Monday, January 05, 2009

Musical Monday -- Epiphany hymns

Today is, depending on who you ask, either the day after or the day before Epiphany, the celebration of the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem to offer their gifts to the baby Jesus. A discussion of why the day is in flux would be lively, but it's not going to happen here, at least not this year. But I am going to post a couple of my favorite Epiphany hymns.

First, obviously:

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.


Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, all men raising,
Worship Him, God most high.


Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.


Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.


The MIDI of a rather nice synthesizer arrangement is here. ( I didn't link to CyberHymnal because they've been having some URL problems, and besides, even they had a slightly "modernized" set of lyrics. As someone who always learns all the verses of hymns, especially Christmas carols, I'm annoyed by that. Feel free to ignore me.)

My second offering is one many people think of as a "Christmas carol", but if you look at all the words (this is me we're talking about), you'll see that it's also really for Epiphany.

The first 'Noel' the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east, beyond them far;
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from country far;
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!

This star drew nigh to the northwest:
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!

*Then did they know assuredly
Within that house the King did lie;
One entered in then for to see,
And found the Babe in poverty.

Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
Born is the King of Israel!

Then entered in those wise men three,
Full rev'rently upon their knee,
And offered there, in his presence,
Both gold and myrrh, and frankincense.

Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
Born is the King of Israel!

*Between an ox-stall and an ass
This Child there truly borned was;
For want of clothing they did him lay
All in the manger, among the hay.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made heaven and earth of nought,
And with His blood mankind hath bought.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!

*If we in our time shall do well
We shall be free from death and hell,
For God hath prepared for us all
A resting-place in general.

Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
Born is the King of Israel!

*Often omitted in modern performances.

I prefer the spelling "Nowell", but this version, which I found at Wikipedia, was inconsistent. But the extra verses, which I had never seen before, are reason enough to forgive them! (They link to several musical versions.)

Finally, this one, which I loved as a child but rarely suggest to our choir because the updates in our hymnal are just too awful.

As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

(The MIDI of "Dix", which is the tune I grew up with.)

I hope to be showing up here a couple of times a week this year. Wish me luck! (or wisdom and grace if you prefer ;-D )


Jen said...

You picked two of my absolute favorites! I shall sing them to the baby tonight.

Rosemary Bogdan said...

I love these traditional carols.

robert said...

Great to see William Dix's "As With Gladness" included. (Today, as I write, is the 111th anniversary of his death.) He gives us a very fine hymn, making an application of the events Matthew describes.

On the other hand, popular though it is,I've never thought much of "We Three Kings of Orient Are," since it contains so many inaccuracies. We know three gifts were presented to the Baby, but not whether there were three men offering them. And they were not kings, but rather magi," students of the stars. And not from the Orient, which would be from China, but more likely from Persia, the Middle East.