Sunday, December 18, 2011

Regency Christmas Carols

As a lover of Christmas music and Jane Austen, I have long wondered which Christmas carols were around in the Regency period. So, I decided to finally research it, and thought I might as well share my discoveries with all of you!
The songs I was looking for were ones that were sung then pretty much the same as they are now; I know for many the words or tunes were already written, but the song wasn’t as it is now, or perhaps not even used as a Christmas song yet.

Christmas wasn’t nearly as important of a holiday then as it is now – or even as it was in the Victorian era. This is one of the reasons why, if I was to choose between the two, I would probably choose the Victorian era to live in.  

There are then very few songs I can mention, but here they are.

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night
This is actually one of my favorite Christmas carols, so I was quite pleased to find out it was so old. It was written around 1700, and the tune in 1728. Researching this was rather tricky; some things say it was published in 1822, but something else said the arrangement appeared 1812. Also, apparently there is another tune other than the one I know; the one I know was taken from something by Handel, so no wonder I like it.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman
This is the Christmas carol sung in Pride and Prejudice (1995), Mary Bennet on the piano and Maria Lucas singing. Also a more melancholy version was the background music in Emma (1996, A&E) when Mr. Elton was leaving Highbury, which Emma observes when she is walking though the village.
All these origins are tricky but it looks like it was definitely around by the late 1700s.

Good Christian Men Rejoice (or "In dulci jubilo)
The words for this song weren't as we know them now until 1853, but the tune dates all the way back to the Middle Ages, and for me it's the tune that's the most memorable. 

So you see, it appears I could find very little. A small study, but a study all the same. 

Further information can be found here:

One interesting thing is that the 1996 (Miramax) version of Emma plays a harpsichord Deck the Halls at the Weston's Christmas party, and I don't think it was around at the time.

I have been quite remiss with my Christmas posts; I hope to do better this week.
Merry Christmas everyone!


Miss Dashwood said...

This was so interesting! I love While Shepherds Watched as well, and the Handel tune is lovely. I pretty much love anything by Handel. :)
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is another of my favorites!
I do like your new profile picture, by the way... I wonder why you chose it? ;)

Jessica said...

I like While Shepherds Watched, too, ao I am pleased to know it is so old. ;-)

Would you rather hear the story...

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