O Come, O Come Emmanuel

For the second text of Christmas this blogger gives to thee…

One of the oldest texts we have for Christmas, O Come, O Come Emmanuel (alternatively Immanuel) was originally used for Latin masses before the 8th century. Translated into English by J.M. Neale in the 1800s, it was musically adopted from a fifteenth century French Mass by Thomas Helmore, also in the 1800s. Both tune and text are over half a millennia old!

The tone of the verses and the tone of the refrain contrast one another beautifully. Many of verses begin with the woeful state of humanity, and move towards the hope that Jesus’ coming brings, followed by the refrain’s thankful joy in Immanuel. The musical setting of the text displays this turn as well, with the verses beginning in a minor key and moving to the major for the refrain, which itself ends in the minor to set up the next verse.

There is extraordinary variation in the verses used in different hymnals; it is in fact more difficult to find two hymnals that agree on their verses than a dozen that differ! Some of the most common verses are below.

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, 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.

O come, thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

3 Settings

A modern version from Sovereign Grace

A classical setting in traditional Latin from The Gesualdo Six

Ask a cellist to write for a blog, and he’ll slip some cello into the blog!

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