The Carols of Christmas by Andrew Gant goes through various popular carols of Christmas and tells some of their intricate, and often confusing, history. You may not come out of the book wiser than when you started it about who wrote such and such a carol but Gant himself warns of this in the intro: "…if you occasionally get to the end of a chapter in this book slightly unsure about who wrote words or tunes or bits of either, me too…." Apparently we don't know exactly who wrote some of the songs, and many of them were revised from their original written form.
One of the histories I found particularly interesting was that of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, originally Hark How all the Welkin Rings' by Charles Wesley. Apparently George Whitefield was one of the people who revised the song, one of the verses he changed was "universal nature say 'Christ the Lord is born today!'" to "With th'Angelic hosts proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!'" I found it interesting that Mendelssohn, the man who composed the music that was eventually used for the words, didn't think that the tune was fit for religious songs and that it would "never do for sacred words. There must be a national and merry subject found out…" Nowadays it would be hard for me to picture it put to secular words!
Gant's style of writing is a bit confusing at times, he strikes me as trying too hard to be casual, which doesn't always flow very well in my opinion. Also some of his statements were a bit weird, for instance, his comment, "the most potent force in the shaping of human destinies: luck", and then again, when speaking of the original lines of Wesley's hymn, cited above, "universal nature say…" he declares that , "…there is something gloriously inclusive, almost pantheistic…in Wesley's lines…much better than Whitefield's replacement." Statements like that seem a bit odd for a Christian to say. There were several songs where I had wished that he would have dealt more with the history of the wording and meaning of the words but he focused on the development/ evolution of the commonly used tune (or tunes) for the carol instead.
All in all it was a bit confusing, and I think it could have been written a lot better than it is, but it did have interesting tidbits of carol history in it, and the cover is pretty and feels neat!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the BookLook blogging program in exchange for my review, which did not have to be favorable.
I rate this book at 3 out of 5 stars.