Everybody will recognize long-time contributer Mike D. of the Western Institute for Study of the Environment (a great site people should browse over to). He generously contributed the following list of his favorite holiday (you know the one I mean) songs.
The Ten Best Christmas Songs
Since the affable Dr. Briggs is engaging in lists (a somewhat prosaic though popular blog indulgence), I thought I would contribute by sending along this list of my favorite Christmas songs.
There are, of course, hundreds (at a minimum) in the genre, but some are better than others in my subjective opinion. The following are my six favorites, and why. Please add your own to the list, so as to fill it out to the magic number of ten. And please, tell us why they are your favorites.
- 6. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing — words by Charles Wesley (1707â€“1788), music by Felix Mendelssohn (1809â€“1847)
You can’t go wrong with a song that has hark! in it. But the real treasure is Mendelssohn’s tune, his “Festival Song”. It is early rock-and-roll. Best played with electric guitars and a heavy downbeat. By the way, Mendelssohn was a child prodigy and musical heir of Mozart.
- 5. Away In A Manger — lyrics by James R. Murray (1841-1905), set to a tune called “St. Kilda,” credited to J.E. Clark (according to Wikipedia [here]; there is some apocrypha associated). Also known as “The Cradle Song”. Wikipedia link
“Away In a Manger” is a lullaby waltz. The words are childish (appropriately) and the tune is loving and soothing (ditto). I especially like instrumental versions, such as violin/flute duets.
- 4. White Christmas — lyrics and music by Irving Berlin (1888â€“1989)
“White Christmas” was written in D-sharp minor (though often transposed to D-minor). Berlin liked the black keys and used the white ones sparingly. That strange minor key has a Gypsy flavor. Berlin was, as we all know, a Russian/American Jew (Mendelssohn was also Jewish) and he picked up Eastern European tonalities in the Jewish ghettos of New York City. Gypsy music is one of the historical underpinnings of jazz, which perhaps most people don’t know. The arpeggios in White Christmas are oriental, exotic, and they are what really make the song great. By the way, “Russian Lullaby” is another D-minor Gypsy masterpiece by Berlin.
- 3. Joy To The World — lyrics by Isaac Watts (1674â€“1748) , music by Lowell Mason (1792-1872) adapted from George Frideric Handel’s (1685â€“1759) Messiah
“Joy To The World” begins with a downward march through the octave (count the notes), and then springs back up to the first note. Linear arpeggios follow. It is so simple, so pure, and so powerful.
- 2. Silent Night — lyrics by Josef Mohr (1792â€“1848), music Franz Xaver Gruber (1787â€“1863).
The assistant pastor and the organist at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria, collaborated on a song for the Christmas celebration in 1818. It became what many consider to be the greatest Christmas song ever. “Silent Night” is meant to be sung, by a choir. It is all about reverence, and is hauntingly beautiful.
- 1. O Holy Night (“Cantique de NoÃ«l”) — words by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877), music by Adolphe Charles Adam (1803â€“1856).
Adam wrote operas and ballets, and is probably best remembered for the ballet Giselle (1841). My personal favorite Christmas song, “O Holy Night”, is operatic to say the least. It requires a well-trained soprano to hit the G above high-C in the musical climax (oh night di-VINE). I also like the pathos and beauty in the embedded transition to a minor key. “O Holy Night” weeps with hope and devotion. The finish shatters glass and your heart.
Those are my favorites. What are yours?