So here you are – the answers to my 12 Christmas Quiz questions – some of them quite tricky! I hope that you enjoyed doing a little bit of research pursuing those answers, if that’s what you needed to do. If you knew all of them then that’s absolutely brilliant.
We had hundreds of entries, including several people who got full marks. Of those, the names that were picked out of the hat were: Paul Bonner (USA), Gerry Bryant (UK), Daniel Gostin (USA), Phillip Le Riche (UK), Davide Mutti (Italy) and Stephen Walker (UK). Congratulations to all six winners and I hope you enjoy your prizes.
Watch on YouTube or read the full answers below.
The first of them was all about that famous Christmas hymn Hark! The herald angels sing. Charles Wesley wrote the words, but what not many people know, is that the first line originally ran: ‘Hark how all the welkin rings, glory to the King of Kings.’
It was altered by his friend and fellow Evangelist, George Whitfield, into the familiar version we all know as Hark! The herald angels sing. The welkin is an archaic, poetic word for the vault of heaven, so what the words are really saying is hark, how the vault of heaven resounds with glory to the King of Kings.
Our second question – Bach. Why did he begin his Christmas Oratorio with timpani strokes?
You could say that he wanted to convey an idea of rejoicing, or to make people sit up and listen but there’s more to it than that! When he was pushed for time, he often recycled music that he had written earlier and that’s very much the case with the Christmas Oratorio. The first chorus of it derives from a secular cantata he wrote in 1733 – number 214 – and it was to celebrate the birthday of the electress. The line with which the text originally began was ‘Tönet, ihr Pauken! Loud let the drums beat. When it came to recycling it, with sacred words a few years after that, he decided the words that would fit were ‘jauchzet, frohlocket’ which is just saying ‘rejoice’. So, no reference to kettle drums beating, but it stays there in the music. That’s, I think, why it begins as it did.
The third question where ‘the sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway. There’s never been such a day as in Beverly Hills, LA.’
It maybe would have been easier if I’d also read you the next two lines: ‘But it’s December 24th and I’m longing to be up north’, and lo and behold, we get the famous refrain: ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’- Irving Berlin – and it is surely one of the classic Christmas songs of all time. That opening verse is rather rarely recorded.
The fourth question: which English composer turned the ploughboy’s dream into a famous Christmas hymn? The answer is Ralph Vaughan Williams, and you might possibly have guessed that because ploughboy suggests something rural, and Vaughan Williams loved to go around collecting folk songs. It was actually Cecil Sharp who collected this: ‘I am a ploughboy stout and strong, as ever drove a team. And three years hence asleep in bed, I had a dreadful dream’. That was turned into ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’; Vaughan Williams gave it the name of ‘Forest Green’ which was the village where it was collected.
To our fifth question: in Ding dong! Merrily on high, what does it mean in verse two, priests and people sing ‘i-o, i-o, i-o’? Medieval priests would have used Latin, and i-o was a recognised abbreviation for ‘jubilo’ – the first person singular of the Latin verb ‘jubilare’ (to rejoice), so i-o, i-o means I rejoice, I rejoice. The words to Ding dong! Merrily on high were written by an antiquarian clergyman called G. R. Woodward and I think he rather liked the idea of harking back to the middle ages. Incidentally, the Oxford Book of Carols is mistaken about i-o being a ‘corruption’ of In excelsis Deo; the way scribes abbreviated commonly used phrases was with initial letters (RIP for requiescat in pace, SDG for Solo Dei Gloria, etc), but individual words were usually shortened by omitting internal letters.
Number 6: which drinking song, from the Beggar’s Opera of 1728, with only minor alterations, became a well-loved Christmas carol? ‘Fill every glass for wine, it fires and inspires us with courage, love and joy’, which became ‘Quelle est cette odeur agréable. Bergers, qui ravit tous nos sens?’. They’re really not very different – the first note is different but you can tell that they’re the same tune, essentially, and I do not know how a hearty drinking song became a reverent and rather lovely carol. An alternative French Christmas text set to the same tune is Bergers écoutez l’angélique musique.
The seventh question: three carol openings. What they share in common is that they are all settings of the same lovely medieval text – ‘There is no Rose of such virtue, as is the Rose that bare Jesu.’ The first of those settings, we don’t know who the composer is – it’s 15th century, it’s anonymous, one of those lovely, early English carols, and that particular one is preserved in a priceless roll of musical manuscript in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. The second of the openings is Benjamin Britten’s setting – There is no Rose – from his famous Ceremony of Carols’. The third one, perhaps not quite so well-known, is by the composer John Joubert. They share in common the same text.
Number eight was another question about what these examples share in common. Orlando Gibbons, Christopher Tye, Robert Tear and Brian Kay – what musical experience did they share in common – it is that they were all, at different times, members of the choir of King’s College, Cambridge.
Our ninth question also had a relevance to King’s College, Cambridge, and the question was: over the years, there have been new carols commissioned each year, by the college, for the choir to sing on Christmas Eve. I was wondering, what was the shortest of these carols among the almost 40 commissions that there have been. I gave a clue saying ‘think of a composer who was economical with the notes’. Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer, and the carol that he wrote for Christmas Eve, 1990 was called Bogoroditse Dyevo. It’s an Ave Maria, a carol of the annunciation and it clocks in at 1 minute 14 seconds. I hope that the college felt that they’d got their money’s worth – it is actually a lovely carol.
Number 10 – the ‘who am I?’ question: I’m an American, of Swedish descent. I spent World War II decoding enemy communications; I then went on to a successful career writing orchestral music, and here was a massive clue: in one of my pieces, a typewriter got included. Among my other orchestral compositions was a famous sleigh ride, and I am Leroy Anderson.
Number 11: I played this hymn. An easy question – what is it? Joy to the world. The composer was a 19th century American called Lowell Mason, who wrote quite a number of hymn tunes. In fact, it’s not absolutely certain that he was the composer, but he did publish that tune, and said at the time that it was inspired by Handel. The question here was: which piece of Handel was it inspired by? We can’t be absolutely certain, but it’s almost certain, I would say, that it was this piece from Messiah – Lift up your heads. It’s only the first four notes but that can be enough to get a fine tune going!
And finally, the twelfth question, which is familiar to quite a few arithmetic classes in schools, around Christmas time, and it was this: over the whole of the 12 days of Christmas, how many gifts in total, did my true love give to me? The answer is 364. You have to remember that on each day of Christmas, you get another dose of all the gifts that you have previously received, over again, as well as the new gifts for the day! Interesting that it adds up to just one day short of the full year of 365 days; it might be coincidence, or it may be that you would not give the gift on Good Friday, a very solemn day in the Christian calendar.