The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Ah! Quel grand mystère!

Traditional French, 19th Century


Ah! Quel grand mystère!
Dieu se fait enfant.
Il descend sur terre,
Lui, le tout-puissant!
C’est bien le Messie,
Roi de l’univers,
Qui nous rend la vie
En brisant nos fers.

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Chantons Noël!
Chantons le Roi du Ciel!

Le grand Roi des anges,
Dieu de majesté,
En de pauvres langes
Est emmailloté.
Tendrement sa Mère
En ses bras le prend,
Puis le montre, fièvre,
À Joseph chantant :

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Chantons Noël!
Chantons le Roi du Ciel!

Des bergers sans crainte,
Loin de leurs troupeaux,
À la vierge sainte
Offrent leurs agneaux.
Écoutant les anges,
Vite ils sont venus
Dire leurs louanges
À l’Enfant Jésus.

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Chantons Noël!
Chantons le Roi du Ciel!

Bénissant l’aurore
Qui paraît pour moi,
Avec eux j’adore
En Jésus mon Roi,
Puisqu’il le demande
Même à tout pécheur,
Je lui fais l’offrande
De mon pauvre cœur.

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Chantons Noël!
Chantons le Roi du Ciel!

L’univers en fête
Dieu s’est fait enfant!
L’amour sur la terre
Le plus beau présent.
Les peuples du monde
Veulent pactiser
Devant cette crèche
On les voit chanter :

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Chantons Noël!
Chantons le Roi du Ciel!
 


Ah! What a great mystery!
God makes himself a child.
He comes down to the earth,
He, the all-powerful.
He is the Messiah indeed,
King of the universe,
Who gives us back life
By breaking our chains.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Sing we Nowell!
Sing we the King of Heaven!

The great King of Angels,
The God of Majesty,
In poor swaddling clothes
Is wrapped.
Tenderly his Mother
Takes him in her arms,
Then proudly shows him
 To Joseph singing :

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Sing we Nowell!
Sing we the King of Heaven!

Shepherds without fear
Far from their flocks
To the Holy Virgin
Offer their lambs.
Listening to the angels,
Quickly have they come
To sing their praises
To the Child Jesus.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Sing we Nowell!
Sing we the King of Heaven!

Blessing the dawn
Which appears for me
With them I adore
In Jesus my King.
Because He asks it
Even of sinners,
I make Him an offering
Of my poor heart.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Sing we Nowell!
Sing we the King of Heaven!

The universe in festivity
God has made himself a child!
Love on the Earth,
The most beautiful present!
The peoples of the world
Wish to make peace
Before the manger
We see them singing :

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Sing we Nowell!
Sing we the King of Heaven!
 

This and three other carols were generously provided by Michael Johnson, who wrote:

I am attaching the texts for four additional French Christmas carols:

1. Ça, Bergers, assemblons nous
2. Dans cette étable
3. Ah! Quel grand mystère
4. En cette nuit

The texts are taken from the public domain. The first carol is generally sung to a melody which dates from at least the 16th Century and, in fact, it is reported that the tune (but not these words) was sung by the crew of Jacques Cartier`s ship La Grande Hermine anchored off Stadaconé (the Algonkian name of what became Québec City) on Christmas Day, 1535. (Québec historian, Ernest Myrand).

The other three are all 19th Century hymns, popular both in France and Québec.

The four carols as well as many of the others which you already have on the site, are on the NAXOS CD: En la Fête de Noël/O Holy Night issued in 1999 and sung by La Petite Bande de Montréal. It's really a very wonderful recording (I had nothing to do with it), but the jewel case liner, as is so often the case now, does not have the words in French or in English. Since I give the CD often as a Christmas present, it will be helpful to be able to tell people to look at your site for the words. NAXOS now has the CD on line, but still do not have the words or any translation!

I have provided translations for these four carols. They are very literal as is my habit and I have phrased them so that each line of the English translates the words in the corresponding line of the French. This makes the word order somewhat awkward at times in English, but people are forever asking me, when the translation is freer, "Yes, but what exactly does the French mean?"  By translating it this way, they can now know. Frankly, it's fairly pedestrian, but it is more poetic in French, where it rhymes.

The music for Ça, bergers and for Ah! Quel Grand Mystère is particularly lovely.

In Québec (as on the CD) the arrangements used are generally by the Québecois composer/organist Raymond Daveluy. The four-part settings, with organ accompaniment and basic registration for Swell and Positive organ with pedal notation can be obtained from Les Entreprises Culturelles, 399, rue des Conseillers, La Prairie, Québec J5R 4H6 Canada (514-659-1282) and are available from Archambault Booksellers in Montréal and Québec (where I bought them).

That collection does not have En cette nuit, but has seven carols in addition to the ones I am passing along to you:

Amour, honneur, louange
Les Anges Dan Nos Campagnes
Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant
Noel Nouvelet
Nouvelle agréable
Sainte Nuit
Le Sommeil de l'Enfant Jésus
(The Sleep of the Child Jesus)
this last being the official title of Entre le boeuf et l'âne gris.

You already have most of these on your site.

So, thanks once again for your very lovely site.

Michael Johnson

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