Diane Taraz | A Victorian Christmas

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Holiday: Folk Folk: Traditional Folk Moods: Mood: Seasonal
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A Victorian Christmas

by Diane Taraz

Supremely beautiful carols from the Victorian era, when Christmas first became a widely celebrated holiday. Enjoy the original versions of today's beloved songs and the fascinating stories behind them.
Genre: Holiday: Folk
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. O Tannenbaum
3:43 $0.99
2. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
2:49 $0.99
3. It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
4:15 $0.99
4. Good King Wenceslas
3:14 $0.99
5. Stille Nacht
3:21 $0.99
6. Away in a Manger
3:53 $0.99
7. We Three Kings
3:32 $0.99
8. I Heard the Bells
3:03 $0.99
9. Matilda Toots
4:27 $0.99
10. The One-Horse Open Sleigh
3:13 $0.99
11. Minuit, Chretiens
6:05 $0.99
12. Auld Lang Syne
3:24 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
The Victorians revived older traditions and created many of today's familiar carols. Americans often followed the customs of England, and during the Civil War they especially cherished songs of joy and peace.

Here are 12 songs from the mid-1800s, sung with simple grace, accompanied by guitar or lap dulcimer. Two are in the original German, and one in French. Violin, flute, and harmonies add spice to this holiday music.

1. "O Tannenbaum." Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert, a native of Germany, brought the first decorated evergreen to England in 1840. Firs soon filled English and American homes, and families sang this old song to honor the pagan symbol that was now a Christmas tree. The melody is from the 1500s, the 1824 lyrics by Ernst Anschutz.

2. "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." A song from the 1700s, mentioned in Charles Dickens’ 1843 tale of redemption, "A Christmas Carol." Charity was especially important at a time when governments had not yet begun to help the poor, and Victorians stressed private giving as a duty.

3. "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. " In 1849 the Civil War was over ten years away, but tensions were rising. That year Rev. Edmund Sears, minister of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Mass., wrote this antiwar poem that was set to music by Richard Willis. The fourth verse is seldom included in today’s hymnals and carol collections; 
it was probably addressed to America’s millions of slaves.

4. "Good King Wenceslaus." Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia, lived from 907 to 935 and died at the age of 28. In 1853, English hymnwriter John Mason Neale wrote a song about him with Thomas Helmore. The tune is based on a 13th-century springtime carol from Finland. The feast of Stephen is December 26, and the song’s tale of Christian charity made it dear to the Victorian heart.

5. "Stille Nacht (Silent Night)." In 1859 John Young, an Episcopal bishop in Florida, published an English version of "Stille Nacht," which had been written in 1818 by an Austrian priest, Joseph Mohr, and his organist, Franz Gruber. The original had six verses, set to Gruber’s gently yodeling melody in 6/8 time, which lent it an Oktoberfest swing. Legend says that the organ was broken, so the composers created a song with guitar for Christmas Eve.

6. "Away in a Manger. " This tender song first appeared in 1885 in
 "The Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families," published by a Lutheran church for its Sunday School. Though often credited to Martin Luther, he seems to have had nothing to do with it. The lyrics bring to mind the old prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” recalling a time when death was a more frequent presence than it is today, and childhood a particularly hazardous time.

7. "We Three Kings." In 1857 John Henry Hopkins, Jr., Episcopal deacon at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, created a sing-along for the Christmas pageant. The verses in a minor key evoke “the mysterious East” as Hopkins notes each royal gift.

8. "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lost his first wife, Mary, in 1835 after a miscarriage, and his second wife, Frances, known as Fanny, in 1861 when her dress caught fire. Despondent, he wrote little for years, but in 1864, the fourth and worst year of the Civil War, he created this lament. Two of his seven verses are seldom sung today, as they are specifically about the war. At the end Henry hopes for the return of peace on earth.

9. "Matilda Toots." It’s a shame that the original sheet music, published in 1855, does not name the composer of this delightful romance on ice. When Tilda’s beau calls a cab, it arrives behind a horse, as the original cabs were carriages.

10. "The One-Horse Open Sleigh." Published in 1857, James Pierpont's tribute to the joy of dashing through the snow was inspired by races in Medford, Mass. The bells were a safety measure, as sleigh runners make little noise and hoofbeats are muffled in snow. 
A sleigh pulled by a horse that could run a mile in two minutes and forty seconds (“2:40 for his speed”) was flying along at 22 miles an hour -- 
a thrilling rate, no doubt deeply impressive to young ladies.

11. "Minuit, Chrétiens." In 1847 Placide Cappeau, a wine merchant, was asked by his village priest to write a poem for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Cappeau did so on the train to Paris and gave his poem to friends who knew Adolphe-Charles Adam, who set it to music. The song was soon translated into many languages. In 1855 John Sullivan Dwight of Boston, an influential music critic and ardent abolitionist, gave us our English translation, "O Holy Night."

12. "Auld Lang Syne." The Victorians adored all things Scottish and began the tradition of warbling Robert Burns’ wistful poem on New Year’s Eve. In 1788 Burns sent his publisher “a song of the olden times,” saying he “took it down from an old man.” A 1711 poem by James Watson has words much like the ones we still 
sing each year, as we mark the passage of time and remember 
old friends.



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