Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 30: Songs for the Seasons

O come, O come, Emmanuel

This hymn, associated with Advent, is a translation of a 12th century Latin Hymn , “Veni, veni, Emmanuel”, which was itself based on a series of Latin Antiphons (short chants sung before  psalms or readings) sung one each day in the week leading up to Christmas. They are called the “O” Antiphons, because they all begin with “O”. Each one uses a different title applied to Jesus in the Bible. O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Dayspring), O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations), O Emmanuel (O God-with-us). Collectively these antiphons are a cry of longing to God. Each verse expresses different ways in which the coming of Christ brings salvation to the world.

The translation, of five of the antiphons, most often sung in English churches is by John Mason Neale, (1818-66) a prominent figure in the Oxford Movement, which wanted to restore to the C of E some of the riches of music, art and liturgy which had been lost at the Reformation. He translated a number of Latin and Greek hymns, including “All Glory, Laud and Honour” and “The Day of Resurrection”. 

The tune is based on Gregorian plainchant, arranged by Thomas Helmore (1811-90) a choirmaster and writer with a special interest in plainsong, which was being rediscovered and championed by the Oxford movement. The tune came from a book called Piae Cantiones which had been given to Neale by the then Swedish Ambassador. He passed it on to Helmore to arrange.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.

  •  What situations do you long for Christ to come into? How do you think he might come today?

There's another version, by Enya, here.

And here is one of the original O Antiphons.

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