HRISTMAS GIFT GUIDES ABOUND. Professional Santas are booked out. The Christmas carols have begun in the shops already, but at Mass we’re still waiting to start waiting.
This time of expecting is really magic because you have the time to pull out all your favourite music and make grand castles in the sky of all the wonderful music you will sing with all the wonderful people in your life.
Many hymnbooks start with Advent as it is the beginning of the Liturgical Year. My little New Book of Old Hymns kicks off with
- Conditor alme siderum
- Veni O Sapientia
- Rorate Caeli
Conditor alme siderum
The first is a vespers hymn for Advent. It has one of the simplest melodies of all the hymns in the Liber Usualis. The 1962 Roman version starts Creator Alme Siderum. The older version is Conditor Alme Siderum from before the reforms of Pope Urban VIII.
The Story of Redemption for Children (available at musicasacra.com) uses this tune for two rhymes by Fr Abair, one for the Annunciation, the other the Trip to Bethlehem. The whole book is a great way to introduce basic chant standards, though the lyrics are a little uninspired. But it could form part of a plan to infiltrate families – getting children singing these melodies in order to introduce the real stuff further down the track.
My favourite translation is by Fr Edward Caswall, especially the verse:
Great judge of all in that last day
When friends shall fail and foes combine
Be present then with us, we pray
And guard us with thy arm divine.
I can’t remember why I didn’t use that translation in my hymnbook. It must have been an early decision from the first edition back in 2004. Maybe that’s something to consider updating for the fifth edition.
Veni O Sapientia
The second is best known as O Come, O Come Emmanuel. It is based on the O Antiphons – the antiphons for the Magnificat for the last seven days of Advent. The antiphons themselves are also easier than they look as there is a lot of similarity between them. I think Jonathan over at the Ictus explains this one best. He has the link to the NLM article on the origins of the two part tune as well as recordings to help practice the melody and the harmony.
The third is a great one where you have a strong cantor (or three). The choir can learn the refrain and the congregation may join in after a few repeats.
The words can be translated as “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness” which is particularly apposite at the moment for me here. The past few days have seen a bush fire burning 120 hectares about 15km east of where I sit.
I know a flower
The fourth, which isn’t in the book, and may actually be more a Christmas piece, is Es ist ein Ros entsprungen. It isn’t even Latin (though there is a Latin version called Flos de radice Jesse). It’s a German carol singing of Mary as the Rose who bore the Saviour. The usual English translation revises the text to make Jesus the Rose, which has truth to it too, but…
Now my German is awful, despite my surname and several great-great-grandparents from that area, so I was pleased to find an English version more faithful to the German written by George Radcliffe Woodward. Better still, this version was chosen by R R Terry for his book of Old Christmas Carols.
2. This plant, with blossom laden,
As spake Esay of yore,
Is Mary, spotless maiden,
For us this flow’ret bore;
By God’s eternal will,
A seemly Babe she childeth,
Yet maid remaineth still.
You can read the rest here.
So I typed it up and you can find it (and many other versions) up at the Choral Public Domain Library.
Typing it up I was surprised to find how much repetition there is in the music. It is really quite easy to learn and very beautiful to hear.
All the best with your Advent preparations!