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Deck the Halls

(Traditional Welsh)

Although the original writer of this tune has never been discovered, it is known that it is called “Nos Galan” (New Year’s Eve) and was discovered in an old manuscript by John Parry who was an 18th century Welsh harpist.  Thought to be of the 16th century in origin, the original music is still danced to in Wales.

It was first published in the latter half of the 18th century and it’s popularity spread far and wide and the lyrics that were added later were English, although the Welsh would traditionally sing to it in competition with each other on a “verse for verse” basis while dancing in a ring around a harpist who played the “answering bars”.  Possibly discovered while visiting England as a child, the tune was used in 1788 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in his “Sonata No. 18”, or “Sonata in G for violin and keyboard” (K. 301).  There was choral setting published in the 1784 and 1794 editions of Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards by the harpist Edward Jones where it was called a harp symphony in 1784 and “Dadlea” in 1794.

The carol that is now as we know it was taken by the English and turned into a Christmas song with lyrics, possibly by an unknown American, being first published in a New York newspaper without music in 1881.  Unknown as to how the text and music came together it is also said to have appeared in The Franklin Square Song Collection 1881 in New York.  The lyrics have often been questioned though as they have been said to sound more of Middle Ages English madrigals rather than 19th century America. Often parodied it has been used by the groups Barenaked Ladies, Twisted Sister, by the artists Adam Hill and Clifton Staples, by the animated group JibJab and in the animated series Pogo.

Black Dyke Mills Band recordings
Chandos 4541 (CD: A Christmas Fantasy)

Boston Pops recordings
Philips 416 287 – 2 (CD:  We Wish You a Merry Christmas)
Conductor – John Williams

DG 419 414-2 (CD: White Christmas)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler

RCA 09026-61685-2 (CD: Pops Christmas Party)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler

Sony SK 48232 (CD: Joy to the World)
Conductor – John Williams
Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra recordings
Naxos 8.990005 (CD: Joy to the World)
Conductor – Richard Hayman

Rochester Pops Orchestra
Koch CHD 1531 (CD: Joy to the World – Carols for Orchestra and Chorus)

St Louis Philharmonic Orchestra recordings
Sonari records – 7 55724 00272 3 (CD: Christmas with the Philharmonic)
Conductor – Robert Hart Baker

Sources:

  1. http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/deck_the_halls.htm#Note01
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deck_the_Halls
  3. http://www.jibjab.com/originals/deck_the_halls
  4. http://shopping.yahoo.com/p:Deck%20the%20Halls%20(Welsh):1920041869