12 Days of Christmas Carols- Good Christian Men Rejoice

In dulci jubiloSpeaking of John Mason Neale, my favorite carol to sing is his “Good Christian Men Rejoice.”  As we said, Neale was predominately a translator, though he had no problem employing an aggresive sort of “dynamic equivalent” approach that often fell into paraphrase.  Such is the case with this song.  The original was a mash-up of German and Latin titled “In Dulci Jubilo,” written by the German mystic Heinrich Seuse in 1328.  You can read about his story here, but my favorite part is that he received a heavenly vision instructing him to compose a song about the baby Jesus.  He constructed a masterpiece.  The tune is also very old, dating back at least to 1400, which makes it one of the most ancient of all hymns still in currency today, Christmas carols or otherwise.  Of course, most of us change it up considerably, but it’s still an impressive tradition. Continue reading

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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