Friday, October 09, 2015

Advertise with us

A few lines about Christmas carols

By Jo Lee Ferguson
Dec. 21, 2012 at 10 p.m.

This is the last time Answer Line will write to y'all before Christmas, so I'm taking a break today to celebrate one of my favorite parts of this holiday (you know, other than Christ's birth) - Christmas carols. They're the music to which many of our Christmas memories are set.

For me, those are memories of Christmas Eves spent in Jefferson with my cousins. We usually went caroling in my grandparents' neighborhood, at least until we all got too old (aka, too cool) to continue that tradition.

In honor of those days, here's a little trivia on some favorite Christmas carols:

<strong>QUESTION:</strong> What Christmas carol found itself in a sort of 19th century plagiarism battle?

<strong>ANSWER:</strong> That would be "Silent night! Holy night" (as it's translated from its original German title "Stille nacht! heilige night!"). There's an apparent fable centered around the origin of this carol that says it was written quickly, when the parish church organ in Oberndorf (in then Austria) died on Christmas Eve. As the legend goes, assistant priest Joseph Mohr and assistant organist Franz Xaver Gruber wrote the song quickly so it could be accompanied at the midnight mass with a guitar. (And hey, that's from a real-life book - "The New Oxford Book of Carols" - so it has to be true.)

While Mohr and Gruber are the song's authors, that account of why the song was created has been mostly discounted. Gruber was reported to have generously shared his work with other people, which is how a family singing group came to have a copy of it. They claimed it was a "newly discovered" folk carol from a place called Tyrol. That eventually led to the legal wranglings to declare Mohr and Gruber as its authors.

<strong>SIDENOTE:</strong> The original verses are quite different from what we sing today. The first original verse, for instance, is "Silent night! holy night!; Sleeps the earth, calm and quiet; Lovely Child, now take they rest; On thy mother's gentle breast; Sleep in heavenly peace! Sleep in heavenly peace," .... etc.

<p style="text-align: center;">*

<strong>Q:</strong> When was "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" written?

<strong>A:</strong> It first appeared in 1739 in "Hymns and Sacred Poems," by Methodist church leader Charles Wesley. The song wasn't married to the tune we sing it to today until the mid-1800s, though. That's when the lyrics were coupled with music by Felix Mendelssohn, which he had written for a festival marking the 400th anniversary of the printing press.

<p style="text-align: center;">*

<strong>Q:</strong> What Christmas carol author could I also have purchased insurance from?

<strong>A:</strong> That would be William Chatterton Dix, but only if you needed boat insurance. He was general manager of a marine insurance company in England and authored many hymns. He wrote "What Child is This" in 1865 to the tune of "Greensleeves."

<p style="text-align: center;">*

<strong>Q:</strong> What was the inspiration for "O little town of Bethlehem?"

<strong>A:</strong> Phillips Brooks, who was preacher at the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, visited the Holy Land in 1865 and rode by horseback from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. It's said (at least by the "Book of Carols") that the song came to him as he stood in a field near Bethlehem. He wrote the words down in 1868 and asked his church organist, Lewis Redner, to put it to music. It was performed for the fist time on Dec. 27, 1868.

<p style="text-align: center;">*

<strong>Q:</strong> What is Answer Line's favorite Christmas carol?

<strong>A:</strong> "O Holy Night." The song originally was a French poem that was set to music by well-known 19th-century opera and ballet composer Adolphe Charles Adam. Today, we sing an 1855 translation by Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight (who the Los Angeles Times says became America's first major music critic). I get goosebumps every time I hear this song .... unless I'm the one singing it. I can't hit the high notes.

<em>- Email questions to, leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write to P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606.</em>



Powered By AdvocateDigitalMedia