The 12 Days of Christmas [PDF Download]
It is believed the printed version of the words to this carol first appeared in 1780 in the book Mirth Without Mischief.
Originally a poem or a chant, it’s form is what is referred to as ‘cumulative verse’. Popularly believed to be French in origin, it was most likely based on a children’s memory and forfeit game for 12th night celebrations.
It’s likely to be much older than it’s 1780 first printed appearance. Other poems such as The Yule Days (a Scottish poem) include similar words (eg. A lady receiving from a King partridges, geese, ducks and swans).
The melody used for the song first appeared in 1909, based on a traditional folk melody, it was adapted for its use by Frederic Austin. Some believe that the mention of animals in the song is because it relates to feasting.
There are several other theories about the origins of the words but these cannot be authenticated.
Arrangement and teaching content
The piece should be manageable for an elementary student (around Grade 1). There aren’t too many hands shifts but challenge does occur in the music where ‘Five gold rings’ appears. Placing the chords and also co-ordinating the pedal is tricky (but very worthwhile). Isolating this for specific practice would be wise and a rit here could help to give the time needed to play accurately. Do also watch out for all the repeats.
A good piece for developing finger strength, lots of sections are in similar motion. The odd change in time signature exposes student to interesting changes in metre, with pauses also providing tempo variety.
There’s an opportunity to put in individual choice dynamics that word-paint the song and also provide colour.
All in all, this is an uncomplicated piece that fits around the fingers, written so as easy to sing, hopefully it will provide much fun and enjoyment over the festive period.
David Blackwell & Karen Marshall
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