Von Himmel Hoch: A Family Fantasia

December 16, 2010

Von Himmel Hoch

I think it’s reasonable to say our family is somewhat musical. Overall, there’s a fair number of us who can sing on key, plunk a tune on an instrument, or at least appreciate the gathering together and making of music.

At Christmas, this family musical-ness is epitomized by one particular piece—the German Christmas Song.

The German Christmas Song (actually titled “Von Himmel Hoch Da Komm Ich Her: Weihnachtsfantasie für Klavier,” by Ferdinand Keller) is a medley of carols many of us grew up playing on the piano. As kids, the octave tremolo in the intro marked the maturation of our handspan. The full keyboard run in the finale highlighted our developing technique. Every year my grandmother Ruth requested that someone—anyone—play the German Christmas Song.

Does anyone know the history of this piece? From where did we get it?

The arrangement must be old. I researched Ferdinand Keller and the publisher Robert Lienau and they’re both from the 19th century. All I know is that we’ve always been playing this piece.

In our house, pulling the German Christmas Song out from the piano bench marks the beginning of the holiday season. I love this time of year! I also love the personalization of the song, how each of us plays it according to our own skill, style and interpretation.

This year, we’re going to ask Sarah to play the German Christmas Song. Sarah is Ruth’s great-granddaughter (Dave’s daughter) and she’s much, much more than somewhat musical.

Thanks Sarah! You play beautifully!

And here it is—the German Christmas Song. Click here to hear to listen! While you’re listening, share your memories of this special piece.


Sarah is relishing her senior year of high school at Powers Catholic High School in Flint, MI. She keeps extremely busy with piano, organ, drama and all the other activities that come with high school. Her goal for college next fall is to study piano.

Need music for the German Christmas Song?
As far as I know, “Von Himmel Hoch Da Komm Ich Her: Weihnachtsfantasie für Klavier,” by Ferdinand Keller, is no longer in print. Instead, I searched high and low online for copyright ownership to the arrangement. I found nothing. I also scanned through English translations of German copyright laws (my understanding of such is extremely limited however).

Because of its age, I’m going by the assumption that its beyond copyright ownership. Thus, I’ve posted a pdf copy of the music here.

If anyone finds I’m wrong in posting this, please let me know. I want to be respectful to copyright laws and intellectual property. In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all and have fun playing the music!


12 Responses to “Von Himmel Hoch: A Family Fantasia”

  1. Terri Says:

    A beautiful Christmas post, Di! And so neat to hear Sarah playing The German Christmas Song. Grandma would be so proud.

    As I remember, a friend of Grandma and Grandpa went to visit Germany and brought back a copy of this music as a gift. (You had to go to Germany to get it.) Years later, they made another trip and Grandma asked them to get more copies – one for Mom, and one for Aunt Judy. I know I have a copy of a copy from Mom. Don’t know for sure how the others came to be. ;-) (what copyright laws??)

  2. Rhonda Martinez Says:

    That was awesome to hear your niece play this composition on the piano. Makes me wish I had my keyboard with me so I could plunk out at least parts of it. I’ve never heard that rendition before. I am going to forward it to my daughter Shari who would love to play this though. Thanks for sharing it, Di. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  3. Buck Says:

    Whenever Christmas rolls around, I really miss not having my piano. And my fingers just automatically stretch whenever I think of the German Christmas piece.

  4. Aunt Judy Says:

    If my memory is correct, I think I got my mom’s original copy of “Von Himmel Hoch” which was pretty much in shreds. When we lived in Johnson, a German friend was able to order new copies directly from Germany. I believe we got copies for Grandma and your mom at that time. The piece is a treasure, and I’m so happy it is being passed on to the next generation.

  5. Anne Carey Says:

    I am a co-worker and friend of Lori Amos. I love your blog. It’s very interesting and your photos are beautiful. More families should blog to capture such a magnificent collaboration of family history!

    Sarah you really are amazingly talented! Beautiful!

    • di Says:

      Anne, thanks for commenting on our blog! And yes, you’re right, blogging is a great way to record family history. If this is how generations today read, then this is the way we should pass along our stories. Thanks again and happy New Year!

  6. dave Says:

    Sarah played the song in church before two services yesterday.

  7. A.H. Lake City, MN Says:

    From Uncle Art Hackbarth:

    “Your Aunt Judy and I just finished listening to Sarah Amos play the Christmas composition “Vom Himmel Hoch.”. Aunt Judy was too modest to relate our association with this composition. When we served Trinity Lutheran Congregation in Johnson, MN, it became a tradition that she played that selection for the annual Ladies’ Aid Christmas party. I’m not certain if someone noticed her tattered sheet music or if Mary Ann Fuhrnann (a German war bride) offered to order a copy from Germany. I believe she may have ordered three copies at the time. Hence the copy that was played by Sarah. At least the cover of the composition was familiar to me. Aunt Judy has a copy that is just like that one. I believe she may still have the original tattered copy. It undoubtedly resides in the dark recesses of our piano bench. I never got beyond the cover. There were too many black notes inside for my liking.”

  8. Mathis Says:

    I searched for Ferdinand Keller’s Weihnachtsfantasie on the Internet (I have it too, wanted to know who he was) and so I found this blog. I wanted to suggest “Das weihnachtliche Lied” to you. Publisher is Hohner Verlag Mainz. It includes all the songs from the Weihnachtsfantasie in less pompous arrangements, and many more very nice, old christmas songs from germany.

    Best regards from Freiburg, Germany

  9. Dl Says:

    Mathis, so glad to receive your comment. And how fun that you found us! I’m curious from where you acquired your music? Was it something passed along in your family?

    Thanks for your suggestion. I’ll be sure to look for this piece!
    Blessings, Di

    • Mathis Says:

      My uncle bought the piece about 40 years ago. So it’s not a legendary family heirloom yet, as in your case. :-)
      Here’s a link to “Das weihnachtliche Lied” with contents, so you know how it looks like: http://bit.ly/Raj9hO

      I wish good music making ;-)

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