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Heidi's Christmas carols

Painting by Viggo Johansen

Christmas isn't Christmas without inspiring music, and Heidi's Christmas just wasn't complete without a carol arrangement.  Any reader of Heidi knows that carols are never specifically mentioned within the book, but Spyri left ample clues as to her own hymn favorites, and it was just a small step from there to choosing Heidi's very own Christmas carol.  Though every translation I've ever seen of Heidi seems to choose different hymns and poetry to replace Johanna Spyri's original choices for the Grandmother's "old prayer-book with beautiful songs," looking at the original German, Spyri was very specific in her choices.  Hymns read or recited by Heidi include Die güldne Sonne Voll Freud und Wonne, Kreuz und Elende, and Befiehl Du Deine Wege by Paul Gerhardt, and Gott will's machen, dass die Sachen by Johann Daniel Herrnschmidt--all of 17th and 18th century creation, and all beautiful.

Painting by Franz Skarbina
Inspired by Gerhardt's texts, Tanner and I choose to adapt his Christmas carol, Kommt und laßt uns Christum ehren ("Come and Christ the Lord be Praising"), for voice, keyboard, and flute--leaving the original melody in the keyboard accompaniment, and exploring some pretty polyphony for the voice and flute parts.  The sheet music is found on page 22 of Heidi's Christmas.  (I was sorely tempted to choose another famous Gerhardt carol, Fröhlich soll mein herze springen, ("All My Heart This Night Rejoices")--a favorite of mine since childhood--but opted for the lesser known text and music, in the hopes of sharing something delightfully new with Journal readers.)  Due to space limitations within the Journal itself, we could only include verse one in the sheet music, so we provide more verses, below, to aid in Christmas performances.

The quest for Heidi's carol, however, need not be over.  So many beloved carols have their birth (or at least their popularization) in Alpine climbs.  My Swiss grandmother has often told me of childhood days she spent beneath the Christmas tree, clasping hands with loved ones, singing traditional carols of Christmas and advent.  Inspired by the thought of such Swiss traditions, here are ten German and Swiss-German carols I love, and which Heidi or Klara might easily has enjoyed during the warm glow of Christmas in Frankfurt or Dörfli:

Heidi's Christmas Carols
Illustration by Maria L. Kirk

Alle Jahre wieder
Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen (Lo! How A Rose E'er Blooming)
Ihr Kinderlein kommet (O Come Little Children)
Joseph, lieber, Joseph mein  (Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine)
O du Fröhliche (Oh How Joyfully)
O Tannenbaum (O Christmas Tree)
Still, still, still (Still, Still, Still)
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht (Silent Night)
Vom Himmel hoch
Was isch das für e Nacht

Come, and Christ the Lord Be Praising
English translation by John Kelly, 1867

Come, and Christ the Lord be praising,
Heart and mind to Him be raising,
Celebrate His love amazing,
Worthy folk of Christendom!

See what God for us provideth,
Life that in His Son abideth,
And our weary steps He guideth
From earth's woe to heav'nly joy.

His soul deeply for us feeleth
He His love to us revealeth,
He who in the heavens dwelleth
Came to save us from our foe.

Jacob's Star His advent maketh,
Soothes the longing heart that acheth,
And the serpent's head He breaketh,
Scattering the pow'rs of hell.

Op'd hath He and freedom gain'd us,
Now the prison that contain'd us;
Where much grief and sorrow pain'd us,
And our hearts were bow'd with woe.

Beauteous Infant in the manger,
O befriend us! beyond danger
Bring us where is turn'd God's anger,
Where with angel hosts, we'll praise!

Tags: 2011, Christmas, Music

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