HE MASS is such a holy thing—far beyond the comprehension of any mortal human being. Therefore, we must exercise the greatest circumspection with regard to music and texts chosen for it. That’s one reason we have discussed the issue of non-Catholic hymn texts. We also highlight the importance of having a parish pew book like the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal, which does not mimic or “build upon” Protestant models. A good illustration would be IN DULCI JUBILO (a Christmas carol from the 14th century). Many Protestant hymn books stealthily delete or bowdlerize the fourth verse since they adhere to heretical beliefs.1 The setting discussed below is by GUSTAAF NEES (d. 1965), a Catholic composer who—for obvious reasons—does not omit that verse.
The Melody • Anyone who knows “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” will recognize the tune. That is to say, the carol known as “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” borrowed the melody from IN DULCI JUBILO and added different lyrics. Perhaps the most famous version of IN DULCI JUBILO is the magnificent canon (Orgelbüchlein, BWV 608) written by Johann Sebastian Bach. For the record, Bach wrote several versions of IN DULCI JUBILO—and each one is absolutely splendid. If anyone hasn’t heard this famous melody, a good starting point would be the arrangement by Robert Lucas de Pearsall (d. 1856).
Latin Only? • The original 14th-century setting for IN DULCI JUBILO was a mixture of Latin and German. Indeed, many of the Church’s earliest vernacular hymns—such as Christ ist erstanden—were macaronic. (I realize that statement may startle anyone who has not yet had an opportunity to read about the history of vernacular Eucharistic hymns). The setting below by GUSTAAF NEES uses a version that’s entirely in Latin. The volunteer choir I direct will be singing the arrangment by Nees for Christmas:
* PDF Download • “IN DULCI JUBILO” (Christmas Carol)
—For SATB + Organ • Setting by Gustaaf Frans Nees (d. 1965).
In order to help my choir learn this piece, I recorded the different voice parts. Please remember as you listen: I’m a baritone—so the “girl” parts sound terrible sung by me. But I’m not embarrassed, because these practice videos save us time during rehearsals. Furthermore, Cardinal Merry del Val’s litany explicitly says: “From the fear of being ridiculed: Deliver me, Jesus.”
Gustaaf Nees (Part 1) • In 1916, the performance of Father Jules Van Nuffel’s “Super Flumina Babylonis” led to the foundation of the Saint Rumbold’s choir of Malines (a.k.a. “Mechelen”), which then quickly became the most important cathedral choir in Belgium. The cathedral organists were Oscar Depuydt and Flor Peeters. On the outskirts of the city was the Inter-Diocesan School of Religious Music, better known as the LEMMENSINSTITUUT. When Van Nuffel took over from Aloys Desmet in 1918, he managed to give this school a new impetus by appointing a number of young teachers such as Henri Durieux, Marinus de Jong, Flor Peeters, and also Gustaaf Nees (known to his friends as “Staf Nees”). We owe much biographical information about Nees to Mr. Koen Cosaert.
Gustaaf Nees (Part 2) • Because of his role as a teacher at the “Higher Institute for Church Music” (LEMMENSINSTITUUT), Gustaaf Nees shared responsibility for the further development of liturgical music for the Catholic Church in Belgium. This helps to explain why his compositional output consisted mainly of vocal music. Together with Monsignor Jules Van Nuffel—and his colleagues Flor Peeters, Marinus de Jong, and Monsignor Jules Vyverman—Gustaaf Nees helped to establish the so-called “Mechlinian school,” which was strongly influenced by Gregorian chant.
Gustaaf Nees (Part 3) • Gustaaf Nees composed about sixty (60) motets for different settings: solo voice, choir, mixed or equal voices, a cappella, or with organ. He set texts such as “Tantum ergo” and “O salutaris hostia” as many as four times. I would love to obtain more of his music—can any readers assist in this area? Nees also composed six (!) settings of the Mass Ordinary. His son, Vic Nees (d. 2013), became a composer of choral music, musicologist, choral conductor, and music educator.
This Particular Piece • This setting by Nees is fabulous. I can’t wait to make a recording of it with my choir. They’re sounding great already! Mæstro Nees—who was friends with my teacher—really understood how to write for the human voice. I love how the pitch of the melody rises to a higher key each time it occurs. The organ part is relatively simple and a joy to play. The different voices are each given something “interesting” to sing; e.g. the Soprano gets an atheletic counter-melody in addition to the hymn tune. Gustaaf Nees was a carillonneur, and it’s interesting to see him setting a text that speaks of campána quóque clángat.
1 Protestants who denigrate Christ’s mother offend God. Contrariwise, Jesus Christ is pleased when we honor His mother. Indeed, the Jesuit martyrs of North America had exceptionally strong devotion to Mary. Father Charles Garnier took a special vow to uphold until death the belief in her Immaculate Conception—which was not, at that time, formally declared as a dogma of the Catholic Church—and it was on the vigil of this feast that he died, at the age of forty-four (7 December 1649). Moreover, the center of the entire missionary enterprise was named “Fort Sainte Marie” by the Jesuits, in honor of the Blessed Virgin.