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Half​-​Spent Was the Night: Christmas Piano Improvisations

by Eric Pazdziora

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Joy to the world! the Lord is come: let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven and nature sing. Joy to the world! the Savior reigns; let us our songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy. No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness, and wonders of his love, and wonders of his love, and wonders, wonders of his love. Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748), 1719 Music: Antioch (George Frederick Handel, 1685-1759, arranged Lowell Mason, 1792-1872)
1 Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella Bring a torch, to the cradle run! It is Jesus, good folk of the village; Christ is born and Mary's calling: Ah! ah! beautiful is the mother! Ah! ah! beautiful is her Son! 2 It is wrong when the Child is sleeping, It is wrong to talk so loud; Silence, all as you gather around, Lest your noise should waken Jesus; Hush! hush! see how fast he slumbers; Hush! hush! see how fast he sleeps! 3 Softly to the little stable, Softly for a moment come; Look and see how charming is Jesus; How he is white, his cheeks are rosy! Hush! hush! see how the Child is sleeping; Hush! hush! see how he smiles in dream. French traditional
1 Of the Father's love begotten, ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he, of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore! 2 O that birth forever blessèd, when the Virgin, full of grace, by the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race; and the Babe, the world's Redeemer, first revealed his sacred face, evermore and evermore! 3 Let the heights of heaven adore him, angel hosts, his praises sing, powers, dominions, bow before him, and extol our God and King; let no tongue on earth be silent, every voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore! 4 Christ, to thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to thee, hymn and chant and high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be; honor, glory and dominion, and eternal victory, evermore and evermore! Author: Aurelius Clemens Prudentius; Translator: Henry W. Baker, J. M. Neale Tune: DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, Latin plainchant
1 O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear. Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel. 2 O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, Who ord'rest all things mightily; To us the path of knowledge show And teach us in her ways to go. (Refrain) 3 O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height In ancient times didst give the law In cloud and majesty and awe. (Refrain) 4 O come, Thou Rod of Jesse's stem; From every foe deliver them That trust thy mighty pow'r to save, And give them vict'ry o'er the grave. (Refrain) 5 O come, thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heav'nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. (Refrain) 6 O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death's dark shadows put to flight. (Refrain) 7 O come, Desire of nations, bind All peoples in one heart and mind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease; And be Thyself our King of Peace. (Refrain) Translator: John Mason Neale (1851) Tune: VENI EMMANUEL (Chant)
1. Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung! Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung. It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter, When half spent was the night. 2. Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the rose I have in mind; With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind. To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior, When half spent was the night. 3. The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright, How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night. To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him, As angel heralds said. 4. This flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere; True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us, And lightens every load. 5. O Savior, child of Mary, who felt our human woe, O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know; Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven, And to the endless day! German, 15th. c. Translator: Theodore Baker Tune: ES IST EIN ROS
1. The Holly and the Ivy When they are both full grown, Of all the trees that are in the wood, The Holly bears the crown. Refrain O the rising of the sun, The running of the deer, The playing of the merry organ, Sweet singing in the quire. 2. The Holly bears a blossom, As white as lily-flower; And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, To be our sweet Savior. [Refrain] 3. The Holly bears a berry, As red as any blood; And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, To do poor sinners good. [Refrain] 4. The Holly bears a prickle, As sharp as any thorn; And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, On Christmas Day in the morn. [Refrain] 5. The Holly bears a bark, As bitter as any gall; And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, For to redeem us all. [Refrain] 6. The Holly and the Ivy Now both are full well grown, Of all the trees that are in the wood, The Holly bears the crown. [Refrain] English traditional carol
1 Sing we now of Christmas, Noel, sing we here! Hear our grateful praises to the babe so dear. [Refrain:] Sing we Noel, the King is born, Noel! Sing we now of Christmas, sing we now Noel! 2 Angels called to shepherds, "Leave your flocks at rest, journey forth to Bethlehem, find the lambkin blest." (Refrain) 3 In Bethlehem they found him; Joseph and Mary mild, seated by the manger, watching the holy child. (Refrain) 4 From the eastern country came the kings afar, bearing gifts to Bethlehem guided by a star. (Refrain) 5 Gold and myrrh they took there, gifts of greatest price; there was ne'er a place on earth so like paradise. (Refrain) Traditional French carol, NOEL NOUVELET
1. Once in royal David's city stood a lowly cattle shed, where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed: Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child. 2. He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall; with the poor, the scorned, the lowly lived on earth our Savior holy. 3. [Protected by copyright] 4. For he is our lifelong pattern; daily, when on earth he grew; he was tempted, scored, rejected, tears and smiles like us he knew. Thus he feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness. 5. And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love; for that child who seemed so helpless is our Lord in heaven above; and he leads his children on to the place where he is gone. 6. Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing round, we shall see him; but in heaven, where his saints his throne surround: Christ, revealed to faithful eye, set a God's right hand on high.
1 O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. 2 For Christ is born of Mary and, gathered all above, while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love. O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth, and praises sing to God the king, and peace to all on earth. 3 How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in. 4 O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us; abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Ring, Christmas bells, merrily ring, Tell all the world Jesus is King. Loudly proclaim, With one accord, The happy tale, Welcome the Lord! Ring, Christmas bells, Sound far and near, The birthday of Jesus is here. Herald the news, To old and young, Tell it to all, In ev'ry tongue. Ring, Christmas bells, Toll loud and long, Your message sweet, Peel and prolong. Come all ye people, Join in the singing, Repeat the story, Told by the ringing. Ring, Christmas bells, Tell the glad news Of Jesus birth. Loudly proclaim, With one accord, The happy tale, Welcome the Lord! Ring, Christmas bells, Merrily ring, Tell all the world, Jesus is King! Original title: Schedryk Composer: Mykola Leontovich, 1916
Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, bye-bye, lully lullay. 1. O sisters, too, how may we do for to preserve this day this poor youngling for whom we sing, bye-bye lully lullay? 2. Herod the King, in his raging charged he hath this day his men of might, in his own sight, all young children to slay. 3. That woe is me, poor child, for thee! And every morn and day, for thy parting not say nor sing bye-bye, lully lullay. Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, bye-bye, lully lullay. English Traditional, c. 1534
1 The first Noel the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay; in fields where they lay keeping their sheep, on a cold winter's night that was so deep. Refrain: Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel. 2 They looked up and saw a star shining in the east, beyond them far; and to the earth it gave great light, and so it continued both day and night. [Refrain] 3 And by the light of that same star three Wise Men came from country far; to seek for a king was their intent, and to follow the star wherever it went. [Refrain] 4 This star drew nigh to the northwest, o'er Bethlehem it took its rest; and there it did both stop and stay, right over the place where Jesus lay. [Refrain] 5 Then entered in those Wise Men three, full reverently upon the knee, and offered there, in his presence, their gold and myrrh and frankincense. [Refrain] English carol, 17th. C.
1 We three kings of Orient are; bearing gifts we traverse afar, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star. Refrain: O star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light. 2 Born a King on Bethlehem's plain, gold I bring to crown him again, King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign. [Refrain] 3 Frankincense to offer have I; incense owns a Deity nigh; prayer and praising, voices raising, worshiping God on high. [Refrain] 4 Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb. [Refrain] 5 Glorious now behold him arise; King and God and sacrifice: Alleluia, Alleluia, sounds through the earth and skies. [Refrain] John H. Hopkins (1867)
O Holy Night 05:14
1 O holy night! the stars are brightly shining; It is the night of the dear Savior's birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope--the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn! Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O night divine, O night when Christ was born! O night, O holy night, O night divine! 2 Led by the light! of faith serenely beaming, With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand. So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming, Here came the Wise Men from Orient land. The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger, In all our trials born to be our Friend. He knows our need - to our weakness is no stranger. Behold your King, before Him lowly bend! Behold your King, before Him lowly bend! 3 Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, And in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we; Let all within us praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever! His power and glory evermore proclaim! His power and glory evermore proclaim! Placide Cappeau, 1847, translated John S. Dwight.
Silent Night 05:38
1 Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright ’round yon virgin mother and child! Holy Infant, so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace. 2 Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight; glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia: Christ the Savior is born; Christ the Savior is born!” 3 Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth. Joseph Mohr, 1818, translated J. Freeman Young


The birth of Christ is about light shining in the darkness. These improvisations on traditional Christmas hymns and carols, as requested by my friends, were recorded late at night, sometimes contemplative, sometimes playful, sometimes quiet, sometimes sad. As improvisations they are spontaneous and transient, reflecting how I felt they should be in the moment.


released December 12, 2014

All arrangements © and ℗ 2014 Eric Pazdziora. All Rights Reserved.

Cover image: flic.kr/p/41L89 via Creative Commons.


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Eric Pazdziora Gaithersburg, Maryland

Eric Paździora is a composer whose music has been performed and published around the world. Reviewers have described his compositions as “fresh, exciting, and well-crafted” (Pastoral Music) and “an instant classic” (Global Christian Worship). He holds a doctorate in music composition from the University of Maryland.

To hear more, visit www.ericpazdziora.com
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