We are all familiar with Christmas songs because of the nostalgia they bring to our minds during this festive season. You might wonder where some of these famous Christmas tunes come from. We share some famous songs written by classical composers you didn’t know.
Joy to the World
Joy to the World is one of the most recognisable Christmas carols that is sung today. It was created by hymns composer Lowell Mason, who perfected the art of sampling music before hip-hop artists became famous for it. He incorporated music from great composers into his own compositions.
He wrote several famous tunes, but none as beloved as the Christmas carol “Joy To the World”, which he borrowed from George Frideric Handel. The first four notes that begin the hymn are very similar to a passage in Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio from 1742.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing was written by Charles Wesley, who was an English Methodist leader and hymn writer who wrote over 6,000 hymns. His goal in writing hymns was to teach the poor and the illiterate sound doctrine. Some have said Methodism was born in song and Wesley was its chief songwriter.
The student of Weseley, George Whitefield adapted the opening couplet to a familiar poem and penned the phrase “newborn King.” Felix Mendelssohn composed a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of movable type printing, and it is the music from this cantata, adapted by musician William H. Cummings to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
Oh Come All Ye Faithful
“Oh Come All Ye Faithful” is attributed to various authors - John Francis Wade, John Reading, and King John IV of Portugal, including anonymous Cistercian monks. The earliest manuscript was published in 1751, written by Wade, and is currently held by Stonyhurst College in Lancashire.
The original four verses of the hymn were extended to a total of eight verses and have been translated into many languages. The English translation of the carol was written by English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley in 1841 and is the most sung version in English-speaking countries.
This is perhaps the most recognising and enduring Christmas carol of all time. It was written in 1816 by a young Austrian priest, Joseph Mohr, not long after the Napoleonic war had taken its toll.
Mohr’s congregation was poverty-stricken and suffering hunger and trauma. He wrote a set of six poetic verses to convey hope that there was a God who still cared. Although Mohr was a gifted violinist and guitarist, he sorted a friend to help him compose Silent Night.
He approached Franz Xaver Gruber, a musically talented local schoolteacher and organist, to write the music for the six verses.
On Christmas eve of 1818, Mohr and his friend Gruber sang “Silent Night” together in front of the congregation for the first time. The song was well received by the parishioners, who worked mostly as boatbuilders and shippers in the salt trade that was central to the economy of the region.