Monday, December 17, 2007

While shepherds watched

While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around
And glory shone around

"Fear not," he said,
For mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind,
To you and all mankind."

"To you in David's
Town this day
Is born of David's line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign
And this shall be the sign."

"The heavenly Babe
You there shall find
To human view displayed
And meanly wrapped
In swathing bands
And in a manger laid
And in a manger laid."

Thus spake the seraph,
And forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God, who thus
Addressed their joyful song
Addressed their joyful song

"All glory be to
God on high
And to the earth be peace;
Goodwill henceforth
From heaven to men
Begin and never cease
Begin and never cease!"

Tate and Brady sound like a couple of disreputable Irishmen and given the bawdy version of this carol I had the impression that they were jobbing songsters who lived in London pubs and knocked this one out for the price of a few beers. In fact Nahum Tate was Poet Laureate during the reign of Queen Anne and he collaborated with Nicholas Brady to produce Tate and Brady's 1700 supplement to their psalter, New Version of the Psalms of David of 1696.

It is believed that Tate (1652-1715) wrote the words which are based on Luke 2:8-14. The tune to which it was first sung and which is most commonly used in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is ‘Winchester Old,’ a tune that appears in Este's (pronounced East) Psalter of 1592, derived from Christopher Tye's setting of the Acts of the Apostles in 1553. It was arranged by George Kirbye, an East Anglian about whom little is known until Este employed him to arrange some of the 1592 tunes. Tye was a Cambridge man who became Master of Choristers at Ely Cathedral in 1541 and later Rector of Doddington in 1560, the richest living in England - he still got into financial difficulties. Thomas Este was the most important musical publisher during the reign of Elizabeth the First. His printing works were in Aldergate Street. Kirbye became Churchwarden of St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds, having been music master in the household of Sir Robert Jermyn of Rushbrook.

Nicholas Brady (October 28, 1659–May 20, 1726) was born at Bandon, County Cork, Ireland. He received his education at Westminster School and at Christ Church, Oxford; but he graduated at Trinity College, Dublin. He was a zealous promoter of the Revolution (probably the Glorious revolution of 1688) and suffered in consequence. When war broke out in Ireland in 1690, Brady, by his influence, thrice prevented the burning of the town of Bandon, after James II had given orders for its destruction; and the same year he was employed by the people of Bandon to lay their grievances before the English parliament. He soon afterward settled in London, where he obtained various preferments including Chaplain to King William III. At the time of his death, he held the livings of Clapham and Richmond, and rich livings though they were, he was often in debt, and had to start a school in Richmond to pay his way.

Nahum Tate was born in Dublin in 1652, the son of Faithful Teate, an Irish clergyman. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin and by 1676 had moved to London and was writing for a living. The following year he had adopted the spelling Tate, which would remain until his death, in 1715. Tate published a volume of poems in London in 1677, and became a regular writer for the stage. "Brutus of Alba, or The Enchanted Lovers" (1678), a tragedy dealing with Dido and Aeneas, became the libretto for Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. He produced bowdlerized versions of Shakespeare's Richard II, King Lear(with a happy ending) and Coriolanus. Of the famous New Version of the Psalms of David (1696), only "While Shepherds watched", and "As pants the hart" continue to be sung, but he was also responsible for "Through all the changing scenes of life", which we sang at our wedding.

Of his numerous poems, the most original is Panacea, a poem on Tea {1700). He succeeded as poet laureate in 1692. In 1702 he was appointed Historiographer-Royal, but because of his intemperate ways he died in 1715 within the precincts of the Mint at the London Refuge for Debtors, Southwark, where was hiding from his creditors.

Until 1782, "While shepherds watched" was the only Christmas carol officially sanctioned by the Church of England

It was set to music in America 1812 in Harmonia Sacra. David Weyman's adaptation of "Christmas", taken from an aria in the 1728 opera Siroe by George Frideric Handel was arranged by Lowell Mason in 1821, and it is now this version which is most commonly used in the USA.

It has been set to numerous other tunes, most commonly "Martyrdom", written by Hugh Wilson in 1800 but with an arrangement by Ralph E. Hudson from around 1885, and "Shackelford" by Frederick Henry Cheeswright from 1889.

My own favorite is Sweet bells with the chorus:

Sweet bells, sweet chiming Christmas bells,
Sweet bells, sweet chiming Christmas bells,
They cheer us on our merry way, sweet chiming bells.
They cheer us on our merry way, sweet chiming bells.

Of the many parodies the one we sang at school was:

While shepherds washed their socks by night
All seated round the tub
A bar of Sunlight soap came down
And taught them how to scrub.

The last stanza of the carol is disliked by those of a Reformed persuasion as being Universalist.

"All glory be to God on high and to the earth be peace; goodwill henceforth from heaven to men begin and never cease." is a mistranslation of Luke 2:14. The NIV has "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
and the NASV "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." and the Amplified Bible Glory to God in the highest [heaven], and on earth peace among men with whom He is well pleased [[a]men of goodwill, of His favor] which all stress that peace is to the Elect. On the other hand. the NKJV has "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men and Young's literal translation has "Glory in the highest to God, and upon earth peace, among men -- good will" are not so particular.


Anonymous said...

At the village carol service yesterday, at our church up here in North Yorkshire, we had the Sweet Chiming Bells form of the carol. This is because our organist was orginally from Sheffield where this was one of the pub carols. I hadn't heard it before but it's a wonderful version and very enjoyable to sing in the round.

Susan Briscoe said...

We were talking about the chiming bells version earlier today, so I did a search and it turned up your blog, complete with link to the tune - thanks for pointing me in the right direction! I just couldn't get the verse melody quite right to go with the chorus. My dad's family has sung this version for many years - they were from Staffordshire.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for blessing us with insightful histories of hymns. However, I notice that the "Winchester Old" setting popular in the UK, and with the King's College Choir, hasn't been included in the run-down of settings.

Terry Hamblin said...

Not sure what you mean. I wrote:
"The tune to which it was first sung and which is most commonly used in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is ‘Winchester Old,’ a tune that appears in Este's (pronounced East) Psalter of 1592, derived from Christopher Tye's setting of the Acts of the Apostles in 1553."

Anonymous said...

I'm terribly sorry I had to say this. After looking at the post I really know I owe you an apology. My eyesight failed me and I couldn't notice the Winchester Old paragraph. I thought you would be talking about the individual settings separately, but I see you included it towards the beginning of your post. Best, Yi-Peng.