O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
"O come, O come, Emmanuel" (Latin: "Veni, veni, Emmanuel") is a Christian hymn for Advent and Christmas. The text was originally written in Latin. It is a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons, a series of plainchant antiphons attached to the Magnificat at Vespers over the final days before Christmas. The hymn has its origins over 1,200 years ago in monastic life in the 8th or 9th century. Seven days before Christmas Eve monasteries would sing the “O antiphons” in anticipation of Christmas Eve when the eighth antiphon, “O Virgo virginum” (“O Virgin of virgins”) would be sung before and after Mary’s canticle, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46b-55). The Latin metrical form of the hymn was composed as early as the 12th century.
The 1861 translation by John Mason Neale from Hymns Ancient and Modern is the most prominent by far in the English-speaking world, but other English translations also exist. Translations into other modern languages (particularly German) are also in widespread use. While the text may be used with many metrical hymn tunes, it was first combined with its most famous tune, often itself called Veni Emmanuel, in the English-language Hymnal Noted in 1851. Later, the same tune was used with versions of "O come, O come, Emmanuel" in other languages, including Latin.
The words and the music of "O come, O come, Emmanuel" developed separately. The Latin text is first documented in Germany in 1710, whereas the tune most familiar in the English-speaking world has its origins in 15th-century France.
Of the text
The pre-history of the text stretches back to the origins of the O Antiphons themselves, which were in existence by, at the latest, the eighth century. However, to speak meaningfully of the text of the hymn per se, they would need to be paraphrased in strophic, metrical form. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that efforts along those lines could have been made quite early; we know, for instance, that they were paraphrased extensively by the English poet Cynewulf in a poem written before the year 800. However, despite popular imagination of an early origin for "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," the hymn's history is first substantiated only much later.
First publication: Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum
While "O come, O come, Emmanuel" is often linked with the 11th or 12th century (or even earlier), the earliest surviving evidence of the hymn's text is in the seventh edition of Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, which was published in Cologne in 1710, meaning that the hymn existed at least by then, though there is nothing to indicate exactly how long it existed prior to that. This hymnal was a major force in the history of German church music: first assembled by Jesuit hymnographer Johannes Heringsdorf in 1610 and receiving numerous revised editions through 1868, it achieved enormous impact due to its use in Jesuit schools.
The text of the Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum version is essentially expanded, rather than altered, over the subsequent centuries. That version exhibits all of the hymn's characteristic qualities: it is strophic and metrical (in the 22.214.171.124 hymn meter), and the order is altered so that the last of the O Antiphons (the titular "Veni Emmanuel") becomes the first verse of the hymn. Each stanza consists of a four-line verse, which adapts one of the antiphons, and a new two-line refrain ("Gaude, gaude! Emmanuel / nascetur pro te, Israel," i.e., "Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel will be born for you, O Israel"), which provides an explicitly Advent-oriented response to the petition of the verse.
This first version of the hymn includes five verses, corresponding to five of the seven standard O Antiphons, in the following order:
- "Veni, veni Emmanuel!" = "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"
- "Veni, O Jesse Virgula" = "O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse"
- "Veni, veni, O Oriens" = "O come, Thou Dayspring, from on High"
- "Veni, clavis Davidica" = "O come, Thou Key of David, come"
- "Veni, veni, Adonai"[a] = "O come, Adonai, Lord of might"
Thesaurus Hymnologicus (1844)
In 1844, "Veni, veni Emmanuel" was included in the second volume of Thesaurus Hymnologicus, a monumental collection by the German hymnologist Hermann Adalbert Daniel. While the Latin text in this version was unchanged from Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, Daniel's work would prove significant for the hymn in two ways. First, the Thesaurus would help to ensure a continued life for the Latin version of the hymn even as the Psalteriolum came to the end of its long history in print. Second — and even more significantly for the English-speaking world — it was from Thesaurus Hymnologicus that John Mason Neale would come to know the hymn. Neale would both publish the Latin version of the hymn in Britain and translate the first (and still most important) English versions.
Expansion of text
This five-verse version of the hymn left two of the O Antiphons unused. Possibly under the influence of the Cecilian Movement in Germany, two new verses — "Veni, O Sapientia" (lit. "Come, O Wisdom") and "Veni, Rex Gentium" (lit. "Come, King of Peoples") — were added that adapted the remaining antiphons. No precise date or authorship is known for these verses. At present, their first known publication is in Joseph Hermann Mohr's Cantiones Sacrae of 1878, which prints a seven-stanza Latin version in the order of the antiphons (i.e. with "Sapientia" as the first verse and "Emmanuel" as the last verse).
Of the music
Because "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is a metrical hymn in the common 88.88.88 meter scheme (in some hymnals given as "126.96.36.199 and refrain"), it is possible to pair the words of the hymn with any number of tunes. The meter is shared between the original Latin text and the English translation.
However, at least in the English-speaking world, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is associated with one tune more than any other, to the extent that the tune itself is often called Veni Emmanuel.
The "Veni Emmanuel" tune
The familiar tune called "Veni Emmanuel" was first linked with this hymn in 1851, when Thomas Helmore published it in the Hymnal Noted, paired with an early revision of Neale's English translation of the text. The volume listed the tune as being "From a French Missal in the National Library, Lisbon." However, Helmore provided no means by which to verify his source, leading to long-lasting doubts about its attribution. There was even speculation that Helmore might have composed the melody himself.
The mystery was settled in 1966 by British musicologist Mary Berry (also an Augustinian canoness and noted choral conductor), who discovered a 15th-century manuscript containing the melody in the National Library of France. The manuscript consists of processional chants for burials. The melody used by Helmore is found here with the text "Bone Jesu dulcis cunctis"; it is part of a series of two-part tropes to the responsory Libera me.
As Berry (writing under her name in religion, Mother Thomas More) points out in her article on the discovery, "Whether this particular manuscript was the actual source to which [Helmore] referred we cannot tell at present." (Recall that Hymnal Noted referred to Lisbon, not Paris, and to a missal, not a processional.) Berry raised the possibility that there might exist "an even earlier version of" the melody. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this tune was connected with this hymn before Helmore's hymnal; thus, the two would have first come together in English. Nonetheless, because of the nature of metrical hymns, it is perfectly possible to pair this tune with the Latin text; versions doing so exist by Zoltán Kodály, Philip Lawson and Jan Åke Hillerud, among others.
In the German language, Das katholische Gesangbuch der Schweiz ("The Catholic Hymnal of Switzerland") and Gesangbuch der Evangelisch-reformierten Kirchen der deutschsprachigen Schweiz ("The Hymnal of the Evangelical-Reformed Churches of German-speaking Switzerland"), both published in 1998, adapt a version of the text by Henry Bone that usually lacks a refrain to use it with this melody.
Rise to hegemony
The pairing of the hymn text with the Veni Emmanuel tune was proved an extremely significant combination. The hymn text was embraced both out of a Romantic interest in poetic beauty and medieval exoticism and out of a concern for matching hymns to liturgical seasons and functions rooted in the Oxford Movement in the Church of England. The Hymnal Noted, in which the words and tune were first combined, represented the "extreme point" of these forces. This hymnal "consisted entirely of versions of Latin hymns, designed for use as Office hymns within the Anglican Church despite the fact that Office hymns had no part in the authorized liturgy. The music was drawn chiefly from plainchant," as was the case with the Veni Emmanuel tune for "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," the combination of which has been cited as an exemplar of this new style of hymnody.
"O Come, O Come Emmanuel" was thus ideally situated to benefit from the cultural forces that would bring about Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861. This new hymnal was a product of the same ideological forces that paired it with the Veni Emmanuel tune, ensuring its inclusion, but was also designed to achieve commercial success beyond any one party of churchmanship, incorporating high-quality hymns of all ideological approaches.
The volume succeeded wildly; by 1895, Hymns Ancient and Modern was being used in three quarters of English churches. The book "probably did more than anything else to spread the ideas of the Oxford Movement" (which include the aesthetics of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel") "so widely that many of them became imperceptibly a part of the tradition of the Church as a whole." Its musical qualities in particular "became an influence far beyond the boundaries of the Church of England." It is very reflective of these cultural forces that the form of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" in Hymns Ancient and Modern remains predominant in the English-speaking world. (This predominance encompasses not just the Veni Emmanuel tune, but also the revised English translation that included, for example, the title used in this article — see the section O Come, O Come, Emmanuel § English versions below.)
While the "Veni Emmanuel" tune predominates in the English-speaking world, several others have been closely associated with the hymn.
In the United States, some Lutheran hymnals use the tune "St. Petersburg" by Dmitry Bortniansky for "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." A Moravian hymnal from the US gives a tune attributed to Charles Gounod
Alternative tunes are particularly common in the German-speaking world, where the text of the hymn originated, especially as the hymn was in use there for many years before Helmore's connection of it to the "Veni Emmanuel" tune became known.
Among several German paraphrases of the hymn, one is attributed to Christoph Bernhard Verspoell — one of the earliest and most influential to arise around the late-18th/early-19th century. It is associated with its own distinctive tune, which has enjoyed exceptionally long-lasting popularity in the Diocese of Münster.
A more faithful German translation by Henry Bone became the vehicle for a tune from JBC Schmidts' Sammlung von Kirchengesängen für katholische Gymnasien (Düsseldorf 1836), which remains popular in German diocesan song-books and regional editions of the monolithic hymnal Gotteslob. This melody was carried across the Atlantic by Johann Baptist Singenberger, where it remains in use through the present in some Catholic communities in the United States.
The Archdiocese of Cologne's supplement to Gotteslob (#829) includes a tune by CF Ackens (Aachen, 1841) with the Bone translation. A version by Bone without a refrain is commonly connected with a tune from the Andernacher Gesangbuch (Cologne, 1608), but it can also be used with the melody of the medieval Latin hymn Conditor alme siderum, further demonstrating the flexibility of metrical hymnody.
The text of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," in all its various versions, is a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons, so the intricate theological allusions of the hymn are essentially the same as for the antiphons.
One notable difference is that the antiphon "O Radix Jesse" ("root" of Jesse) is generally rendered in meter as "Veni, O Iesse virgula" ("shoot" of Jesse). Both refer to the writings of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 11:10 and Isaiah 11:1, respectively), but the hymn's "virgula" precludes the formation of the acrostic "ero cras" from the antiphons.
As discussed above, the Latin text of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" was mostly stable over time. In the versions below, a number at the end of each stanza indicates where it fits into the order of the O Antiphons (e.g. the first verse, "Veni, veni Emmanuel," corresponds with the last antiphon, ).
Original Five-Stanza Text from Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum (1710)
Veni, veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio,
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel. 
Veni o Jesse virgula!
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
De specu tuos tartari
Educ, et antro barathri.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel. 
Veni, veni o oriens!
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel. 
Veni clavis Davidica!
Regna reclude coelica,
Fac iter Tutum superum,
Et claude vias Inferum.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel. 
Veni, veni Adonai![b]
Qui populo in Sinai
Legem dedisti vertice,
In maiestate gloriae.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel. 
Veni, O Sapientia,
Quae hic disponis omnia,
Veni, viam prudentiae
Ut doceas et gloriae. 
Veni, Veni, Rex Gentium,
Veni, Redemptor omnium,
Ut salves tuos famulos
Peccati sibi conscios. 
In the same year, Neale published the first documented English translation, beginning with "Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel," in Mediæval Hymns and Sequences. He revised this version for The Hymnal Noted, followed by a further revision, in 1861, for Hymns Ancient and Modern. This version, now with the initial line reading "O come, O come, Emmanuel," would attain hegemony in the English-speaking world (aside from minor variations from hymnal to hymnal).
It would take until the 20th century for the additional two stanzas to receive significant English translations. The translation published by Henry Sloane Coffin in 1916 — which included only the "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" verse by Neale and Coffin's two "new" verses — gained the broadest acceptance, with occasional modifications.
A full seven-verse English version officially appeared for the first time in 1940, in the Hymnal of the Episcopal Church.
Contemporary English hymnals print various versions ranging from four to eight verses. The version included in the Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church is typical: there are eight stanzas, with "Emmanuel" as both the first and the last stanza. From this version, six lines date from the original 1851 translation by Neale, nine from the version from Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), eleven (including the two supplementary stanzas, following Coffin) from the Hymnal 1940, and the first two lines of the fourth stanza ("O come, thou Branch of Jesse's tree, \ free them from Satan's tyranny") are unique to this hymnal.
Texts of the major English translations
|J. M. Neale (1851)||Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861)||T. A. Lacey (1906)|
Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel,
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
O come, O come, Emmanuel!
|Additional verses trans. H. S. Coffin (1916)|
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
- Ottorino Respighi quotes the melody in "The Gift of the Magi" in his Trittico Botticelliano (1927).
- Zoltán Kodály wrote a choral work "Adventi ének (Advent song: Veni, veni Emmanuel)" in 1943 based on the melody and sung mostly with Latin or Hungarian lyrics.
- Samuel Barber quotes the melody in his Die natali, Op. 37 (1960).
- George Dyson's 1949 Concerto da Chiesa uses the theme as a basis for the first movement.
- American composer John Davison quotes the melody in the third movement of his Sonata for Trombone and Piano (1957).
- The composer James MacMillan wrote a percussion concerto, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, based on this carol in 1991, premiered during the 1992 BBC Proms.
- Included on American singer-songwriter Sufjan Steven's 2006 album Songs for Christmas.
- U2's song "White as Snow" from its 2009 release No Line on the Horizon takes its tune directly from the hymn.
- The 2000 charity album It's a Cool Cool Christmas features a version by the Scottish band Belle and Sebastian.
- A short version of this song appears on Halford's album Halford III: Winter Songs as the third track.
- Punch Brothers released a cover version on the 2012 compilation album Holidays Rule.
- Kelly Clarkson included the song as a deluxe track on her Christmas album Wrapped In Red (2013).
- Punk rock band Bad Religion recorded an upbeat version of the song for inclusion on their 2013 album Christmas Songs.
- Finnish soprano Tarja Turunen included the song in her classical album From Spirits and Ghosts (Score for a Dark Christmas) (6 October 2017).
- In Ecclesiastical Latin, the word "Adonai" would be pronounced with four syllables, as opposed to three syllables in Hebrew
- In Ecclesiastical Latin, the word "Adonai" would be pronounced with four syllables, as opposed to three syllables in Hebrew; likewise, a Latinized "Sinai" would have three syllables to Hebrew's two. The meter could easily accommodate a Hebrew-style pronunciation by substituting "O Adonai" in the first line and subtly adjusting the underlay in the second.
- History of Hymns: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-o-come-o-come-emmanuel
- Richard Sherr (2001). "O Antiphons". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
- Theo Hamacher, "Das Psalteriolum cantionum, das Geistliche Psälterlein u. ihr Herausgeber P. Johannes Heringsdorf SJ," Westfälische Zeitschrift 110 (1960), 285 ff.
- Raymond F. Glover, The Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 1 (New York: Church Publishing, 1995), 56 (ISBN 0-89869-143-5)
- Joseph Mohr, SJ, ed., Cantiones Sacrae (New York: Frederick Pustet, 1878), p. 81, hymn #36 Digitized version
- The Methodist Conference (1933), The Methodist hymn-book, number 257
- Hymnal Noted, parts I & II (New York: Novello, 1851), 131 (Hymn 65 or 30) Google Books
- Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, m.s. lat. 10581, ff. 89v-101. View scanned MS from BnF
For a modern transcription by Peter Woetmann Christoffersen, see pp. 11–18 of this PDF.
- Mother Thomas More, "O Come O Come Emmanuel," The Musical Times 107, no. 1483 (Sept. 1966), 772 JSTOR
- "Veni, Veni Emmanuel – Zoltan Kodaly". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
- "Veni Emmanuel (Track(s) taken from SIGCD502)". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
- "Veni, Emmanuel". Gehrmans Musikförlag. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
- At KG 304 and RG 362
- Warren Anderson; Thomas J. Mathiesen, Susan Boynton, Tom R. Ward, John Caldwell, Nicholas Temperley and Harry Eskew (2001). "Hymn (from Gk. humnos)". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 11 December 2019.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- vid. e.g.: O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #78; Andreas Bersagel et al., eds., The Concordia Hymnal (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1932), #118 via Hymns and Carols of Christmas
- Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church (Bethlehem, PA: Provincial Synod, 1920), #106 via Hymns and Carols of Christmas
- "O komm, o komm Emanuel:" "Evergreen" im Bistrum
- John Mason Neale, Hymni ecclesiae: e breviariis quibusdam et missalibus gallicanis, germanis, hispanis, lusitanis desumpti (Oxford: J.H. Parker, 1851), 57 (Google Books)
- Hymns ancient and modern: for use in the services of the church (London: Novello, 1861), hymn #36 (Google Books digitization of the 1867 edition)
- The English Hymnal (London: Oxford UP, 1906), hymn #8 (see p. 12 of the PDF via IMSLP)
It is noteworthy that the text is here correctly listed as 18th cent. in origin.
- Henry Sloane Coffin and Ambrose White Vernon, eds., Hymns of the Kingdom of God, revised ed. (New York: The A.S. Barnes Company, 1916), Hymn #37. Quoted in Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
- Raymond F. Glove, The Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3A, 2nd ed. (New York: Church Publishing, 1995), 105 (ISBN 0-89869-143-5)
- George Dyson: At the Tabard Inn, Review, NAXOS 8.557720
- "Songs for Christmas, by Sufjan Stevens". Sufjan Stevens. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
- Review of "White as Snow" from the Guardian (13 February 2009)
- "Belle & Sebastian: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel".
- "Tarja – O Come, O Come, Emmanuel". Discogs. discogs.com. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
- "TARJA DEBUTS OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO FOR "O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL"". Brave Words. bravewords.com. 6 October 2017. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
- on YouTube, sung in Latin by The Gesualdo Six
- on YouTube, sung in English by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge.
- Hymns and Carols of Christmas has extensive information on this hymn (including scanned source images and MIDI recordings). Begin with the pages "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel", Notes on "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel", and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" — Version 1