Beloved Christmas carols: Good Christian men, rejoice

Both the original text and tune of “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” appeared in early fourteenth-century Germany. European conditions then were not very pleasant. Temperatures were cooling as the earth entered the so-called “Little Ice Age.” The King of France had arrested the Pope and removed the papal court from Rome to Avignon. Bubonic plague, known as the “black death,” ravaged Europe. England and France became embroiled in the Hundred Years War. In its multiplied upheavals and catastrophes, the fourteenth-century resembles our own time. Then as now, many people dreaded what seemed likely in the future. Then as now, devout Christians … Continue reading

Gisele MacKenzie sings Papa Loves Mambo in a holiday setting. 12-18-1954

The mambo, a Cuban dance form, first became popular in the United States in the late 1940s and reached its peak of  popularity here in about 1954. Perry Como’s recording of the song “Papa Loves Mambo,” by Al Hoffman, Dick Manning, and Bix Reichner,  was released on August 31, 1954 and made it to #5 or #4 on the Billboard chart later in the year. Nowadays most recording artists perform their own material, but in the 1950s, the fact that Como scored big did not mean that other stars regarded the song as his. Many performers sought to capitalize on … Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: O come, o come Emmanuel

“O come, o come Emmanuel” is among the oldest of hymns still known, both in terms of the words and the tune. Like many old Gregorian chants, it lay forgotten for centuries before its rediscovery. Thomas Helmore published the tune in 1856 in Part II of The Hymnal Noted. He said it was found in a French missal in the Portuguese National Library in Lisbon, but no one since has found it there. The French National Library in Paris has a fifteenth-century processional of Franciscan nuns with the identical tune, an added second voice, and words from the funeral antiphon … Continue reading

My 10 favorite lesser-known Christmas pieces

I have been enjoying my Christmas records for the past couple of weeks. I have also seen plenty of online articles and blogposts with titles like, “The Ten Best Christmas Pieces of All Times,” or more modestly, “My Ten Favorite Christmas Songs.” A lot of them list the music we hear in church, concerts, on the radio, and in stores and shopping malls year after year. I thought I’d do something a little different and list some of my favorite pieces that are less well known. Most are older than the what we usually hear many times over the course … Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: The Christmas Song

In a web environment, someone can write an article or record a song and put it online immediately. Conventional publishers must work months in advance of publication. Whatever new magazine articles on Christmas, Christmas record albums, etc. appear this month were probably written some time last summer. Once upon a time, selling sheet music made at least as much money as recordings. Publishers often had song-writing teams under contract to provide new music. On a hot July day in 1946, lyricist Bob Wells was not thinking of songs for Christmas or otherwise. He only cared about cooling off. Swimming didn’t … Continue reading