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The piece “Deck the Halls” is Welsh and dates back to the sixteenth century. It belongs to a winter carol, Nos Galan. In the eighteenth century Mozart used the tune to “Deck the Halls” for a violin and piano duet. The repeated “fa la la” is from medieval ballads and used in Nos Galan, the remaining lyrics are American in origin dating from the nineteenth century.
The History of the hymn “Deck the Halls”
Deck the Halls is an old Welsh air, first found in a musical manuscript by Welsh harpist John Parry Ddall (c. 1710–1782), but is undoubtedly much older than that.
The composition is still popular as a dance tune in Wales, and was published in the 1784 and 1794 editions of the harpist Edward Jones’s Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards. Poet John Ceiriog Hughes wrote the first published lyrics for the piece in Welsh, titling it Nos Galan (New Year’s Eve).
A middle verse was later added by folk singers. In the eighteenth century the tune spread widely, with Mozart using it in a piano and violin concerto, (and later Haydn used it in the song New Year’s Night).
Originally, carols like Deck the Halls were dances and not songs. The accompanying tune would have been used as a setting for any verses of appropriate metre. Singers would compete with each other, verse for verse — known as canu penillion dull y De (singing verses in the southern style).
The church actively opposed these folk dances. Consequently, tunes originally used to accompany carols became separated from the original dances, (but were still referred to as carols). The popular English lyrics for this carol are not a translation from the Welsh.
The connection with dancing is made explicit in the English lyrics by the phrase follow me in merry measure as measure is a synonym for dance. A collection of such sixteenth and seventeenth century dances danced at the Inns of Court in London are called the Old Measures. Dancing itself having been previously suppressed by the church was revived during the renaissance beginning in fifteenth century Italy .
During the Victorian re-invention of Christmas it was turned into a traditional English Christmas song. The first English version appeared in The Franklin Square Song Collection, edited by J.P.McCaskey in 1881.