The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Notes to In Dulci Jubilo

In Sweet Jubilation!

For the Nativity, For Christmas

Words: Attributed to Heinrich Suso (ca. 1295-1366).
Folklore has it that Suso, hearing angels sing these words, joined them in a dance of worship.

Music: "In Dulci Jubilo," 14th Century German melody
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / XML

A 14th century macaronic (i.e., mixed text German-Latin carol)

One night in 1328, the German mystic and Dominican monk Henrich Suso (or Seuse) had a vision in which he joined angels dancing as the angels sang to him Nun singet und seid froh or In Dulci Jubilo. In Suso's biography (or perhaps autobiography), it was written:

Now this same angel came up to the Servant [Suso] brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew the Servant by the hand into the dance, and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus, which runs thus: 'In dulci jubilo', etc.1

In Dulci Jubilo is among the oldest and most famous of the "macaronic" songs, one which combines Latin and a vernacular language such as English or German (see: macaronic at  Five hundred years later, this carol became the inspiration for the 1853 English paraphrase by John Mason Neale, Good Christian Men, Rejoice.

The tune itself first appeared in a manuscript in Leipzig University Library (Codex 1305)  around 1400 (which also contained the earliest version of 'Joseph, lieber Joseph mein'); some version of the song itself may have existed prior to 1328. It remained well-known and often used by Catholics and Protestants alike throughout the centuries. The 1533 Lutheran hymnal by Joseph Klug, Geistliche Lieder included it with three verses. It also occurred in Michael Vehe's Gesangbuch, which was published at Leipzig in 1537. In 1545, another verse was added between the last two: "O Patris caritas!" was likely written by Martin Luther and included in Valentin Babst's Geistliche Lieder (Leipzig).

Perhaps the earliest English version appeared c. 15402 in John Wedderburn's Gude and Godlie Ballatis ("In Dulci Jubilo, Now Lat Vs Sing With Myrth And Jo"). Other English translations include Lyra Davidica, 1708 ("Let Jubill Trumpets Blow"), and by Sir John Bowring, 1825 ("In Dulci Jubilo - To The House of God We'll Go").

A Swedish translation has existed since at least the 16th Century, see In Dulci Jubilo - Pi Cantiones, 1582, and a German version in 1646 in the New Ordentlich Gesang Buch (Hannover).

Rev. Charles L. Hutchins wrote that the song could be traced back to a Protestant service book printed 1570 and was described even then as "a very ancient song for Christmas-eve." It was this version which formed the foundation of the translation by Robert Lucas de Pearsall (1795-1856), found in Musical Times and Novello's Part Song Book (1887; see version 3, below), which was based on that 1570 service book.

Pearsall noted in January, 1837:

The original melody employed, as a Cantus firmus, in the following composition, is to be found in an old German book published in the year 1570 -- which, from its title and contents, appears to have contained the ritual of the Protestant Congregations of Zweibrueken and Neuberg. Even there it is called "a very ancient song (uraltes Lied) for Christmas-eve;" so that there can be no doubt that it is one of those old Roman Catholic melodies that Luther, on account of their beauty, retained in the Protestant Service. It was formerly sung in the processions that took place on Christmas-eve, and is so still in those remote parts of Germany where people yet retain old customs. The words are rather remarkable, being written half in Latin and half in the upper German dialect. I have translated them to fit the music, and endeavoured to preserve, as much as I could, the simplicity of the original. Of the melody there can be but one opinion; namely, that which in spite of religious animosity, secured it the approbation of the Protestant reformers, and that of the German people during many centuries. The music in the following passages was written for the Choral Society at Carlsruhe, and was performed there in the Autumn of 1834.3

The version which Hutchins reprinted (#742) was in the form of an anthem and was performed at Christmas services as Westminster Abbey.

It was originally arranged in 1544 in Georg Rhau's Newe deudsche geisliche Gesange. In 1601 it was arranged by Bartholomaeus Gesias. Subsequently Johann Sebastian Bach made his own arrangement of the melody in his Choral Preludes for the organ. You can see latter two harmonizations in The Oxford Book of Carols, Carol 86.

Other musical settings were written in 1607 by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), and Sir John Stainer in Christmas Carols New and Old (c. 1860s). Both of these settings can be found in The New Oxford Book of Carols, Carol 59. These and numerous other settings can also be found at the Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL), In Dulci Jubilo.

A copy of the rare 1582 edition of Piae Cantiones was acquired by Thomas Helmore and John Mason Neale in 1853 from G. J. R. Gordon, Her Majesty's Envoy and Minister at Stockholm. Helmore adapted the carol melodies and Neale either paraphrased the carol lyrics into English or wrote entirely new lines. Both the music and words were published in a dozen Carols for Christmas-tide in 1853 and another dozen Carols for Easter-tide in 1854. Among the jewels in that publication was Good Christian Men, Rejoice, a free paraphrase of In Dulci Jubilo. As William Studwell observed, by using the same spirited melody that was affixed to the earlier carol, Neale was assured that his "new" song of joy would be successful.

The only drawback was an apparent misreading of the original tune by his collaborator, Thomas Helmore.  Inadvertently, an additional two-note phrase was inserted in the middle of the verse ("News, News"). Many modern re-printings of this carol omit that erroneous phrase, returning the flow of the music to its original state. The Pearsall translation is said to exactly follow the meter of the original tune.

Bramley and Stainer included Good Christian Men, Rejoice in their immensely popular Christmas Carols, New And Old (First Series) from the 1860s.  George Ratcliffe Woodward included In Dulci Jubilo in his Cowley Carol Book, First Series in 1902, possibly based on his own translation of Pi Cantiones (published in 1910). The editors of The Oxford Book of Carols noted that Woodward follows the tune correctly (see Version 7, below).

The carol, in one form or another, gained early popularity. It is reported that Leonard Ellinwood, eminent American hymnologist, described a gathering at the Moravian Mission in Bethlehem, Pa., on Sept. 14, 1745, at which this carol was sung simultaneously in thirteen European and Indian languages.

That popularity has endured for nearly 700 years. It's the rare contemporary collection of Christmas carols that doesn't contain a carol based on this ancient jewel.

Translations of In Dulci Jubilo include:

Other English translations include

Numerous other adaptations have been made to Neale's original to bring the carol into gender neutrality, including Good Christian Friends, Rejoice (also, "Good Christians All, Rejoice" or "Good Christian Folk, Rejoice"). These versions should not be confused with the Easter hymn, Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing (Cyril A. Alington, 1931; opens in a new window at The Hymnuts. Originally set to Gelobt Sei Gott, this hymn has also been set to In Dulci Jubilo).


1. A fuller excerpt from Suso's biography can be found in the notes of Keyte and Parrott, The New Oxford Book of Carols. See also Ian Bradley, The Penguin Book of Carols (London: Penguin, 1999). Return

2. Ian Bradley, The Penguin Book of Carols, gives the date of 1568. Return

3. Quoted in Reginald Jacques and David Willcocks, Carols For Choirs 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961, #15, p. 42. A portion of this quotation can also be found in Ian Bradley, The Penguin Book of Carols. Return

Editor's Note:

This is one of a number of carols found in the 1582 collection, Piae Cantiones

Theodoric Petri, ed., Pi Cantiones Ecclesiasticae et Scholasticae Veterum Episcoporum. (Gyphisuualdi: Augustinum Ferberum, 1582)

Sheet Music and Notes from Rev. George R. Woodward, ed., Pi Cantiones. A Collection of Church & School Song, chiefly Ancient Swedish, originally Published in A. D. 1582 by Theodoric Petri of Nyland. (London: Printed at the Chiswick Press for the Plainsong & Medieval Music Society, 1910), Carol #6, pp. 8-9; Notes, pp. 210-214.

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See: The Christmas Songs in Woodward's Pi Cantiones (1910)

Rev. Woodward's notes to VI. In Dulci Jubilo.

'Uff den heyligen Christag.' 'Ein alt Weyhnacht Lied.' A 'Macaronic,' i.e. 'Hybrid,' or 'Mischlied';1 in this case partly in Latin, partly in Swedish. For many German versions of this deservedly favourite Christmas Carol, see Kehrein's 'Katholische Kirchenlieder' (1859), I, No. 108; Wackernagel, II, Nos. 640-647; and F. M. Bhme's 'Alt deutsches Liederbuch,' No. 528, a and b. The oldest form of the German words is quoted by Wackernagel and Bhme from Codex No. 1305 in the University Library at Leipzig, a manuscript of the end of the fourteenth or beginning of the fifteenth century:

1. In dulci iubilo
singet und sit vro.
Aller unser wonne
layt in presepio,
Sy leuchtet vor dy sonne
matris in gremio
qui alpha est & o.

2. O Jhesu paruule
noch dir ist mir so we:
troste mir myn gemute
O puce optime,
durch aller iuncfrawen gute
princeps glorie,
trahe me post te.

3. Ubi sunt gaudia?
nyndert me wen da,
do dy vogelin singen
noua cantica,
und do dy schelchen klingen
in regis curia
Eya qualia.

4. Mater et lilia
ist iuncfraw Maria
Wir woren gar vertorben
per nostra crimina
Nu het fy uns erworben
celorum gaudia
O quanta gracia.

Another manuscript of the fifteenth century at Breslau varies the fourth stanza thus:

Mater et filia
O iungfrau Maria:
hettest do ens nicht erworben
Celorum gaudia
So wr wir all verdorben
per nostra crimina
quanta gratia.

Kehrein reads . . . 'wir weren gar verloren | per nostra crimina | So hastu uns erworben | celorum gaudia | Maria hilff uns da!'

Luther altered this stanza, first in Babst's Gesangbuch (1545), I, No. 56, into 'O patris charitas | O nati lenitas | wir weren all verloren | per nostra crimina | so hat er uns erworben | celorum gaudia | Eya, wer wir da!'

The number of Catholick, Lutheran and Bohemian hymnbooks in which In dulci iubilo occurs, in one of its older forms, or set to the more modern words, In einem suszen Ton, Lob Gott, du Christenheit, and Mit einem sussen Schall, is too great to be counted.

For a long time the composition of In dulci iubilo, as well as of Peur natus in Bethlehem, was attributed to Peter Faulfisch, a native of Dresden, living at Prag, a friend of Johann Hus, circa 1412. But it is certainly of earlier date. Any doubts as to its authorship seem to be removed by a passage from Melchior Diepenbrock's 'Heinrich Suso's' [genannt Amandus] 'Leben und Schriften' (Regensburg, 1829), quoted by Meister, I, No. 24, p. 179. It may be safely considered the work of Heinrich Suso, the mystic, the friend John Tauler, of the family of the Counts of Mons, a Dominican Monk, who was born c. 1280, and died in 1365. A passage occurring in a manuscript of the fourteenth century, quoted by Diepenbrock, p. 19, quite decides the matter. The writer recounts 'Wie eines Tages zu Suso himmlische Jnglinge kamen, ihm in seinen Leiden eine Freude Zn machen; sie zogen den Diener2 bei den Hand an den Tanz, und der eine Jngling sing an ein frohlickes Gesnglein von dem Kindlein Jesus, das spricht also: In dulci iubilo, &c. Like St. Dunifan and his Missa Rex splendens, we may well believe, that Beatus Suso learnt his In dulci iubilo not of man, but of an angel from heaven.

There is a striking similarity between stanza iv of In dulci iubilo, and the following beautiful extract from Suso's writings (see Diepenbrock, p. 233), concerning this Mater et filia: 'Ach fufze Knigin, wie billig magfich dein frohlicker Name [Gefchlecht] freuen; denn verflucht war die erste Eva, dasz sie der Frucht je eritbisz; gesegnet fey die andra Eva, das fie uns die ssze himmlische Frucht je gebracht! Niemand klage mehr das Paradies; wir haben ein Paradies verloren, und haben zween Paradiese gewonnen. Oder ist sie nicht ein Paradies, in der da wuchs die Frucht des lebenden Baumes, in der alle Wollufi und Freude mit einander beschlossen war ?

For this melody, in 1853 Neale wrote his Good Christian Men, Rejoice; see 'Carols for Christmas-tide,' No. vi. Like that of Resonet in laudibus, the melody, now treated frankly as Ionian, was probably originally in the Mixo-Lydian Mode. For varying forms of the tune see Meister, I, No. 24; Bhme, No. 528 a and b; and Zahn, 4947, besides any of the following collections of music where In dulci iubilo has been harmonized, for voice or organ, by some of the master musicians of every succeeding age and generation.

(i) Georg Rhau's (1488-1548) 'Newe Deudsche Geistliche Gesenge' (Wittemberg), 1544; see Breitkopf and Haertel's 'Denkmaeler' (1908), Bd. XXXIV, No. ix, p. 6; 4, Anon. setting; melody in Tenor.

(ii) Joh. Eccard (1533-1611): 'Fnfstimmige Tonisatze' (1597), No. cxx.

(iii) Lucas Osiander (1534-1604), No. 6: 4 (1586); (?) Samuel Mareschall (1554-1640).

(iv) Leonard Schrter, circa 1572 : for 2 Quires.

(v) Seth Calvisius' ' Harmonia Cantionum Ecclesiasticarum' (1556-1615), No. X (1598), 4.

(vi) Barth. Gesius' 'Geistliche deutsche Lieder' (1601); p. 16, 4.

(vii) Joachim Decker (1611); No. xli, p. 202 of Gab. Husduvius' 'Melodeyen GB.' 1604; 4.

(viii) Gothardus Erythrs (1608), No. xxix; 4.

(ix) Melchior Vulpius (1560-1616), No. xv (1609).

(x) Michael Prtorius (1572-1621),
'Mus Sioni' (1607, Jehn), Ander Theil, No. v, for Double Quire.
'Mus Sioni' (1607), V, No. lxxx, 2; No. lxxxi, 3; No. lxxxii, 4; No. lxxxiii, 4.
'Mus Sioni' (1609), VI, Nos. xxviii and xxix; No. xxxi (Schw. Fran.); No. xxxii (Marck.); No. xxxiii (Preuss. Seest.), all 4.
'Polyhymnia Panegyrica' (Wolfenbttel, 1618-9), No. xxxiv, for several Quires 'cum tubis,' etc.
For a 5 part setting (1597) from 'Mus. Sion.,' VI, No. clxi, see Winterfeld, I, M.-B., No. 120, p. 116.

(xi) Hieronymus Prtorius (1560-1629) in his Magnificat of the 5th Tone, Hamburg (1622), see Breitkopf's 'Denkmaeler,' XXIII, p. 143; 8.

(xii) Heinrich Grimm (1637) in Joh. Dillinger's 'Newes Geist. Musikalisch Lustgrtlein' (1626), No. xviii, 3.

(xiii) Joh. Hermann Schein (1586-1630), 'Cantional' (1627), No. xii, 4.

(xiv) Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654), in his 'Achtstimmige Geist. Gesnge,' No. xv. [Winterfeld, II, p. 612.]

(xv) Joh. Crger (1598-1662), No. 98 (1656), 'Praxis pietatis melica,' No. iii. Melody and fig. bass harmonized by Jacob Hintze (1622-1702): No. xlv in his 'Geistliche Kirchen Lieder.'

(xvi) Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). Breitkopf, Bd. II, Part 2, No. 16. 'Orgel Compositionen.' See also Two-choral-preludes, ed. J. E. West (Organ). Novello, 1904.

(xvii) Gottfried Vopelius (1645-1775); 'Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch' (1682), p. 39.

(xviii) Friedr. Wilh. Zachau (1663-1712). Breitkopf, 'Denkmaeler,' Bde. XXI, XXII, p. 353, No. 30. Organ Fugue in G.

(xix) Joh. Gottfried Walther (1684-1748). Breitkopf, Bde. XXVI-XXVII (set as a Choralvorspiel Clav. et ped.), No. 52, p. 126.

(xx) It is said to have appeared in Scotland, in the 'Gude and Godly Ballates' (1568). [See In Dulci Jubilo, Now Lat Vs Sing With Myrth And Jo ]

(xxi) 'Lyra Davidica' (1708), p. 7, treble and bass.

(xxii) Joh. Seb. Bach (1685-1750). For Vocal Harmonies see No. 143 of Bach's '371 Vierstimmige Choral Gesnge' (Breitkopf and Haertel), set to Latin and English words
     (i) 'The Cowley Carol Book' (1902), No. 12A [
In Dulci Jubilo - Woodward], and 
     (ii) in 'The Oxford Hymnal' (1909), No. 6.

In dulci iubius is to be found frequently in Bach's Organ Works: Band VII (Breitkopf), No. 29 (Canon in the 8ve.) ; 'Orgel bchlein,' p. 12 ; Bach's 'Werke fr Orgel,' No. 106; Band VIII (Breitkopf), No. 106, p. 109; 'Bach Gesellschaft,' Band IV, Orgelwerke, p. 74, and again at p. 158; Choral Vorspiel, Org. 978, 1166, 25; and p. 12; 40, p. 74; Choral (variante) Org. 1217, No. 40, p. 158; 'Bach Gesellschaft' (1889), No. 115.

(xxiii) R. L. de Pearsall (1795-1856). See Novello's 'Part Song Book,' Second Series, and No. 16 in 'Kath. GB.' St. Gallen (1863).

(xxiv) Layriz (1855), No. 238.

(xxv) Hauschoralbuch (1887), No. 20. (M. Prtorius, 1607).

Notes to Woodward:

1. Said by Hoffmann von Fallersleben in Meister, I, No. 24, P. 179, to be the oldest example of a sacred 'mixed' song. The Council of Basel (1431) forbad the use in Church of hybrid Cantiones such as 'Ein verbum bonum et suave' (see Neal's preface to 'Sequenti ex Missalibus') [Ed. Fallersleben's monograph is available at Google Books: In Dulci Jubilo (Hannover: Carl Rumpler, 1854)]. Return

2. I.e. the servant, i.e. himself. Return

Settings can also be found at the Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL), In Dulci Jubilo.
See A Garritan Community Christmas for an MP3:
    In Dulci Jubilo, Dan Powers


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