Music of the Month: Christmas Impressions, Set 2

Enhance your Christmas worship services with these five preludes by William H. Bates. Driving rhythmic passages, harmonic sequences, and imaginative counterpoints shore up the distinctive character of each tune.

The Contents and the Composers

Christmas Impressions, Set 2 includes six beloved Christmastide hymn tunes: “Away in a Manger” (both the tunes AWAY IN A MANGER and CRADLE SONG are featured), “What Child Is This” (GREENSLEEVES), “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (MENDELSSOHN), “Savior of the Nations, Come” (NUN KOMM, DER HEIDEN HEILAND), and “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (VOM HIMMEL HOCH).

William Bates (1943–) is a distinguished organist, recitalist, presenter, and professor of music. His hymn prelude settings in Christmas Impressions, Set 2 feature a variety of techniques and styles that should prove to be both engaging and rewarding for church organists this Christmastide.

“Away in a Manager”

Bates’s setting of “Away in a Manger” is a versatile one. Two versions of the prelude are included—both a shorter and a longer version. In each version, both tunes associated with the carol “Away in a Manger” are featured in the hymn prelude.

The tune more universally known in the United States for the carol is titled AWAY IN A MANGER in Lutheran Service Book; it’s the tune attributed to James R. Murray (1841–1905) that begins on the C above middle C and proceeds to descend stepwise an entire octave down to middle C.

Another well-known tune for the carol and one that is more widely preferred outside of the United States (particularly in the United Kingdom and Ireland) is the tune titled CRADLE SONG. This is the tune that begins on middle C and moves to the tonic F on the tune’s first downbeat. This tune was composed by William J. Kirkpatrick (1838–1921).

Bates’s two versions of his prelude offer organists options for how they’d like to utilize the setting. The shorter version lasts just over two minutes at the indicated tempo, while the longer version lasts four and a half minutes with all of the repeats at the indicated tempo.

“What Child Is This”

Bates’s setting of “What Child Is This” employs pedal-point techniques and parallel fourths in the manuals. These features bring forward the alluring nature of the carol’s tune, GREENSLEEVES, even more.

GREENSLEEVES is a sixteenth-century English melody written in the lute song (or “ayre”) style. Its earliest documentation is 1580, and it accompanied a ballad about unrequited love. It’s a culturally significant tune; it influenced Shakespeare’s works and its origin is associated with King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.

The tune is now synonymous with the Christmas carol “What Child Is This,” written by English hymnwriter William Dix (1837–1898). The strophic tune is written in binary form (AABB); the first phrase provides the melodic idea for the first two phrases, while the third phrase provides the melodic idea for the final two phrases. The first melodic idea is melancholic while the second responds to the first in a more hopeful tenor.

Other Settings

The collection also includes settings of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Savior of the Nations, Come,” and “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” These settings will provide organists with an assortment of styles in both the manuals and the pedals.

The five hymn preludes in Christmas Impressions, Set 2 will also be useful for church organists throughout all of Christmastide, from Advent to Christmas and even through Epiphany.

Play these five beautiful Christmas hymn preludes at your church by ordering the score below. 

Buy Christmas Impression, Set 2

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Written by

Nathan Grime

Nathan Grime is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a 2020 graduate of Hillsdale College, where he studied rhetoric, public address, and journalism. Nathan is the fifth and sixth grade teacher at Our Savior Lutheran School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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