09 December 2008

Who Wrote Jingle Bells? Who Wrote Silver Bells?

I recently saw two Christmas carols, "Jingle Bells" and "Silver Bells" described in a concert program as "traditional," rather than having attributed composers. Neither is terribly old (compared to most of the musical works that are frequently designated as "traditional") since the prevailing mode of observance of Christmas isn't terribly old. The composers of each carol are known.

I could date each of them, almost to the year, from my seat, without references (although the composer names escaped me). Does that make me old to the point of being traditional?

Jingle Bells is roughly contemporaneous with the modern observances of Christmas.

"Jingle Bells", also known as "One Horse Open Sleigh", is one of the best known and commonly sung secular Christmas songs in the world. It was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and copyrighted under the title 'One Horse Open Sleigh' on September 16, 1857.

"Jingle Bells" is now in the public domain, although most recorded performances of it have protection under copyright law for reproductions of that particular performance.

"Silver Bells" is a post-World War II era song, and is one of my favorites, because it is one of the few urban carols.

"Silver Bells" is a classic Christmas song, composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. "Silver Bells" was introduced by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in a motion picture called The Lemon Drop Kid in 1951. The first recorded version was by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards in 1952, which also became a hit in late 1952. The lyrics are unusual for a Christmas song in that they describe the holiday in the city, and not a rural setting.

"Silver Bells" probably continues to be protected as intellectual property, although the law of intellectual property in music is rather more involved than it is for text works, at is was non-uniform prior to the 1970s, and there were several points at which legal missteps could have occured. One could, however, demand the right to cover the song without permission in exchange for a statutory royalty, in lieu of paying a negotiated royalty to the owner of the rights.

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