Harmonizing “Good King Wenceslas” and “O Tannenbaum” was my goal for this holiday season. The idea was to enrich the harmony with four and five note voicings with a traditional jazz approach. I am happy with the results so far and wanted to post this, maybe a bit early, so there would be time to work on it before Christmas. My approach was to maximize the color content by harmonizing every note of the melody with a new chord and adding just a touch of counterpoint with some inner voice and bass line movement where the melody remains stationary. So please read the notation as well as using the diagrams to facilitate the chord reading. I included some of my favorite quartal sounds as well as a few polychords for good measure.
I think the charts are pretty well self explanatory as I included chord names with the diagrams. The most interesting harmonic feature in “Good King Wenceslas” occurs in measures five and six where the descending chromatic bass line supported by parallel sevenths and tenths generates two altered chords (Eb9#11 and C13) which function as tritone substitutions for the V/IV and V/ii respectively. Most everything else that is altered can be considered either a secondary dominant or a product of modal mixture in which harmony is borrowed from the parallel minor key. For example the classic minor iv chord (dm) that appears in measure ten as well as any E7(b9) harmony can be thought of as borrowed from A minor. Please refer to my earlier articles on modal mixture, secondary dominants and tritone substitution for a detailed explanation. Also of interest is the D#m7b5 chord in measure sixteen. Originally I had a D natural bass on the first beat which gives us a basic DMaj7 chord. By raising the root one half step to D# I now have a much more interesting chromatic bass line (E-D#-D) in measures fifteen through sixteen and the new harmony is simply a product of the voice-leading.
“O Tannenbaum” is a bit simpler harmonically making use of many secondary dominants, secondary leading-tone diminished seventh chords and tritone substitutions. In this, the most interesting feature is the use of a flat seven dominant ninth chord (Bb9) at the cadences in measures eight and sixteen. This harmony can be thought of as being borrowed from the parallel minor key of C minor (modal mixture). I think it works quite well even though it is contrary to the common notion that a leading tone (B natural) should be present in the harmony preceding the tonic at a cadence, although I am aware that this harmony is not unusual in jazz.
I hope you enjoy these little arrangements. If you do you might also enjoy my Three Traditional Christmas Carols available here.
Thanks for your support.