Thursday, December 18, 2008

Draw nigh, Emmanuel

The hymn we now know as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is variously attributed to 9th and 12th century Latin texts. The tune “Veni Emmanuel” is more reliably attributed to a 15th or 16th century French tune.

However, the English translation of these texts is known to be by John Mason Neale and his 1851 book, Medieval Hymns and Sequences. The Google online PDF of the book Hymns of the Breviary and Missal says this about the Rev. Neale:
Dr. Neale was an eminent hymnologist and a most felicitous translator of Greek and Latin hymns. His translations of Latin hymns appeared in his MediƦval Hymns and Sequences, 1851, and in the Hymnal Noted, 1852 and 1854, in which 94 out of the 105 hymns therein are translated from the Latin by Dr. Neale.
Somewhere along the line, Neale’s “Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel” became the now familiar Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” (More on this some other time).

Vicar Josh (with help from his blushing bride) suggests the use of a “word cloud” to analyze the text of a hymn. Below is the cloud for the Cyberhymnal version of “O Come, O Come,” analyzing all the words as they would be sung:

I think this map shows why (to apply the Vicar’s test) Neale’s (adapted) translation of medieval Latin texts does a better job of celebrating Advent than the ego-centric approach of typical CCM praise music.

Update: For more detail, “Veni Emmanuel” is the subject of November 1959 article in The Musical Times.

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