Music Notes | First Sunday of Advent

Mark Wischkaemper
Director of Music, Bethell Hall

The Advent evening hymn ‘Veni redemptor gentium’ (Come, Savior of the nations) is among the oldest Western hymns. It is reliably attributed to St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan in the fourth century, who was largely responsible for introducing strophic hymnody to the Western Church. In its German translation, ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’, it formed part of the core repertory of Lutheran chorales, and as such has been the basis of countless compositions for choir and for organ. Unfortunately incomplete translations from both Ambrose and Luther, with two versions of the 12th-century melody associated with the hymn, are found at 54 and 55 in our Hymnal; more unfortunately, even these cannot be sung at livestreamed services due to licensing restrictions. The hymn is so important, however, and its tune so excellent, that I have adapted the melody at Hymn 55 to serve as the basis of our Kyrie (Lord, have mercy), Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy), and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) for the 11:15 Eucharist this Advent. A series of organ preludes on this hymn will help keep the tune in our ears through this short season.

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