O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

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Hymns are texts, usually poems, that are meant to be sung. The text and the melodies may or may not be written by the same person. In the case of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, we don’t know who wrote the words, but they appeared in the medieval Roman Catholic Church, in Latin, in the 12th century. Englishman John M. Neale translated the Latin words into English in the 19th century. The melody to which we sing these words originated in the 13th century, also from the medieval Roman Catholic Church. It was a “plainsong” melody or “chant”, meaning that it was a single, unadorned melodic line without harmonic accompaniment of any sort.

For those who are interested, the melody is in the Aeolian mode. What a beauty there can be in simplicity! Listen to a beautiful rendition of this week’s hymn in Latin below. The first part, before they break into harmony, is what the hymn would have sounded like in the 13th century.

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

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The text for Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesuswas written in 1744 by Englishman Charles Wesley, one of the greatest hymn text writers of all time. Wesley’s hymns are always rich in theology, and this is no exception. Notice how Wesley covers the reason for the Incarnation, the victory of the Christ’s kingdom over spiritual oppression, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and the Christian’s hope of eternal life with the Lord. Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesushas been sung to several hymn tunes, but the one we sing at Eastbrook is called HYFRYDOL (yes, hymn tunes have names!) written by Welsh composer Rowland Pritchard about a hundred years after Wesley wrote the words. In other church traditions, different tunes such as STUTTGART or ST. HILARY are used.  You might want to google these alternate tunes and see how the words have a slightly different emphasis when sung to another melody.

Joy to the World!

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The famous English poet Isaac Watts was raised in a Christian tradition that sang only the psalms, word for word. In 1719, he published a book of hymn texts in which he paraphrased all 150 psalms and “updated” them with references to Jesus, his work and ministry. Joy to the World is one of these poems, based on Psalm 98, especially verses 4-9.There is only one tune. In 1836, an American composer named Lowell Mason took snippets of Handel’s Messiahand crafted the tune ANTIOCH, to which we sing Joy to the World. If you know Handel’s Messiah, you will recognize parts of “Comfort Ye” and “Lift Up Your Heads” in this melody.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

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The words to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing were written by Charles Wesley in 1739. Many tunes have been tried with these words, but the lasting favorite is the familiar one we sing today, written by composer Felix Mendelssohn  in 1840. The lyrics are a poetic crash course in the doctrines of the Incarnation and salvation, and well worth memorizing.

O Holy Night

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The words to Cantique de Noelwere written by Frenchman Placide Cappeau in the 19thcentury and set to music by his friend, Adolphe Adams. A few years later, American poet John S. Dwight translated the lyrics into English, and the title became O Holy Night. All four themes of Advent are brought together in this hymn:

  • “His gospel is PEACE.”
  • “A thrill of HOPE, the weary world rejoices.”
  • “Sweet hymns of JOY in grateful chorus raise we.”
  • “Truly He taught us to LOVE one another.”