Portuguese Hymn

As the Christmas season comes to an end — Twelfth Night, or Epiphany, is tomorrow — I have one more Christmas hymn to write about. The tune is a familiar one; in fact, it’s one of the few tunes in the Sacred Harp that are familiar to most people, though the tune name there, Portuguese Hymn, might be unfamiliar to many (who know it as Adeste Fideles), the text there isn’t the usual one in English (though it’s similar to it), and the harmonization is in shapenote style (in particular, with a descant in the treble line):

The customary English words for the first verse:

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels:

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

This is a translation (by the English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley) from the Latin:

Adeste fideles
Laeti triumphantes,
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte
Regem angelorum.

Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus

The Wikipedia entry has a good bit on the tangled history of the tune and text. An excerpt:

Before the emergence of John Francis Wade as the probable composer, the tune had been purported to be written by several musicians, from John Reading and his son to Handel and even Gluck, including the Portuguese composer Marcos Portugal. There are several similar musical themes written around that time, though it can be hard to determine whether these were written in imitation of the hymn, the hymn was based on them, or they are totally unconnected.

The earliest existing manuscript shows both words and tune. John Francis Wade included it in his own publication of Cantus Diversi (1751).

… The original [Latin] text has been from time to time attributed to various groups and individuals, including St. Bonaventure in the 13th century or King John IV of Portugal in the 17th, though it was more commonly believed that the text was written by an order of monks, the Cistercian, German, Portuguese and Spanish orders having, at various times, been given credit.

And on the source of the tune name Portuguese Hymn:

The most commonly named Portuguese author is King John IV of Portugal … “The Musician King” (1603–1656, came to the throne in 1640) was a patron of music and the arts, and a considerably sophisticated writer on music; in addition, he was a composer, and during his reign he collected one of the largest libraries in the world (destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755).

Who thought that “O Come, All Ye Faithful” would lead us to the great Lisbon earthquake?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: