Music for the Fourth Sunday of Advent — December 20, 2020

Magnificat (BWV 243) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

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Bach’s setting of the Gospel canticle Magnificat is scored for five-part choir and an orchestra including trumpets and timpani. It was the first major liturgical composition on a Latin text by the composer. It consists of eleven movements for the text of Luke 1:46-55. It is hardly surprising that this is one of Bach’s most popular vocal works: by turns delightfully festive and introspective, Bach represents the text brilliantly and movingly.

Being a quintessential part of Vespers, Evensong or Matins, the Magnificat was, already for over a century before Bach’s composition, the liturgical text that was most often set to music apart from the Mass ordinary. In Protestantism there was no Latin text more often set to music than the Magnificat. Perhaps this is not surprising; Mary’s song of praise delights in the power and goodness of God and speaks to injustice in revolutionary terms.

Magnificat, anima mea, Dominum
et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo, salutari meo.
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillæ suæ:
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est, et sanctum nomen eius,
et misericordia eius a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.
ecit potentiam in brachio suo,
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles;
esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum recordatus misericordiæ suæ,
sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semini eius in sæcula.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto:
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.


My soul doth magnify the Lord:

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded: the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth: all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me: and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him: throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel: as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed, for ever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


Veni, veni Emmanuel – Text: Latin, 8th-9th century; metrical hymn 12th century / Music: French 15th century; arr. Philip Lawson

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Since before the 9th century seven great antiphons have been used in the Roman liturgy at Vespers, sung successively on the last seven days of Advent to salute the coming of the Messiah. They are referred to as the “O Antiphons” because the title of each one begins with “O”. Each antiphon is a name of Christ, one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. The Latin metrical version of the hymn was composed as early as the 12thcentury. The 1861 translation by John Mason Neale from Hymns Ancient and Modern is the most prominent by far in the English-speaking world. That translation is given below, including the verses not sung on this recording.

The familiar tune called VENI EMMANUEL was first linked with this hymn in 1851, when Thomas Helmore published it in the Hymnal Noted, paired with an early revision of Neale’s translation. Helmore’s Hymnal listed the tune as being “From a French Missal in the National Library, Lisbon.” However, in the 1960s a researcher reported the discovery of the melody in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, in a small 15th-century Processional which had belonged to Franciscan nuns.

The outstanding performance here is by the Gesualdo Six. Deo volente, they will return to St James in 2021.

Veni, veni Emmanuel;

Captivum solve Israel,

Qui gemit in exilio,

Privatus Dei Filio.



Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,

Nascetur pro te, Israel!


Veni, O Iesse virgula,

ex hostis tuos ungula,

de specu tuos tartari

educ et antro barathri



Veni, veni, O Oriens;

Solare nos adveniens,

Noctis depelle nebulas,

Dirasque noctis tenebras.



Veni, Clavis Davidica,

regna reclude caelica,

fac iter tutum superum,

et claude vias inferum.



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.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Gerald Harder