The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

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 was included in Piae 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.

Rev. John Mason Neale adapted In Dulci Jubilo as Good Christian Men, Rejoice in his collection Carols for Christmas-tide, 1853, based on a rare copy of Piae Cantiones which he received as a gift from G. J. R. Gordon, Her Majesty’s Envoy and Minister at Stockholm.

John Mason Neale, an eminent English clergyman and author, the son of Rev. Cornelius Neale, was born in London on Conduit Street January 24, 1818. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge (A.B., 1840), was ordained deacon in 1841, and priest in 1842. In this same year he married Sarah Norman Webster. For a few months of 1842 he was incumbent of Crawley in Sussex, but after six weeks his health broke down due to a chronic lung disease and he was compelled to resign.

Due to his health and theological leanings, he was appointed the Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead, Sussex. In fact, the college was an almshouse – a charitable institution –  for the aged, and the salary was only £27 a year. There he wrote voluminously — history, theology, travel books, poems, hymns, and books for children.

Neale is best known as a hymn writer and translator, having enriched English hymnody with many ancient and mediaeval hymns translated from Latin and Greek. He was passionately fond of music, and had an exquisite ear for melody in words, but "he had not a note in his voice."

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 reprintings 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 Iubilo in his Cowley Carol Book, First Series in 1902, possibly based on his own translation of Piae 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

See A Garritan Community Christmas for an MP3:
    In Dulci Jubilo, Dan Powers


Print Page Return Home Page Close Window