“O Little Town of Bethlehem” is a popular Christmas carol written about the birth of Jesus in the town of Bethlehem. The song usually features four verses, but it was originally a five verse song and the fourth is usually left out at was the songwriters request. It is quite unique among Christmas hymns because the first verses of the song address the town of Bethlehem itself rather than offer praise or prayer to God. Let’s find out who wrote and composed this famous carol.
The lyrics to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” were written by Episcopal priest Phillips Brooks three years after visiting Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in 1865. He was inspired by his trip to the city and in the lead up to Christmas in 1868 he wrote the now famous poem and asked the organist from his church to compose the music.
The music for the song was composed by organist Lewis Redner who composed the music just the day before it was first performed. His piece of music is simply entitled “St. Louis” and is the most commonly used tune for this carol in the United States.
In other parts of the world, especially the United Kingdom, the tune “Forest Green” is used for this carol. This tune was adapted from a folk ballad by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Other tunes for this carol are “Wengen” written by H. Walford Davies, which is used mostly for choirs, and a tune from Bethany written by William Rhys-Herbert.
Did you know?
Lewis Redner later recounted that he and Brooks had never expected the carol or music would become popular. They both assumed it would not be played again after the Christmas of 1868.
The original fourth verse contained the line “Son of the Undefiled”, which Brooks changed to “Son of the Mother mild” due to controversy. Later, he completely removed the verse from the song.