Category Archives: Carols

Thoughts on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

The text of the popular Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a lyrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons, an ancient set of seven antiphons for the Magnificat (Song of Mary) sung by Christians at the Vespers services held on the last seven days before Christmas (December 17-23). Each of the O Antiphons expounds upon a name that the prophet Isaiah had given to the Messiah: 1. December 17: O Sapientia (O… 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 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 »

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 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”

The thoughts below were prepared for the “Devotions on the Hymn of the Day” project of the Center for Church Music at Concordia University, Chicago. For additional devotions, click here. For a downloadable PDF version of this devotion, click here. Although many of our most popular Christmas carols are only a few hundred years old, the Christmas carol “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” takes us back a few thousand years, almost… Read More »

Thoughts on “Silent Night”

Did you know that the beloved Christmas carol “Silent Night” originally had six stanzas and not three? We know this from an original manuscript submitted by the composer Franz Gruber (1787-1863) when an official investigation was held in 1854 on the origins of the carol. Other autographs have been discovered over the years, the most recent being by the author of the text, Father Joseph Mohr (1792-1848). When comparing the English translation… 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 “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 »