Song of the Angels, at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
The Vision Of The Shepherds
Version 1 - From Brady & Tate, 1700
Words: Nahum Tate; first appeared in Tate and Brady’s Supplement, 1700.
Also: Psalm XIX, St. James's Tune “or any other Time of 8 and 6 Syllables.”
Meter: CM (86 86)
Source: N. Brady and N. Tate, A New Version of the Psalms of David, With A Supplement to the New Version of Psalms, The Whole Being A Compleat Psalmody.” Eighth Edition, Corrected. (London: J. Ilive, 1724, 1733). pp. 58-59.
1. While Shepherds watch'd their Flocks by
All seated on the Ground,
The Angel of the Lord came down,
And Glory Shone all around.
2. "Fear not, said he, (for mighty Dread
Had seiz'd their troubled Mind)
“ Glad Tidings of great Joy I bring
“ To you and all mankind.
3. “ To you in David's Town this Day
“ Is born of David's Line,
“ A Saviour, which is Christ the Lord;
“ And this shall be the Sign.
4. “ The heav'nly Babe you there shall find
“ To human View display'd.
“ All meanly wrapt in swaddling Bands,
“ And in a Manger laid.
5. “ Thus spake the Seraph, and forthwith
“ Appeared a shining Throng
“ Of Angels praising God, and thus
“ Addressed their joyful Song:
6. "All glory be to God on high,
“ And to the earth be Peace;
“ Good Will, henceforth, from Heaven to Men
“ Begin and never cease.
Text from N. Brady and N. Tate, A New Version of the Psalms of David, With A Supplement to the New Version of Psalms, The Whole Being A Compleat Psalmody.” Eighth Edition, Corrected. (London: J. Ilive, 1724, 1733). pp. 58-59.
Sheet Music from Brady and Tate, “Psalm XIX” (St. James's Tune), A Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms of David (London: J. Ilive, 1724), p. 8.
Sheet Music from Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols (London: John Nichols And Son, First Edition, 1822)
Sheet Music from Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols. London: John Nichols And Son, Second Edition, 1823, Carol #6. Gilbert did not change the lyrics of Brady and Tate, although he did have some punctuation and capitalization changes.
Gilbert notes: "A Psalm Tune."
Tune from Gilbert's 'Christmas Carols,' 1822;
Sheet music from Richard R. Terry,
Gilbert and Sandys'
Christmas Carols (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., 1931), p. 41.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Note from Rev. Terry:
Though he includes this tune amongst 'Christmas carols,' Gilbert frankly labels it 'A Psalm Tune.' I have transcribed his Bass exactly as it stands, and have supplied the Alto and Tenor parts, there being none in the original.
Sheet Music from John Clark Hollister, ed., The Sunday-School Service and Tune Book (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1863, 1865), #9, p. 25.
Sheet Music "Winchester Old" (Este's Psalter) from Mary Palmer and John Farmer,
eds., Church Sunday School Hymn-Book (London: Church of England
Sunday-School Institute, 1892), #39.
Sheet Music adapted from George Frederick Handel from I. H. Meredith, Grant Colfax Tullar and J. W. Lerman, Sunday School Hymns No. 1. New York: Tullar-Meredith Co., 1903.
Sheet Music "Angel's Carol" by J. Clarke from O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #119
Sheet Music "Bethlehem" by G. W. Fink from O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #120
Sheet Music "Crüger" by Johan Crüger (1657) from Sheet Music from Andreas Bersagel, et al, eds., The Concordia Hymnal (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1932), #131.
I enjoyed this arrangement, but it was too complex for my limited skills with Noteworthy Composer to include the lyrics. Have a listen and check out the sheet music from The Cornish Song Book.
Note from Dr. Dunstan:
This Psalm Tune, which afforded Gilbert such delight in his childhood (see p. 92 — Hark, Hark! What News) is not in any of the ancient English Psalters, but is the Proper Tune of Psalm I in Evison's Psalter (which had found its way into Cornwall). The Tune is entitled "Crowley," and stands as follows in the Second Edition, 1751. [The second tune, above.]
Gilbert's Melody (the Tenor and leading part of the original) and Bass are surprisingly correct — considering the circumstances.
Probably no Christmas Carol or Hymn ever written has had so many settings as "While Shepherds," or been so widely and universally sung. Hunt says that a feature of the old Christmas "Geezze-Dancing," or Guise Dancing at St. Ives was the singing of "the time-honoured Carol, While Shepherds." Of Cornish settings of the words, over twenty have been long familiar to me or recently submitted to my notice. Of these, I believe the settings on the preceding page, known as "ould Zaddok," to be the oldest. ["While Shepherds, Old," below] It was formerly well known from Padstow to Portloe, and right down through W. Cornwall. By about 1866 it has been discarded by many of the regular "Singers" in favour of more pretentious settings, and became "While Shepherds, Old."
Editor's Note: The first setting from Dr. Dunstan is the same as that given by Rev. Terry, above (i.e., "Winchester Old.").
Dr. Dunstan notes:
"This was a very popular Tune in many parts of Cornwall. It belongs to the Redruth-Camborne group, and was particularly well harmonized in my old MS. copy; hardly a note needed correction."
Another interesting, if somewhat challenging arrangement, for the more advanced choir or chorus. Definitely deserves a listen.
Dr. Dunstan notes:
"This characteristic setting of the popular Carol is from a very old and tattered MS. book in the possession of Mr. W. C. Dunstone, of Portloe. Judging from the appearance of the book and the nature of its contents, it dates from about 1800 to 1810. The Alto part was missing — perhaps there was never one, as three-part singing was so common in Cornwall — but the other parts are surprisingly correct. Not a single alteration in the Treble, Tenor, and Bass was necessary.
Less complex than the preceding two offerings from Cornwall, but an interesting use of voices.
Sheet Music by A. P. Howard from
Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins,
Carols Old and Carols
New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol #107
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Meter: CMD (Common Meter, Doubled)A
Sheet Music arranged by H. S. Irons from Rev. Richard R.
Carols For Use In Church (London: William Clowes & Sons,
1894), Carol #20
This setting is the same as found in Hutchins, immediately above.
Sheet music by G. W. (George Whitefield) Chadwick (1854-1931) (Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1889).
Note Pickard-Cambridge's suggested performance on the sheet music.
Sheet Music from Charles Wood and George
Carol-Book, Being Fifty-Two
Songs For Christmas, Easter, And Other Seasons (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1924),
(Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich, by Nic. Herman, harm. by J. S. Bach)
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Sheet Music, based on a melody by G.
W. Fink, 1842, in Sullivan's Church Hymns, 1874, from
The Parish School Hymnal.
Philadelphia: Board of Publication of the United Lutheran Church in America,
Richard Runciman Terry, Two Hundred Folk Carols (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Limited, 1933), pp. 54-55.
See also While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night (Link opens in a new window at Sally DeFord Music)
See and play the Noteworthy Composer score if you have installed the NoteWorthy Composer Browser Plug-in
"Christmas," George Frederick Handel, 1728
Richard R. Terry, Gilbert and Sandys' Christmas Carols
"Winchester Old," Este's Psalmes, 1592; from George C. Martin, ed., The Book of Common Praise
Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), p. 96. ("While Shepherds, Old")
Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book, p. 97. Second Tune ("Crowley")
Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book, p. 98. ("While Shepherds, New")
Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book, p. 144. ("New Tregoney")
Music by A. P. Howard from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New, Carol #107
Music arranged by H. S. Irons from Hutchins, Carol #107 (2)
Music "Lydia" from W. A. Pickard-Cambridge, A Collection of Dorset Carols #12
"Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich" by Nic. Herman, harm. by J. S. Bach, from Charles Wood and George Ratcliffe Woodward, The Cambridge Carol-Book, Being Fifty-Two Songs For Christmas, Easter, And Other Seasons #34
Only tested by Noteworthy for Netscape, Opera, and IE
Browsers (Versions 4 or 5)
An additional setting by Supply Belcher (1794) can be found in Roy Ringwald's Book Of American Carols (2004).
Copies of this carol on this web site include:
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks - Gilbert (this page)
Also found in:
Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols. London: John Nichols And Son, Second Edition, 1823, pp. 18-19. Also compared to Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols. London: Nichols and Sons, 1822, reprinted Boston: Elibron Classics, 2007.
The Book of Christmas Hymns (London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1868), pp. 70-71.
Roundell Palmer, ed., The Book of Praise. Boston: Sever, Francis, & Co., 1870, # XXXIII, pp. 39-40, who notes, at page 490:
“My only authority for ascribing this to Tate is the late Rev. Edward Bickersteth; but the authorship seems probably, as this is one of the hymns included in the “Supplement to the New Version,” for the use of which Brady and Tate obtained from Queen Anne an Order in Council, dated the 30th July, 1703.”
Traditionally ascribed to Irish-born Nahum Tate (1652-1715), this paraphrase of Luke 2:8-15 is believed by many to be among the better carol texts in the English language. It was first published in Tate and Brady’s Supplement (1700) to their New Version of the Psalms of David. It was the first, and for 82 years the only Christmas hymn permitted to be used in Anglican churches. Tate was named poet laureate of England in 1692.
Although it could be sung to any suitable psalm tune in common measure (86 86), several tunes became to be associated with this hymn. One of the first was the aria ‘Non vi piaque ingiusti dei’ from the George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) opera Siroe, King of Persia (1728). This tune is said to be particularly popular in the United States.
In Great Britain, the anonymous 16th century tune "Winchester Old" is more popular. It was first published in Thomas Este’s The Whole Booke of Psalmes (1592). It is unclear whether it was Este or George Kirbye who arranged the tune for this publication. The tune and the lyrics were apparently first joined in the 1861 collection Hymns Ancient and Modern.
Elizabeth Poston noted that the traditional tune was an early corruption by misreading in a major key of the modal tune of God Rest You merry with a different ending, but that Winchester Old has become the preferred tune.
As seen above, numerous other tunes have attached themselves to these lyrics. Indeed, Ian Bradley identified over 100 tunes in published sources (and has an extensive discussion well worth reading). Including some of the tunes noted above, The New Oxford Book of Carols has seven settings, as well as extensive notes. William Studwell, likewise, has extensive notes concerning this hymn, including the observation that by 1860 Richard Storrs Willis had adapted his well-known tune "Carol" (best known for its pairing with "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear") to this hymn.
The editors of The English Hymnal (1906) noted that it was impossible to print all of the tunes which are traditionally sung to this hymn, but then suggested three others options (Cornwall, University, and Crowle).
See The Church Hymnal For The Christian Year (London: Novello & Co., Ltd., 1917), Carol 104, pp. 128-29. Several examples can also be found in modern hymnals. Return
Ian Bradley, The Penguin Book of Carols. London: Penguin, 1999
Percy Dearmer, et. al., eds., The Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928.
Earthly Delights: Xmas Carols
Keyte and Parrott, eds., The New Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Elizabeth Poston, The Penguin Book of Christmas Carols London: Penguin, 1965.
William L. Simon, ed., The Reader's Digest Merry Christmas Songbook. Pleasantville, NY: Readers Digest Association, revised 2003.
William Studwell, The Christmas Carol Reader. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995.
Joshua Sylvestre, Christmas Carols - Ancient and Modern (circa 1861, reprinted A. Wessels Company, New York, 1901)
Note that Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvestre" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887). See Appendix 4.
If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.