The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Quem pastores laudavere

For Christmas Eve & Christmas

Words: Authorship Unknown, 14th century, Hoenfurth Manuscript

Music: "Quem Pastores Laudavere," German Melody, Breslau, 1555
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer /
Meter: 88 87

1. Quem pastores laudavere,
quibus angeli dixere,
absit vobis jam timere,
natus est rex gloriæ.

2. Ad quem reges ambulabant,
aurum, thus, myrrham portabant,
immolabant hæc sincere
Leoni victoriæ.

3. Exultemus cum Maria
In cœlesti heirarchia
Natum promat voce pia
Laus honor et gloria.

4. Christo regi, Deo nato,
per Mariam nobis dato,
merito resonet vere
Dulci cum melodia.

Sheet Music and Text from J. H. Hopkins, ed., Great Hymns of the Church Compiled by the Late Right Reverend John Freeman Young (New York: James Pott & Company, 1887), #53, p. 84. Translation: While Their Flocks the Shepherds Tended

"Original Melody of the XIVth Century.
Harmony from
Dr. F. Layriz"

Sheet Music from Henry FitzAlan-Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, and Charles Tindal Gatty, eds., Arundel Hymns: And Other Spiritual Praises (London: Boosey & Co., 1905), Hymns #28 & 29, pp. 41-43. First and Second Tunes. Translation: Shepherds Tell Your Beauteous Story.

First Tune Second Tune
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Sheet music of Michael Praetorius, “Quem Pastores laudavere,” Puericiniu, Vol. 19, from Friedrich Blume, ed., Gesamtausgabe der musikalischen Werke: Michael Praetorius (Möseler, 1621), pp. 17—22.

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Praetorius' version includes four verses of "Quem Pastores laudavere" and four verses of "Nunc Angelorum gloria" as the chorus.

Sheet music from Richard R. Terry, Two Hundred Folk Carols (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Limited, 1933), "Shepherds Tell Your Beauteous Story" (Quem pastores laudavere), Carol #170, p. 22, from the Hohenfurt MS., fifteenth century, translation by Rev. John O'Connor.

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Original song consisted of verses 1, 2, and 4, which forms a single, long sentence of praise for the birth of the Savior. See the excellent notes in the New Oxford Book of Carols.

One tune was derived from a carol melody found by R. R. Terry in a MS dated 1410, at Hohenfurth Abbey, Germany, where it is set to Latin words Quem pastores laudavere. Quem pastores was printed in a number of 16th and 17th century song and psalm books, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, and became very popular in Germany. Rev. Percy Dearmer wrote the lyrics Jesus, Good Above All Other, for this light, festive tune.

According to the Oxford Book of Carols, this song was traditionally sung, line by line, by four separate groups of choir-boys.

The popular arrangement by Michael Praetorius combined this carol with another Latin carol, Nunc Angelorum gloria. A verse of Quem Pastores would be sung by a solo voice, followed by a verse from Nunc angelorum sung by the massed choir. In some later arrangements, only the first verse of Nunc angelorum would be used following each verse from Quem Pastores. See: Quem Pastores laudavere - Praetorius.

That first verse is:

Nunc angelorum gloria
Hominibus resplenduit
in mundo.
Novi parturition Gaudia
Virgo mater produxit,
Et sol verus
illuxit in tenebris.
Christus natus hodie ex virgin.

It forms the basis of a separate set of carols. See: Today The Light Of Angels Bright.

Translations of Quem Pastores laudavere include

For a literal side-by-side translation from Latin to English, see the Liner Notes to the CD "Noel! Noel! Christmas With The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra." This is a PDF document.

Earthly Delights: Xmas Carols

Some of the many English versions of this carol include

  • J. M. Neale's hymn, Jesus, Kind Above All Other (itself a translation of a Latin hymn 'Jesus noster, Jesus bonus'). [Editor's Note: This is the fifth verse of Gabriel, From The Heaven Descending]

  • George Bradford Carid (1917-84) 'Shepherds came, their praises bringing…',

  • C. S. Phillips' 'Thou whom shepherds worshipped…',

  • James Quinn's 'Angel voices, richly blending…',

  • J. O'Connor's 'Shepherds tell your beauteus story…'

  • Imogen Holst's 'Shepherd left their flocks astraying…'.

  • Ian Bradley, 'To Him Whom The Shepherds Praised...' (copyright 1999)

The tune, together with Latin words to 3 of the 4 verses song today and given here, were first found in a manuscript dated 1410 in the Hohenfurth Abbey in Germany. It was reproduced in several mid-16th century German song books (including Valentin Triller's Ein schlesich Singbuchlein aus gottlicher Schriff, Breslau, 1555). The lyric is effectively one long sentence with the verb in the second last line.

Verse 3 was later slipped in and breaks the sentence with an appeal to, 'Rejoice with Mary and the heavenly hierarchy (of angels) as they praise the infant in reverent tones and with sweet melody'.

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