Sunday, December 27, 2020

What Child is This?—Murfin’s Carols for Corona and Winter Holiday Music Festival

                                                    What Child is This?  sung by Josh Groban.

The first Sunday after Christmas Day is a good day to present adoration carols, which naturally follow the hymns of announcement and nativity.  Although there is some overlap with the other two types, these songs are generally about those drawn to the manger  by the Herald Angels, Star, or simple word of mouth beginning with the animals sharing the stable, those shepherds who abided in their fields, towns people (Bring a Torch Jeannette, Isabella,) children (Little Drummer Boy,) and ultimately the Magi.

Adoration of the Shepherds paintings like this were inspired by the living Nativities of Saint Francis of Assisi who emphasized the attendence of the humble shepherds at the Birth.  

What Child is This? was inspired by Renaissance paintings of the Adoration of the Shepherds and the lyrics ultimately paired  with the Medieval English ballad Greensleeves the melody of which is sometimes attributed to King Henry VIII.

                                                Henry VIII may have been the composer of Greensleeves or not.

The lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix, the manager of an insurance company after he was afflicted by an unexpected and severe illness that left him  bedridden and suffering from severe depression  in 1865.  It was published as a poem under the title The Manger Throne. 

What Child Is This? was published six years later in 1871, when it featured in Christmas Carols Old and New, the prestigious and influential collection of carols edited by Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer.  It is not known with certainty who paired  three stanzas from the poem with the music from Greensleeves, The Christmas Encyclopedia by William D. Crump and Stories of the Great Christmas Carols both suggest that Stainer, who was also responsible for harmonizing the musical setting may have done so.

Sickly businessman William Chatterton Dix pen the words that were used for What Child is This? and other hymns.  

Despite its very English origins the song is much more popular in the United States than in the land that gave it birth, perhaps because Brits are much more aware of Greensleeves original words, a romp suggesting a summer seduction.

Josh Groban began as an actor and began to train as a singer only after being cast in a Broadway musical.  An early career break was being paired with blind Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in a duet.

Many versions have been recorded by choirs and solo artists including Johnny Mathis, Andrea Bocelli, Marina McBride, Carrie Underwood, and Chris Tomlin.  Today we feature a recording by semi-classical singer, Broadway star, pop phenomenon, and heart throb Josh Groban.

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