The 30 greatest Christmas carols of all time
From ‘ O Little Town of Bethlehem ’ to ‘ Gaudete ’, here are some of the most beautiful Christmas carols always written .
From music lovers and churchgoers, to people all around the global who celebrate Christmas, carols are the beloved melodious backbone of the gay season .
But what are the best carols ever written ?
We ’ ve donned our Christmas hat and found the most weather Christmas carols, and the most beautiful performances of them .
1. O Holy Night
Placide Cappeau, a wine seller from southerly France, was asked by the local anesthetic parish priest to write a gay poem in 1847 to celebrate the church organ ’ second renovation. Cappeau felt it should be accompanied by music, so approached his ally Adolphe Charles Adams. Adams ’ text reflects on the birth of Jesus and of humanity ’ s redemption .
Listen on Global Player: Classic FM Christmas playlist
2. Silent Night
originally written in German, ‘ Stille Nacht ’ was composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber with lyrics by Joseph Mohr, and was translated to English in 1859. During the Christmas armistice of 1914 during World War I, the carol was sung simultaneously by English and german troops .
3. In the Bleak Mid-Winter – Gustav Holst version
Based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti, this carol was written sometime before 1872 in answer to a magazine request for a Christmas poem. The poem became recognised as a carol after it appeared in The English Hymnal in 1906, with music by Gustav Holst .
4. In the Bleak Mid-Winter – Harold Darke version
nothing says ‘ Christmas ’ like a chorale arrangement of ‘ In The Bleak Midwinter ’. But which one should you choose ? There ’ s the popular version by Holst, or an arrangement by chorale ace Bob Chilcott – but you ’ re credibly most probable to hear Harold Edward Darke ’ s setting. The choir of King ’ s College, Cambridge use it every year at Christmas .
5. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
With lyrics written by Charles Wesley, and set to a tune by Mendelssohn, this carol was constantly going to be one of the most recognizable and popular ones on the tilt. It ’ s besides got a crack descant .
6. O Come All Ye Faithful
It is ill-defined who first wrote the music or lyrics to this hymn. possible candidates include King John IV of Portugal and John Francis Wade, while composers Handel and Gluck have been suggested as the brains behind the melody. The hymn besides features in the 1992 film Home alone 2 : Lost in New York, when it is played by a symphony orchestra at Carnegie Hall .
7. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
sing at both Advent and Christmas, this hymn originates from Latin but was translated to English in 1861. The music for the hymn was composed in such a way that both the English and Latin words can be used interchangeably .
Read more : The lyrics and true floor behind ‘ O Come, O Come, Emmanuel ’ >
8. Coventry Carol
This carol can be traced all the manner back to 16th-century England. The lyrics refer to the ‘ Massacre of the Innocents ’ by King Herod, who in an attempt to ensure the death of the baby Jesus, ordered the death of all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem .
9. O Little Town of Bethlehem
Following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Rector Phillips Brooks wrote the text to this hymn after he was inspired by the scene of Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine. Three years late in 1871, his church organist Lewis Redner wrote the melody for the local Sunday school children ’ south choir .
10. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
The lyrics for this carol were written by Massachusetts pastor Edmund Sears and refer to ideas of war and peace. The most park musical jell was adapted from an english tune in 1874 by Arthur Sullivan .
11. Once in Royal David’s City
Believed to have inaugural been published in the early nineteenth century, this carol paints a vivd word picture of the birth. The words were beginning written by children ’ s poet Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander, who is remembered for her hymn ‘ All Things Bright and Beautiful ’. The carol was set to music a year late by organist H.J Gauntlett .
12. In Dulci Jubilo
This carol is a assortment of both german and Latin textbook, and dates back to the Middle Ages. many composers have since been influenced by its melody, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt with his piano suite Weihnachtsbaum and Gustav Holst. And of course, there ’ sulfur Mike Oldfield ’ second memorably jaunty version…
13. Joy to the World
quite than celebrating the parentage of Christ, the textbook of this hymn represents Christ ’ s exultant return. The words, dreamed up by English writer Isaac Watts, are based on the second half of Psalm 98 in the Bible. In the late ’ 90s, it was named the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. You can good feel the jocoseness pouring out of it.
14. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
One of the oldest Christmas carols on the number, this dates back to at least the sixteenth century, possibly earlier. Although most people assume the first line is suggesting alert gentlemen should rest, in early on english it actually means something close to ‘ stay big, gentlemen ’ .
15. Away in a Manger
This late 19th-century carol is enormously popular with children. The tune was primitively composed in 1837 by Jonathan E. Spilman, but was former adapted in 1895 by William J Kirkpatrick .
16. Sussex Carol
first composed in 1684, ‘ Sussex Carol ’ earned its name when Ralph Vaughan Williams set the text to music in the late 1800s, after he heard it being sung near Sussex .
17. Shepherd ’s Pipe Carol
A carol which celebrates the worst of a shepherd male child on his direction to see the baby Jesus at Bethlehem, this represents everything gay about John Rutter. The tune is sprightly, syncopated and rhythmically taut, and Rutter composed it when he was just a school boy .
18. The Three Kings
Written in 1857 by Peter Cornelius, this carol is designed so three male voices can sing a verse each to correspond with the three kings. The Choir of King ’ s College, Cambridge do it gorgeously .
19. Gabriel ’s Message
This carol represents the moment in the bible when Angel Gabriel visits Mary, and declares she is to bear the son of God. The textbook quotes the Gospel of Luke, while the melody is taken from Basque custom .
20. Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
‘ Jesus Christ the Apple Tree ’ could allude to either the apple tree in the Song of Solomon – often interpreted to mean Christ himself – or to the tree of life, mentioned in Luke ’ s Gospel. Its author and intended use are unknown, but the song is immediately performed as a carol by choirs around the world during Christmas season .
The oldest carol on the list, ‘ Gaudete ’ is thought to have been composed in the deep sixteenth century – but its melody might even date back to the Middle Ages. Its latin words merely translate as ‘ Rejoice, Jesus is born from the Virgin Mary ! rejoice ! ’. hera is a brilliantly pulsing performance from The King ’ sulfur Singers …
22. The Holly and the Ivy
This gentle carol is inspired by the hope that singers would survive the unmanageable winter months like the holly and the ivy. now, they are brought inside for good luck .
23. Carol of the Bells
apart from its pressing, attention-getting tune, its holocene popularity is credibly down to an agreement by John Williams written for the 1990 Christmas staple Home Alone. here ’ sulfur Katie Melua and the Gori Women ’ s Choir with the original 1914 ukrainian version, ‘ The Little Swallow ’ .
24. See Amid the Winter’s Snow
besides known as ‘ Hymn for Christmas Day ’, this 19th-century English carol was written by Edward Caswall with music by Sir John Goss, an organist at St Paul ’ s Cathedral and a professor at the Royal Academy of Music .
25. Ding Dong! Merrily on High
With celebratory bell-ringing and a cheery choir of ‘ Gloria ’ south ’, it ’ sulfur near impossible to dislike this wonderfully gay carol. The tune first gear appeared as a layman dance tune, in a book on dance written by Jehan Tabourot .
26. Candlelight Carol
John Rutter ’ randomness music is always popular at this time of year, and after hearing the soaring melodies of the Candlelight Carol, it ’ south easy to see why .
27. Good King Wenceslas
This hearty carol is based on the life of Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia, who became a martyr after being killed by his sinful brother, Boleslaw the Bad. Wenceslas ’ s consistency lies in St Vitus ’ second Cathedral, Prague, and he was recently made a patron saint of the Czech Republic .
28. Angels From the Realms of Glory
Written by scottish poet James Montgomery and first printed on Christmas Eve 1816, this carol sounds just as beautiful nowadays as it did about 200 years ago .
29. The First Nowell
There ‘s a misconception that ‘ The First Noel ’ is french, because of the spell of ‘ Noël ’. But it is actually of cornish origin, with most hymn sheets opting for the old english Anglo-Saxon spell, Nowell .
30. What Sweeter Music
With lyrics by 17th-century poet Robert Herrick, John Rutter composed this carol for the choir of King ’ s College, Cambridge for a performance during the college ’ s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, which is broadcast around the worldly concern on Christmas Eve.
Join us throughout December on Classic FM for blissful and uplifting Christmas carols. Plus, listen to non-stop classical Christmas music on the Classic FM Christmas playlist on Global Player.