(On Paying Respects to the Composers of Popular Christmas Carols)
Christmas songs have become an important aspect of the Christmas season. In many places, they begin to creep onto the playlists of radio stations, shopping malls, and many homes as early as September (the first of the so-called “ber” months). In fact, many of these songs have become tantric tunes that even tots can partially sing with ease.
However, although very popular many of these Christmas songs have become through all the years, their composers remain forgotten or unknown to many people.
In view of that, I am hereby recognizing the composers of some of the most popular carols that continue to make every Christmas season memorable.
Some Forgotten People during Christmas
“Jingle Bells” by James Lord Pierpont. One of the best-known and commonly sung Christmas songs in the world, “Jingle Bells” was written by the American songwriter James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and published in 1857 under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh.” Pierpont intended it to be sung for Thanksgiving.
However, having become extremely popular, it was sung not only during Thanksgiving but also through the entire Christmas season; thus eventually becoming a Christmas song.
“Silent Night” by Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber / John Freeman Young. In 1818, the Austrian priest and composer Joseph Mohr (1792–1848) asked Franz Xaver Gruber (1787–1863), an Austrian schoolteacher and church organist, to compose a musical accompaniment for a poem he wrote entitled Stille Nacht. The resulting dance-like carol was first performed in Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria, on Christmas Eve of the same year. In 1859, John Freeman Young (1820–1885), a bishop at Episcopal Diocese of Florida (USA), published an English translation of the song, the slower “Silent Night.” This version is the one commonly sung today.
“Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts / Lowell Mason. The prolific English hymn writer Isaac Watts (1674–1748) wrote “Joy to the World” as a hymn. He based it on Psalm 98 of the Bible. He published it in 1719 as a part of a collection of hymns. In 1839, Lowell Mason (1792–1872) arranged the hymn into a song, with a melody inspired by George Frideric Handel’s Messiah; this is the version popular today.
To many people, so long as they know the titles of songs they like or they can sing or belt to these, they think that their love for music is already praiseworthy. In this case, they’re missing the most important part of being a true music enthusiast—that is, appreciating music with a sense of origin and history and respect for those who composed such songs.
This Christmastime—a time for sharing and for giving, more than for receiving—the best gift that you can give to the composers who brought us such timeless songs that comprise the soundtrack of every Christmas season is recognition.
So, the next time you sing “Jingle Bells,” thank James Lord Pierpont.