The Music Plays On, Beyond the Stage

By Donato Cabrera│medium.com/@donatocabrera
December 12, 2020

Veni, Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come Emmanuel), is yet another centuries-old carol that has a rich history, with its text and melody even originating in separate countries and time periods.

The history of the text stretches back to at least the 8th century, however the text did not evolve into what we now know until much later. It was not until 1710 where we first see a published version of the latin text in Cologne, Germany, in the seventh edition of the Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum. These hymnal editions were enormously important in the development of church music in Germany. They were compiled by the Jesuit hymnographer Johannes Heringsdorf in 1610 and were used by every Jesuit school.

Veni, veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio,
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

Veni o Jesse virgula!
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
De specu tuos tartari
Educ, et antro barathri.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

Veni, veni o oriens!
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

Veni clavis Davidica!
Regna reclude coelica,
Fac iter Tutum superum,
Et claude vias Inferum.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

Veni, veni Adonai!
Qui populo in Sinai
Legem dedisti vertice,
In maiestate gloriae.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.

The English version as we know it today was published in 1861 by John Mason Neale to an arrangement by Thomas Helmore for the hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern.

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, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
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, Adonai, 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.

It was not until the middle of the 20th century that we discovered that the melody used for Veni, Veni Emmanuel was originally conceived for an entirely different text. In 1966, the British musicologist discovered the melody with the text Bone Jesu dulcis cunctis, a burial procession chant, in a 15th century French manuscript in the National Library of France.

Probable origin of the melody used for Veni, Veni Emmanuel

Here is a recording of the 1861 Neale/Helmore arrangement.

And, finally, a magnificent performance of the 1710 Latin text, arranged by Philip Lawson, performed by The Gesualdo Six.