HISTORICAL NOTES for SOLOS FOR TREBLE INSTRUMENT
ESPECIALLY SOPRANO RECORDER
COLLECTION 2: CHRISTMAS CAROLS
These historical notes are reproduced, with additional Internet links, from Solos for Soprano Recorder or Flute, Collection 2: Christmas Carols, by permission of Mel Bay Publications. The solos themselves, described at Mel Bay are not reproduced in IMSLP. (However, most solos for Collections 1-12 are immediately available from IMSLP - just use the links at the end of this page.) If you visit Mel Bay or Amazon, be sure to click Table of Contents.
Do you play recorder, flute, violin or clarinet (or other treble instrument)? You’ll want to take a look at the music itself, and if you decide to you perform some of the solos at church, school, or concert, you’ll find these historical notes to be very useful.
The 35 carols can be grouped by location of first known publication or earliest known manuscript:
The appearance of Finland in this list results from the printing of Piae Cantiones in 1582, for use at the cathedral school in the city of Turku. For details, visit Piae Cantiones.
When reading through the notes, keep in mind that many carols are known by a text-derived name but that a carol-tune may have its own name. For example, two carols commonly called “Away in a Manger” are distinguishable by tunes named CRADLE SONG and MUELLER.
A magnificent printed source, for both music and history, is The New Oxford Book of Carols.
ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH, tune name GLORIA, traditional French Christmas carol. Earliest known publication in Abbé Lambillotte’s Choix de cantiques sur des airs nouveaux, 1842. However, research indicates that both the tune and the text date from the 1700s. Visit The Hymns and Carols of Christmas and The Cyber Hymnal.
AWAY IN A MANGER, tune name CRADLE SONG, first appeared in Around the World with Christmas, Cincinnati, 1895. For a biographical sketch of the composer, William James Kirkpatrick (1838-1921), visit The Cyber Hymnal and The Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
AWAY IN A MANGER, tune name MUELLER, attributed to James Ramsey Murray (1841-1905), who included this carol in Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses, for Use in the Kindergarten, Cincinnati, 1887. Murray called it “Luther’s Cradle Hymn (Composed by Martin Luther for his children, and still sung by German mothers to their little ones),” but research by Richard S. Hill, in his article “Not so far away in a manger: forty-one settings of an American Carol,” (Notes of the Music Library Association, 2nd series, vol. III, no. 1, Dec. 1945) concludes that Murray himself probably composed both tune and text. Murray also supplied harmonizations for three Dakota Native Airs (Laquiparle, La Framboise, Renville, all in Collection 9) published in the Dakota-language hymnal, Dakota Odowan, 1879, possibly the longest-lived edition of any American hymnal, still in use and reprinted as recently as 2003. For a photograph of Murray, visit the Library of Congress.
BOAR’S HEAD CAROL, an ancient English tune possibly not printed until 1860, in William Wallace Fyfe’s Christmas, its Customs and Carols. Such carols were sung at boar’s head feasts at Christmas. The modern text begins thus:
The boar’s head in hand bear I,
Bedecked with bays and rosemary.
An earlier text, “A carol bringing in the bores heed” is found in Christmasse Carolles Newly Emprynted at London in the flete steet... by Wynkyn de Worder, 1521. Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
DECK THE HALLS, tune name NOS GALAN, a traditional Welsh dance-carol, published as Nos Galan (New Year’s Eve) by harpist Edward Jones, London, 1784. Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
EARTH WITH JOY THIS DAY DOTH RING, tune name DIES EST LAETICIAE, a favorite among Christmas songs in Germany. The text was praised by Martin Luther as the work of the Holy Spirit. According to The Hymnal 1982 Companion (Episcopal, The Church Hymnal Corp., New York, 1994, vol. 3A, p. 188-9), the melody is found in a manuscript from the Hohenfurth Abbey in Bohemia, dated 1410.
As is the case with many ancient Latin texts, the rhyming and rhythm are remarkable, and they fit the melody precisely:
Dies est laetitiae
In ortu regali
Nam processit hodie
Est et ineffabilis
The modern name for Hohenfurth Abbey is the Monastery at Vyssi Brod, a site well worth a visit.
THE FIRST NOEL, tune name THE FIRST NOWELL, a traditional English carol, popularized by its inclusion in William B. Sandys’s collection, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, 1833. Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas. For a biographical sketch of Sandys (1792-1874), visit Wikipedia.
FOREST GREEN, a folk tune collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from the singing of Mr. Garman at the village of Forest Green near Ockley, Surrey, England, December, 1903. The next year, Vaughan Williams became Music Editor of The English Hymnal, 1906, which includes Forest Green. During the next half-century, Vaughan Williams became one of England’s foremost composers. In England, this tune is sung to the text, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Visit Forest Green Village near Ockley. Visit The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society.
GOD REST YOU MERRY, GENTLEMEN, already well known when published as an arrangement for Piano Forte by Samuel Wesley, London, before 1815. The tune and familiar text first appeared together in 1846, when it was called “the most common and generally popular of all carol tunes.” Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
GOOD KING WENCESLAS, a tune dating back to the 14th century and published in Piae Cantiones, 1582. The name Wenceslas is Germanic for Vaclav, known as Vaclav the Good, a duke who reigned in Bohemia from 922 to 929. Vaclav became the patron saint of Czechoslovakia. The carol is associated with St. Stephan’s Day, the day after Christmas. Visit Wikipedia (1), Wikipedia (2), and Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
GREENSLEEVES, mentioned in 1580 as “A new Northen Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves.” Appears in New Christmas Carols (London, 1642), with words for the New Year. The words “What Child Is This?” were first published with Greensleeves in 1871. Visit Wikipedia.
HARK! THE HERALD ANGLES SING, tune name MENDELSSOHN, from Felix Mendelssohn’s Festgesang, derived from the second movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s cantata, Vaterland, in deinen Gauen brach der gold'ne Tag einst an, for unison male chorus and brass instruments. The piece was performed in Leipzig, June 24, 1840 in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. The melody was adapted for use as a Christmas carol by William H. Cummings in 1855, using as a text Charles Wesley’s “Hymn for Christmas Day.” Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
HERE WE COME A-WASSAILING, a traditional carol from Yorkshire, England, included in Bramley and Stainer’s Christmas Carols, New and Old, 1871. Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
THE HOLLY AND THE IVY, as sung for the famous folk song collector Cecil Sharp by Mrs. Mary Clayton at Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, England, and published in Sharp’s English Folk-Carols, 1911. Many medieval holly-and-ivy songs are known. According to The New Oxford Book of Carols, “Holly and ivy were powerful male and female symbols in pagan times and they retained something of their ancient force in many English folk-songs and rituals, especially in some of those associated with the Christmas season when the old winter solstice custom of decorating houses with evergreens was kept up.” Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
IL EST NÉ, possibly of 18th-century French origin, first published in R. Grosjean’s Airs des noels lorrain, 1862. The title translates to “He is born.” Visit Earthly Delights for an account of the tune, together with dance steps for this tune and many others.
IN DULCI JUBILO, earliest known version in a manuscript at Universität Leipzig, dated circa 1400. This melody is the basis for well known compositions by Praetorius, Buxtehude, and Bach. Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER, tune name CRANHAM, composed by Gustav Holst for inclusion in The English Hymnal, 1906. The text, “In the bleak midwinter” is the first line of the poem, “A Christmas Carol,” by Christina Georgina Rossetti, published in Scribner’s Monthly in 1872. Visit The Cyber Hymnal.
IT CAME UPON THE MIDNIGHT CLEAR, tune name CAROL, composed by Richard Storrs Willis (1819-1900) and first published by Willis in Church Chorals and Choir Studies, New York, 1850. Willis thereafter expanded the tune to its present form, and on his return from Europe in 1876, found “that it had been incorporated into various church collections.” Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
JINGLE BELLS, music and words by James Pierpont (1822-1893), published by Oliver Ditson Co., Boston, 1847. The banker, J. P. Morgan, was the composer’s nephew. The word “Jingle” in the title is a verb: jingle the bells. For a biographical sketch of Pierpont and an account of the tune, visit Wikipedia(1) and Wikipedia(2).
JOY TO THE WORLD, tune name ANTIOCH, a carol published as early as 1833, often mistakenly attributed to George Frederic Handel. A full account of related research is given in The New Oxford Book of Carols, “partly because it has been conspicuously ignored by several subsequent [prior to 1986] US hymnals.” Another in-depth account of the evolution of Antioch is given in The Hymnal 1982 Companion (Episcopal, The Church Hymnal Corp., New York, 1994, vol. 3A, p. 193-7), based largely on the research of hymnologist John Wilson. Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
LO, HOW A ROSE E’ER BLOOMING, tune name ES IST EIN ROS, possibly originated near Trier, Germany, in the 15th or early 16th century, as a Christmas carol or a Twelfth Night carol. Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
O COME, ALL YE FAITHFUL, tune name ADESTE FIDELIS, one of the best-known Christmas carols, internationally speaking. By 1782, diverse forms of the tune had been published in France and England. Extensive research has led to the conclusion that both the words and music were composed by John Francis Wade in the 1740s. The popularity of the carol greatly increased with the publication of An Essay on the Church Plain Chant, London, 1782. Visit Wikipedia. For access to an extensive discussion about the origin of Adeste Fidelis, visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEMEN, tune name ST. LOUIS, was composed by Lewis H. Redner in 1868 and published by William R. Huntingdon in The Church Porch, 1874. In England, the text, “O little town of Bethlehem,” is usually sung to the tune Forest Green. Interestingly, the tune ST. LOUIS was published in England in 1896, whereas Forest Green did not enter any English hymnal for another ten years. Visit The Cyber Hymnal.
O TANNENBAUM, also known as O CHRISTMAS TREE, a German student melody dating from the 18th century or earlier The tune is sung to other texts, including “Maryland, My Maryland,” “Delaware, My Delaware,” and “The Red Flag.” The word Tannenbaum means fir tree. Visit Wikipedia.
ONCE IN ROYAL DAVID’S CITY, tune name IRBY, was composed by Henry Gauntlett and published in Christmas Carols or Lays and Legends of the Nativity, London, 1850. Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
PERSONENT HODIE, from Piae Cantiones, 1582, published in Carols for Easter-tide, London, 1854. Popularized in 1924 in Three Carols by Gustav Holst, renowned composer of The Planets and close friend of Ralph Vaughan Williams. The name Personent Hodie dates from the inclusion of the tune in The Oxford Book of Carols, London, 1928. Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
PUER NOBIS NASCITUR, from Piae Cantiones, 1582, but found in an earlier manuscript from Trier, Germany, from the 1400s. During 1500-1700, the tune spread widely in both Catholic and Protestant hymn collections. Arranged by Geoffrey Shaw in The Oxford Book of Carols, London, 1928. Often sung as a lively Christmas carol to these words:
Unto us a boy is born!
The King of all creation,
Came he to a world forlorn,
The Lord of every nation.
The Latin words,
Puer nobis nascitur,
In hoc mundo pascitur
from which the name of the tune is taken, have been sung to the tune for at least 400 years. Visit Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
SILENT NIGHT, tune name STILLE NACHT, composed by Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818. (The composer’s middle name is often misspelled as Xavier.) The tune typifies a tradition of folk-like songs composed for the Christmas midnight service by organists in Austria and Bavaria. The story that the organ had broken down at the church in Oberndorf, near Salzburg, so that a new song was needed in a hurry, using guitar for accompaniment, has not been substantiated. Details are given in The New Oxford Book of Carols, Grove Dictionary of Music, and Wikipedia.
STAR IN THE EAST, widely published in the United States before 1850 with various harmonizations. Possibly the earliest publication is found in the “Sixth Edition, Enlarged and Improved,” of Japheth Coombs Washburn’s The Temple Harmony, Hallowell, Maine, 1826. The tune appeared soon thereafter with various harmonizations in many hymn collections, such as Charles H. Spellman’s Columbian Harmony (Cincinnati, 1829) and Samuel Wakefield’s American Repository of Sacred Music (Harrisburg, 1830). For details, see The Hymnal 1982 Companion (Episcopal, The Church Hymnal Corp., New York, 1994, vol. 3A, p. 245-8).
THERE’S A SONG IN THE AIR, tune name CHRISTMAS SONG, was composed by Karl Pomeroy Harrington in 1904 and published the next year in The Methodist Hymnal. Harrington was professor of Latin and director of the glee club at the University of North Carolina, 1891-1899. Visit The Cyber Hymnal.
THIS IS THE TRUTH SENT FROM ABOVE, traditional English carol collected by Cecil Sharp in 1911 from Mr. W. Jenkins of King's Pyon, Herefordshire, England. Not to be confused with a more widely known version arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1919.
UNE JEUNE PUCELLE, a French tune associated with the Huron Indians of Ontario. The name of the tune is taken from the first line of the French text wed to the tune possibly before 1600. In some hymnals, the tune has the name Jesous Ahatonhia. Visit The Huron Carol.
VENITE ADOREMUS, a Christmas carol published in London in 1862 and in New York in 1863. The country of origin in not known. The text, mostly in English, begins with the Latin “Venite adoremus,” meaning, “Come let us adore.” For details on earliest known publications of this tune, see The Hymnal 1982 Companion (Episcopal, The Church Hymnal Corp., New York, 1994, vol. 3A, p. 226-30).
A VIRGIN MOST PURE, a wonderful example of a tune in Dorian mode, collected on December 19, 1911 by Cecil Sharp from seventy-six-year-old Samson Bates in Trench, near Telford, Shropshire, England. There are other versions of this carol. Possibly the earliest publication of the Bates version is in the original Oxford Book of Carols, 1928, as arranged on pages 14-15 by Ralph Vaughan Williams. That arrangement is missing from The New Oxford Book of Carols, 1992. Instead one finds a duet-arrangement with a four-part alternative refrain, on page 502-3. On page 506 there is a note tracing the tune back to Sharp’s collection.
WE THREE KINGS, tune name KINGS OF ORIENT, melody and words by John H. Hopkins, Jr., a clergyman, journalist, and author. The carol was written for Christmas, 1857, and published before 1865. Visit Wikipedia.
Clicking will take you to Historical Notes, and from there you can download solos as PDFs (except for Collection 2, for which all the solos are published commercially).
Historical Notes for Collection 2: Christmas Carols; click here for access to the carols.
From Collection 2
Angels We Have Heard on High, alto recorder
Away in a Manger (Kirkpatrick), alto recorder
Away in a Manger (Murray), alto recorder
Deck the Halls, soprano recorder
God Rest You Merry, tenor recorder
Good King Wenceslas, tenor recorder
Greensleeves, soprano recorder
Jingle Bells, tenor recorder
Joy to the World, soprano recorder
Personent Hodie, alto recorder
Puer Nobis Nascitur, tenor recorder
Silent Night, tenor recorder