Christmas Classics PERSON OF THE DAY: William J. Kirkpatrick

September 20th, 2013

On this day in 1921, William J. Kirkpatrick died in Philadelphia. The son of a school teacher and musician, he was responsible for writing one of the more familiar arrangements for Away in a Manger.

Born in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, Kirkpatrick went to Philadelphia to learn music and carpentry. His ambition was to be a violinist, which was hampered as he plied his trade as a carpenter. At the age of thirty-four he began to devote more time to sacred music after joining the Wharton Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. As a member of the Harmonia and Handel and Haydn Sacred Music Societies, Kirkpatrick gained more exposure to the principal choral works of great composers. After the death of his first wife in 1878, he finally gave up his trade and dedicated his life solely to sacred music and composition, as well as being involved with the publication of forty plus hymnals.

Kirkpatrick’s tune for Away in a Manger, commonly known as The Cradle Song, is most used in England. The Cradle Song was first written in 1895 for the musical Around the World with Christmas. In the United States the tune most heard for Away in a Manger is associated with James Ramsey Murray (see my March 11, 2011 blog).

The anonymous lyrics for Away in a Manger likely were written by a member of the German Lutheran colony in Pennsylvania during the late 19th century. The words for the first two stanzas may have first appeared in 1885 in the Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families, a publication of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America. It is possible, however, that they first appeared in the May 1884 edition of The Myrtle, a Universalist Publishing House Boston publication, as Luther’s Cradle Hymn to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther, the great German religious reformer. By the 1940s it was proven conclusively that the original lullaby tune had actually been composed by James Ramsey Murray, supposedly the same person who perpetrated the myth of Luther’s Cradle Hymn. Murray’s lullaby was included in an 1887 Cincinnati collection called Dainty Songs for Lads and Lasses.

Although many modern hymnals attribute the lyrics of the third stanza to John T. McFarland, a member of the American Lutheran Board of Sunday Schools, it is believed he had merely made reference to it. Instead, the third stanza, which first appeared in an 1892 Louisville, Kentucky, Lutheran Church collection titled Gabriel’s Vineyard Songs, was probably the contribution of another anonymous author. This lyrical addition strengthens the inherent tenderness of this renowned American carol hymn.

Three years later Kirkpatrick wrote the tune The Cradle Song for the musical Around the World with ChristmasAgain, it is that tune that serves as Kirkpatrick’s arrangement for Away in a Manger.

Pennsylvania Germans and Moravians, besides being credited as the source for the anonymous lyrics of Away in a Manger, were unique in other aspects of Christmas. They celebrated the humble beginnings of the Christ Child by employing a Christmas decoration called a putz (from the German word “putzen” meaning “to adorn”), for the manger scene. The Moravians, furthermore, may even have played Away in a Manger in their trombone choirs that were known to perform from church belfries in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and other Pennsylvania towns with Moravian congregations.

Bethlehem, the site of the first Moravian church built in eastern Pennsylvania, was so named on Christmas Eve in 1742 when construction of the church was completed. That special night settlers sang in one room of the new structure while cows mooed in the other half, which served as a stable. The scene so moved the congregation, reminding them of events surrounding the birth of the Christ Child in another small town eighteen hundred years earlier, that they christened their settlement Bethlehem.

William J. Kirkpatrick

William J. Kirkpatrick



Christmas Classics PERSON OF THE DAY: William Chatterton Dix

September 9th, 2013

On this day in 1898, William Chatterton Dix died in Cheddar, Somerset, England. He was bequeathed the middle name of Chatterton in honor of Thomas Chatterton, a poet whose biography was penned by Dix’s father. For a better part of his professional life Dix was a marine insurance agency manager, yet he is best known as the Christmas carol composer of the English carols What Child Is This? and As with Gladness Men of Old.

The insurance executive always nurtured a great love for poetry and hymns. His interest in both was accentuated at the age of twenty-nine when a near fatal illness and severe depression confined him to bed for months. It was also during this period when Dix wrote most of the forty hymns credited to him, including his most popular carol What Child Is This?

The lyrics for What Child Is This? were initially part of a six-stanza poem titled The Manger Throne. Dix later took three of the poem’s stanzas and adapted them to the popular 16th-century tune of Greensleeves. In 1871 both text and tune, the latter arranged by John Stainer, were published in Bramley & Stainer’s Christmas Carols, New and Old, a widely circulated compilation.

The beautiful folk melody of Greensleeves dates from Elizabethan times, perhaps even earlier, and reputedly it had less respectable lyrics sung to it in several lyrical settings. One of the earliest references to it was in 1580, and it was twice mentioned in Shakespeare’s comedy play, The Merry Wives of Windsor. In the 1642 New Christmas Carols black-letter edition, a variant tune of Greensleeves was used in the carol The Old Year Now Away Is Fled. Strains of the melody were also heard in John Gay’s 1728 satirical ballad opera, The Beggar’s Opera.

The providence of history is such that Greensleeves might be much lesser known if not for a strange illness that befell William Chatterton Dix. His effort to string religious pearls from his lengthy The Manger Throne, and the sometimes less respectable Greensleeves tune, ultimately prove successful with the issuance of What Child Is This? Since its 1871 publication, the beloved carol has been sustained by repeated publication and acclaim for its reverential treatment of the Nativity theme.

William Chatterton Dix

William Chatterton Dix




Christmas Classics PERSON OF THE DAY: Frances Roots Hadden

August 28th, 2013

In August 1910 the charming composer Frances Roots Hadden was born in Kuling, Lu Shan, China. She was the daughter of Logan Herbert Roots, the Episcopal Bishop of Hankow from 1904 to 1938. When the United States and China renewed diplomatic ties in 1972, Chou En-Lai, the Chinese premier, invited Frances and her husband, Richard, as his personal guests to perform a duet piano concert. That was the first performance by an American musician in the Republic of China since 1949, the year of the Communist takeover.

The Haddens’ duet piano concert included the Lu Shan Suite, composed by Frances in 1966. The suite melody was in fact based upon a work-song chant of stone carriers of the sacred and idyllic Lu-shan Mountain located in central China. Frances had often heard that tune as a child, which she also incorporated in her lovely carol A Chinese Christmas Cradle Song.

The tender lyrics of A Chinese Christmas Cradle Song are based on an anonymous 2nd century Chinese poem and were first printed in the The Second Treasury of Christmas Music (Emerson Books, New York, 1968). Also known as Shiao Bao-Bao, a term in Chinese meaning “Little Precious,” an endearing description for the baby Jesus, the enchanting carol belongs in every Christmas music library.

For those unfamiliar with Hadden’s truly remarkable piece, and if you are looking to expand your Christmas music horizons, I strongly suggest getting your hands on the album (if available) A Christmas Cantata by the Cardiff Polyphonic Choir & Orchestra with Richard Elfyn Jones conducting. It is one of the few places you will find the recording.

On a personal note, I had the privilege of speaking with Frances and her husband before her passing in 2000. They were both generous souls, and Frances was thrilled to learn about my research on carols and that I admired her carol so much.

Frances Roots Hadden

Frances Roots Hadden

Christmas Classics PERSON OF THE DAY: John Francis Wade

August 16th, 2013

On this day in 1786, John Francis Wade died in Douai, France. He may be best known as the author of the reverential carol-hymn Adeste Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful). A Catholic laymen, Wade was forced to leave England for Duoai, France during the 1745 Jacobean rebellion because of continued persecution of Catholics.

Duoai was a medieval fortress town with a English college that was founded to combat the errors associated with the Reformation. English Catholics were welcomed there since the reign of Elizabeth I. The college curriculum was religious in scope, especially suited for the education of Catholic clergy, and for which the preservation of Catholicism in England was a prime objective. It also was an ideal haven for Wade since he taught music for children and copied plainchant (Gregorian chant) and hymn manuscripts for private use.

But Wade’s miniature masterpiece Adeste Fideles was composed sometime between 1740 and 1743. The Latin lyrics were published in 1760 in Evening Offices of the Church, and the melody and lyrics were printed together in An Essay on the Church Plain Chant (London, 1782).

In 1852 the Rev. Frederick Oakeley, an English clergyman who became a convert to the Roman Catholic Church, saw his English translation O Come All Ye Faithful of Wade’s hymn published, although he had translated the Latin text eleven years earlier. A William Thomas Brooke may have also had a hand translating some of the hymns verses.

Adeste Fideles has also been referred to as The Portuguese Hymn, because it was believed for a time to have been first sung by the famous choir of the Portuguese Chapel in London. This would not have been an unlikely scenario, as Wade was known to have corresponded with prominent Catholic musicians of the foreign embassy chapels there, including Thomas Arne, the highly respected English composer.

John Francis Wade is believed to have died in Duoai. His obituary read: Mr. John Francis Wade, a Layman, aged 75, with whose beautiful Manuscript Books our Chapels as well as private Families abound, in writing which, and teaching the Latin and Church Song he chiefly spent.

To which it should be added: Amen!

The Portuguese Hymn  (Adeste Fidelis)

The Portuguese Hymn
(Adeste Fidelis)