice. The latter comes from a 14th c German melody.
Gregorian chant: if Mr. Neale hadn't worked his translating magic, O Come O Come Emmanuel would probably not have been sung in this century. There can't be many folks around today who could teach us how to read and sing this music
Thanks to these groups and the fact that around this time many orchestras and choirs began to emerge and people wanted Christmas songs to sing, carols once again became popular.
The Westminster Carol, better known in the US as Angels We Have Heard on High: This song has a history reaching all the way back to 130 AD when people chanted the phrase "Gloria in excelsis Deo" in Christmas eve worship services. Fast forward to medieval times when a Latin chorale version likely inspired the traditional French Christmas carol Les Anges dans nos Campagnes, which in the early 1900s, Edward Shippen Barnes from New Jersey, USA used to arrange the version we now know.
What Child Is This?: music from an Old English ballade, Greensleeves, text by William C Dix, 19th c.
Joy To The World: music by German composer, George Frideric Handel,(1685-1759, composer of Messiah, 1714), text by Isaac Watts, 1719.
Fetching, hmm? George must have had hoards of female groupies chasing after him!
Tis the season to make a joyful noise!!