O Come, O Come Emmanuel

During this time whilst we can’t sing together in worship we are aiming to post a different hymn each week. For some Sundays it will be the obvious hymn in Common Praise for a particular Sunday and a brief commentary – partly with reference to The Penguin Book of Hymns edited by Ian Bradley, The Nation’s Favourite Hymns by Andrew Barr or research on the internet – will be published with our hymn choice for the week. The words of the hymn will be provided alongside a recording of the hymn, courtesy of Lucy Colbourne at home whilst Lancaster University is in lockdown. This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of his Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.

Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

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, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here;
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, O come, thou 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.

Latin Advent Antiphons tr J M Neale

Tune: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel
Music: Melody from 15th century
adapted and arranged by David Willcocks

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Hymn Commentary 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel must rate as the most significant of Advent hymns and,however popular, it is certainly as distinctive a hymn as you are likely to hear.  You might imagine that the words and the music grew up together and, whilst the music is old (fifteenth century), the original words are much older (in use by the ninth century, they probably date form the seventh or even sixth centuries).  Contrast this with this week’s Anthem for the Week, The Hands that first held Mary’s Child, which was only published in 2011.  The week’s Hymn for the Week has a sense of longing (as you will read below) and this was fulfilled in the birth of Christ; this week’s Anthem for the Week leaves you in no doubt about the sense of wonder on that first Christmas Day.

Definitely a hymn for Advent, in O Come, O Come, Emmanuel that idea of longing is highlighted in each verse, all of which originally began with a long drawn out “O” - both in its original Latin and in translation.  Each verse then describes Christ in a different way: Emmanuel (‘God with us’) as in Isaiah 7:14; Jesse Virgula  (‘Rod of Jesse’) as in Isaiah 11;10; Oriens (‘Dayspring’) as in Malachi 4:2; Clavis Davidica (‘Key of David’) as in Isaiah 22:22; and Adonai (‘Lord of Might’) as in Exodus 3:15.  The first translation of the Latin text was made by John Henry Newman but the one to be found in Holy Trinity’s Hymnal, Common Praise, was perhaps the second translation (there have been others).  It is by John Mason Neale.  At times a controversial high church Anglican priest, he was born in London in 1818 and died in East Grinstead, Sussex, in 1866.  Not one to have enjoyed good health, he followed a career path that took him around various part of England and, briefly, Madeira.  The original Latin hymn was put together in the twelfth century from five of seven antiphons that were sung in monasteries, one each on the seven days leading up to Christmas.

The tune, Veni Emmanuel, is based on a melody found in a French missal – texts and instructions for the celebration of the Mass.  Some say that Neale himself copied the tune from the missal, others that it was copied by Bishop Jenner on a visit to Lisbon (the missal was in the National Library of Portugal although there is a source in Paris too).  The music was adapted and arranged originally by Thomas Helmore (b. Kidderminster, 1811; d. Westminster, 1890).  An Anglican clergyman, he was one of the pioneers in the revival of Gregorian chant.  The accompaniment and descant that you hear in the recording is by David Willcocks who, for well over ten years, was Director of Music at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.  And this is perhaps a link to one of this nation’s most famous sources of performances of Christmas music.  Yes, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel must rate as the most significant of Advent hymns, but its use in services of Nine Lessons and Carols has helped to propel it to become one of the sounds of Christmas.


Charles Pavey - Organist & Choirmaster

Anthem for the Week