Daily Archives: Dec 7, 2009 12:29 am

Musical surprises #7: Jingle Bells doesn’t go like you think it does

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Jingle Bells is  a song you’ve known ever since you were a child, and you hear every christmas. The chorus has a shape and a direction that is so simple and obvious, you think it could only go the way it does.  Well think again. James Lord Pierpont, who composed The One Horse Open Sleigh in 1857 (as he called it), had quite different ideas about the chorus than the one we know today (though the verse has remained largely unchanged). It’s a curiously schoolmasterly, churchy kind of chorus, with none of the whipcracking fun of what superseded it.
There’s a four-part choir version of it on Youtube here:

…and here’s a link to a digitized copy of Pierpont’s 1857 version at the Library of Congress. In case the Youtube link fails or dies, here’s a MIDI version below.

What happened, I wonder? Did Pierpont himself change it? Or was it a bit like those dancers who change the steps when they know that the choreographer won’t be in that night  – a publisher who waited til Pierpont’s back was turned to improve the chorus and make it more saleable. I’m sure the answer’s out there somewhere.