12 Days of Christmas Carols- Good King Wenceslas

Good King WenceslasFor the 2nd Day of Christmas, I thought I would cover a slightly unorthodox carol.  “Good King Wenceslas” is set “on the Feast of Stephen” (which is today), and there are so many fun things about it.  The song, which was actually included in a book of Christmas Carols in 1853, was written by the popular and prolific hymn-writer John Mason Neale.  Neale was an Anglican priest and scholar, as well a sort of cultivator of ancient hymnody.  He wrote original pieces, but his most famous works are all translations (the Presbyterian Trinity Hymnal has 13 hymns with Neale listed as author, but all but two are translations).  You’ve probably never noticed, but it was Neale who translated “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain,” “The Day of Resurrection,” and “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation.”  Not a bad resume, to say the least.  “Good King Wenceslas” was an original, however, and, though lovable in its way, it is not on the same level as those treasures just listed.  In fact, there’s a fairly large body of criticism of “Good King Wenceslas” out there, upset with both its hagiographical lyrics and its barbarous tune-pairing. Continue reading

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