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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Medieval Origins of The Carol: How Christmas Songs Have Survived Through the Centuries | Ancient Origins

"Singing and Christmas seem to go naturally together, like plum pudding and custard. Even those who would not normally attend a choir concert or church service throughout the year might happily participate in a civic Carols by Candlelight or a Midnight Mass." posted by Ancient Origins.

Photo: Medieval celebrations (blairthornburgh)
In these settings, the carols come thick and fast, and everyone joins in, almost involuntarily. But what is the origin of the choral music which adorns these settings?

The tradition of carol singing dates from the Middle Ages, and was not restricted to the Christmas season. There were carols for Easter, for New Year, and sometimes even for political events such as the Battle of Agincourt.

The poetic form was simple: a succession of stanzas with different texts, interspersed with a recurring refrain. In more recent times, the term “carol” has come to mean any song associated with Christmas.
Medieval carols from England and elsewhere have survived, though much transformed. Good Christian Men, Rejoice dates from the 14th century, though only its text has been reliably attributed, to the Dominican friar Heinrich Seuse (Suso). The melody is known in Latin as In dulci jubilo (in sweet joy), and has been frequently used as the basis of extended instrumental or vocal compositions.

This song found its way into English through the 1853 publication Carols for Christmastide by J.M. Neale. This and other volumes of carols contributed materially to the Victorian era’s wholesale adoption of seasonal trimmings, along with royally sanctioned Christmas trees and greeting cards.

During the centuries between the first iteration of a carol tradition and the Dickensian revival of the Christmas spirit in the mid-1800s, there was comparatively little in the way of English composition of new works in this genre. A few pieces that are more appropriately termed Christmas hymns were, however, produced during the 18th century.
One of these is Adeste fideles or O Come, All Ye Faithful. Its authorship is disputed, but the most likely source is the 1751 volume Cantus diversi, published by John Francis Wade. Like most other Christmas carols, its text has clear Christian references.

Interestingly, it is also thought to contain covert Jacobite symbolism, with the phrases “all ye faithful” and “to Bethlehem” referring respectively to the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie and England itself. Wade fled to France after the failure of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, but his hymn soon came into regular use, particularly amongst English Catholics.

An indication of its wider adoption is the inclusion of O Come, All Ye Faithful within the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, a familiar modern day tradition inaugurated at Cornwall’s Truro Cathedral in 1880. In the age of mass media, this most renowned Christmas ceremony, as practised in King’s College Cambridge has become universally familiar, firstly on radio and then television. Choirs around the world also perform their own Lessons and Carols programs every December, and most often conclude with this piece.

Silent Night — Choir of St John's College, Cambridge 

Note: "The Chapel Choir St John's College, Cambridge, under the direction of the legendary Sir George Guest, perform D. Cashmere's peaceful arrangement of the popular Christmas carol 'Silent Night'." 

The most famous Christmas carol of all time is undoubtedly Silent Night, Holy Night. The original words for Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht were written by Joseph Mohr in 1816 and the melody two years later by Franz Xaver Gruber, when both were living in villages near Salzburg.
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This article, originally titled A short history of three very famous Christmas carols’ by Peter Roennfeldt was published on The Conversation and has been republished under a Creative Commons license. 

Source: Ancient Origins and 1finch2finch Channel (YouTube)  


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