Thoughts on “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright”

For the Twelfth and last Day of Christmas and for the Feast of Epiphany let us examine the “Queen of Chorales,” “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” (“Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern”). Composed by the Reverend Philip Nicolai (1556-1608), it is often sung as an Epiphany hymn although it can be sung on other occasions as well. For this post, I simply wish to share two settings of this hymn by… Read More »

The Paradoxes of “This Little Babe”

Many of you may be familiar with the great choral work “This Little Babe” from Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. The driving rhythm, the compelling tune with its unique canonic treatment, and the dramatic shift at the very end from a minor key to its parallel major all make for a memorable and powerful setting of the text (click here for a video). The text explores the paradoxes that came with the birth of Christ, with God becoming… Read More »

Thoughts on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

The beloved Christmas carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” began its long journey into our Christmas celebrations as a ten stanza poem entitled “Hymn for Christmas Day” by Reverend Charles Wesley (1707-88), younger brother of Rev. John Wesley (1703-91), the founder of Methodism. It was first published in Part 2 of their collection of poems entitled Hymns and Sacred Poems (London: William Strahan), 1739 (click here for the original text). As a… Read More »

Thoughts on “While By My Sheep”

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, let us look at “While By My Sheep I Watched” (“Als ich bei meinen Schafen wacht’”), another beautiful early German carol of unknown origins. It is characterized by macaronic Refrain that features an echo and concludes with the Latin phrase “Benedicamus Domino!” (“Let us bless the Lord!”). It was published as early as 1615 and then again in 1623 in the Kölner Gesangsbuch (Cologne Hymnbook). Below you… Read More »

Thoughts on “Maria Walks Amid the Thorn”

For the Ninth Day of Christmas, let us look at the wonderful but relatively unknown German Christmas carol “Maria Walks Amid the Thorn” (“Maria durch ein’n Dornwald ging”). It is one that I sang as part of several Christmas programs when I was a child, but have rarely heard since.  The carol was published as an Advent song in Maria von Trapp’s book Around the Year with the Trapp Family (New York: Pantheon Books Inc.,… Read More »

I0: Psalm 90 – “Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge” (Vaughan Williams)

As we leave one year and enter a new one, it is a good time to pray and meditate upon Psalm 90, that wonderful Psalm of Moses that considers the timeless nature of our God. Below you will find a link to “Lord, Thou Has Been Our Refuge,” a setting of Psalm 90 by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). In this setting Vaughan Williams combines an original setting of Psalm 90… Read More »

Thoughts on “O Rejoice, Ye Christians Loudly”

The tune for the Christmas and New Year hymn “O Rejoice, Ye Christians Loudly” comes from an infectiously joyous motet by Andreas Hammerschmidt (see video below). In his motet he places exclamations of “Alleluia!” before and after the stanzas of the poem by Christian Keimann (1607-62). Bach concluded Cantata 40 for The Second Sunday of Christmas with a stirring setting of Stanza 4 of this chorale (see link at bottom of page). To see the… Read More »

Thoughts on “The Sussex Carol”

So, here is the story behind the delightful Christmas song called The Sussex Carol. Research now shows that it was first published in 1684 by Bishop Luke Waddinge in a collection entitled A Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs, Composed by a devout Man, For the Solace of his Friends and neighbors in their afflictions (Ghent, Belgium, 1684). This was his first year serving as the Bishop of Ferns, a small… Read More »

Thoughts on “O Holy Night”

Of all Christmas carols, “O Holy Night” has one of the most fascinating stories. It is a rather unlikely carol in that the poem was written by an avowed atheist (albeit one well-versed in Christian theology) and the tune composed by a practicing Jew who did not observe Christmas. It was first sung by a Parisian opera singer, but soon after church officials banned the song when it was discovered that the… Read More »

Thoughts on “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

While the text of the Latin Christmas carol “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” is almost 2,000 years old having been penned only a few hundred years after the birth of Christ , “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is not even 275 years old. The text was written by John Francis Wade (c. 1711-86) during a time when Latin was the language of academia. Wade was a Catholic layman who fled… Read More »