Music for the Fourth Sunday of Advent — December 19, 2021

Rejoice in the Lord alway – Anonymous (mid-16th century, English)


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Since before the 9th century seven great antiphons have been used at Vespers to salute the coming of the Messiah. They are sung successively on the last seven days of Advent. Each of them begins with “O” and each uses one of the titles which describe the Messiah in scripture. “O come, O come, Emmanuel”, today’s Offertory hymn in church, is based on these antiphons. It appeared in the appendix to Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, Cologne 1710; the translation sung here was made by Thomas Alexander Lacey for The English Hymnal (1906). Each stanza takes one Old Testament metaphor for the Messiah and dwells on its significance for Advent. During the Middle Ages it was customary for the officers of a monastery to have an assigned “O” to sing on a particular day and then to provide a feast for the monks.


The provenance of the tune Veni Emmanuel, first appearing with this hymn in the mid-19th-century, had long been a mystery. In the mid-1960s a small 15th-century Processional which had belonged to French Franciscan nuns was discovered in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. In that volume are a number of verses for the funeral responsory Libera me, the melody of which is none other than the tune with which we are familiar. Thus, it would appear that Veni Emmanuel descends from a French melody of the 15th century.


In this recording, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, conducted by the late Stephen Cleobury, sings a selection of verses.


O come, O come, Emmanuel!

Redeem thy captive Israel,

That into exile drear is gone

Far from the face of God’s dear Son.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, thou Root of Jesse! draw

The quarry from the lion’s claw;

From those dread caverns of the grave,

From nether hell, thy people save.


O come, O come, thou Dayspring bright!

Pour on our souls thy healing light;

Dispel the long night’s lingering gloom,

And pierce the shadows of the tomb.


O come, thou Lord of David’s Key!

The royal door fling wide and free;

Safeguard for us the heavenward road,

And bar the way to death’s abode.


O come, O come, Adonaï,

Who in thy glorious majesty

From Sinai’s mountain, clothed with awe,

Gavest thy folk the ancient law.


Gerald Harder