The Music of Christmas – Day 4: “O Tannenbaum”

O Tannenbaum
By Vince Guaraldi

One of my all time favorite Christmas specials is “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. That and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” are the two Christmas shows that I always watched as a kid every year. These days, I try to make sure I’m home and watching them on TV. Yes, I have both on DVD, but there’s something traditional about watching them on TV as they’re broadcast. (The “CBS Special Presentation” spinning logo is also forever linked to “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, but that hasn’t been showed in quite a long time. And definitely won’t now, thanks, Tim Apple.)

There’s not much bad you can say about this show. It’s sweet, it’s cute, it’s a classic. And it’s got great music. When the producers got the idea to get jazz musician Vince Guaraldi and his trio to write the music, it may not have been considered a wise choice. Forty years later, how can you think of a better combination of Peanuts characters and Vince Guaraldi?

I could have gone with several choices for today’s song. There’s “Skating”, the piano music we hear when the characters are skating on the frozen pond. There’s “Christmas Time Is Here”, but while it’s a classic song, there are a few things about it that aren’t quite “right” in my mind, the first note the kids sing being one of it. A bit too harsh for my tastes.

“O Tannenbaum” (“tannenbaum” is German for “fir tree”; this song was translated into English as “Oh Christmas Tree”), though, is fantastic. It starts off in three-quarter time, with a slight jazz waltz feel, then it breaks through into 4/4 time, with bass and drums accompanying it. Remember yesterday that I liked it when people take key signatures and mix it up for differing effect? Here’s another example. When I hear this song, I can’t help but think of Charlie Brown and Linus searching for the perfect Christmas tree. And then Charlie Brown picks what has to be the most pathetic tree in the lot, gets ridiculed for it, but eventually — with love and care — the tree turns out beautiful.

“All it needed was a little love.” That’s what this Christmas special is — a little love for everyone. And this song embodies that love.

Tomorrow — Snoopy returns, but with what song?