God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” is an English traditional carol dating, perhaps, to the 16th or 17th century. A manuscript, ca. 1650, contains a version with the first line, “Sit you merry gentlemen” and the refrain, “O tidings of comfort and joy.” The earliest known printed edition of the carol is a London broadsheet (see image here) dated 1760, in which the first line is the familiar “God rest ye merry, gentlemen.” By the 19th century, the carol was well-known, with Charles Dickens referencing it in his 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol.

The phrase “God rest you merry” in the first line is an archaic idiom meaning “God grant you peace and happiness.” William Shakespeare used the phrase “rest you merry” in his plays, “As You Like It” and “Romeo and Juliet,” both from the 1590s; but Dickens recorded the phrase as “God bless you, merry gentlemen” in A Christmas Carol.

The tune adapted for use in this arrangement was at the time of its notation a wordless, nameless melody noted in 1905 by folk song collector E. Quintrell from the singing of a Mr. Boaden in Cornwall, England. The tune was sent to Lucy Broadwood, editor of the Journal of the Folk-Song Society, who decided that it fit the ballad, “The Maid in Bedlam,” and published the tune and text together. Gustav Holst later arranged the tune as “Song without Words ‘I’ll Love My Love’” in his Second Suite in F for Military Band, Op. 28, No. 2 (1911) and again as “I Love My Love” in his 6 Choral Folksongs, Op. 36 (1916).

Set in F minor (Dorian), the tune brings a contemplative tone to the text, with the high point of the refrain being the subdominant Bb major chord on the word “joy.” The rich, dark timbre of solo clarinet on introduction, interludes, and ending adds to this tone. For SATB voices, with some divisi in soprano and tenor parts.

SATB/piano/clarinet score (8 pages, 8.5×11″) — $2.00 USD/copy

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