Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Carols, Part III: O Little Town of Bethlehem

In this last Friday before Christmas, we here at The Jade Sphinx continue to look at some of our favorite Christmas carols.  Near the top of the list is O Little Town of Bethlehem, which has, we think, a particular sweetness and charm.  There are many, many excellent recordings, but by far our favorite is that of Burl Ives, which can be heard here:

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) was an American Episcopal bishop, famous for his preaching and liberal views.  On Christmas Eve, 1865, he rode from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and is said to have viewed the town from the field where shepherds received the news of Christ’s birth from the angels.  Three years later, he wrote the words of O Little Town of Bethlehem; his organist, Lewis Redner (with whom he had collaborated when writing the carol Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas Tonight, wrote the music, which he said came to him in a dream with an angel strain.  It was first performed by the children of their Sunday school.

In England, Redner’s tune has been overtaken in popularity by a 1906 Ralph Vaughan Williams version of the folk tune The Ploughboy’s Dream, or Forest Green.  Other tunes by Henry Walford Davies and Joseph Barnby have attracted less interest.

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel

No comments: