The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

O Sing To God

Original Title: "Noël: Montez à Dieu"

A Christmas Anthem for Soprano, Alto and Chorus

Words by the Rev. Benjamin Webb (1820-1885), Vicar, St. Andrew's, Wells Street, circa 1866.
From
"Montez à Dieu, chants d'allégresse!" by Jules Barbier (1825–1901) (See below)
from
"Gesang der Nonnen" ("Song of the Nuns") by Johann Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862) (See below)

Music: Charles François Gounod, "Noël: Montez à Dieu" (1866), the setting of "Montez à Dieu, chants d'allégresse!" by Jules Barbier (1825–1901), which was an adaptation of "Gesang der Nonnen" ("Song of the Nuns") by Johann Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862).

The English words and French music were merged in 1868 and published by Novello.

" ... perhaps one of the purest pieces of inspiration ever conceived by this composer."
- Review in The Musical Times (Dec. 1, 1868).

Source: W. Rayson, Sir John Stainer, John Troutbeck, eds., Words of Anthems. Second Edition. (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., 1878), #567, p. 194. This volume is also seen under the title of Words of Anthems Used in Westminster Abbey.

O sing to God your hymns of gladness,
Ye loving hearts your tribute pay;
Your Lord is born this happy day.

Then pierce the sky with songs of gladness,
Disperse the shades of gloom and sadness;
O sing to God your hymns of gladness.

Mark how the Mother lulls to slumber
Her new born Babe with tenderest love,
And guards her treasure from above!

O blessed Child with her who bore Thee,
We, too, will kneel in faith before Thee.
O God Incarnate, we adore Thee!

O Word of God for us incarnate,
By faith we hear Thine angels sing,
Their hymns of praise to Thee their King.

We join with them in adoration,
We pour to Thee our supplication,
That Thou wouldst grant us, Lord, salvation.

Sheet Music: A Liturgy for the General Church of the New Jerusalem. Third Edition. (Bryn Athyn, PA: Academy Book Room, 1921), #8, p. 742-749.

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Sheet Music from The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular. Vol. 26, No. 514 (Dec. 1, 1885), pp. 725-732.
"O Sing To God" Noël. Anthem for Solo and Chorus. B. Webb and Ch. Gounod; London: Novello and Co.

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This PDF is available at several locations on the world wide web, usually for a price.

The following review was printed in The Musical Times and Singing-class Circular, Volume 13, Dec. 1, 1868 (London: Novello, Ewer and Co.), pp. 615-616:

O Sing To God Your Hymns of Gladness (Noël). Motet for female voices. Composed by Charles Gounod.

Few men have suffered so much injustice at the hands of some members of the English profession as M. Gounod. Time was, and not long ago either, when his opera Faust was assailed on all sides, and nothing was considered too strong in condemnation of the presumption of a Frenchman in fancying he could write anything larger than the flimsiest of comic operas. “Superficial French polish,” “thin veneering,” “military bombast,” and “windy pomposity,” are a few of the choice epithets which were liberally bestowed on this great composition; whilst the nervous trepidation exhibited by operatic managers and music publishers, before the opera was submitted to the ordeal of public criticism, has become a matter of history. However, the opera was brought out, and the public applauded, and its first success was only the precursor to a furore almost beyond precedent. Then it was thought advisable by its opponents to “trim” a little, and “want of melody” took the place of the older and less elegant phrases. But when excerpts began to be whistled by boys in the streets, and squeezed out of asthmatic accordions, even this last bulwark was evacuated, and on all sides it was agreed that Faust was a great work.

About this time rumours began to circulate to the effect that an adaptation of a grand Mass in G to the requirements of a London church was taking a firm hold on the affections of the worshippers and others. It soon became known that this Messe Solennelle was the rejected of the custodians of musical art of fifteen or twenty years ago, when it was first heard under the direction of Mr. Hullah; and a new set of phrases were collected together to stigmatise the grandest contribution to the service of the church since the two Masses of Beethoven astonished and delighted the world. “Theatrical tinsel,” “operatic tawdry,” and unfair comparisons between the sacred compositions of Mendelssohn and Gounod, were the means employed to injure the popularity of the great French musician, and, as before, they were utterly without avail. For, M. Gounod is not the man to put everything on the cast of one die; he cares not whether his Messe Solennelle becomes popular or not, but continues writing, and each succeeding composition increases, or at least consolidates, his hardly-won reputation.

The subject of the present review is one of the latest of these compositions, and perhaps one of the purest pieces of inspiration ever conceived by this composer.

The introductory bars are distinguished by reiterated chords for the right hand, and a bold moving subject in the bass, working up in a large and dignified manner to a forte, and afterwards gradually subsiding to a calm and placid piano, upon which the voice breaks with a melody of surprising breadth and beauty. The direction, “with fervour,” appears to us almost supererogatory, for it seems almost impossible that any one could sing such a melody without being moved to their inmost soul. This subject is then repeated in chorus with a few most charming interpolations by the solo voice. After this comes the gem of the whole composition—a little unpretending contralto solo to the following words—

"Mark how the mother lulls to slumber
Her new-born babe with tenderest love,
And guards her treasure from above.
O blessed Child! with her who bore Thee,
We, too, will kneel in faith before Thee:
O God incarnate, we adore Thee!"

It is impossible to convey, in words alone, an adequate impression of the profound love and devotion breathing in every line of this lovely little gem. This is succeeded by the repetition of the first subject in chorus, and leads to a burst of angelic song of the most exalted kind, to which a harp-like accompaniment seems to add an almost heavenly radiance. From this point to the end it almost uninterruptedly works up to the most splendid climax. Thus ends a composition which, though small in size, is, to our thinking, almost unsurpassed for loftiness of aspiration or grandeur of treatment. The words, which are written by [Rev. Benjamin Webb] the vicar of St. Andrews, Wells-street, are in every way worthy of his reputation as a deeply-read scholar and an earnest Christian.

The following review was printed in The Athenæum, No. 2148 (London: John Francis, Dec. 26, 1868), p. 890.

CHRISTMAS MUSIC.
O Sing to God, by C. Gounod (Novello)
. This is a seasonable edition, with English words, of the excellent canticle called “Noël,’ which was published in Paris and brought out at the Crystal Palace about two years ago. If not so original as the same composer's ‘Nazareth,’ ‘Noël’ has many clever points, which are essentially characteristic of the master, such for instance as the fine progression in the bass figure of the opening symphony. The canticle breathes that deeply devotional spirit which we generally remark in M. Gounod's sacred music. It has, too, all the richness of colouring that harmonizes so well with the pompous ceremonial of the Roman Catholic Church. “Noël’ is styled in the original a 'Chant de Religieuses' and is written for soprano and contralto solo, with chorus of female voices. It is in this edition provided both with piano and organ (quare, harmonium) accompaniments, corresponding respectively to the string and wind band of the orchestra. There are no difficulties in the vocal parts, and as the canticle is for women's voices only, it is well adapted for home practices. The English words are fairly adapted by the Rev. B. Webb. 'Noël' is published in a cheap octavo form as well as in the ordinary size.

Editor's Note.

"Noël, Chant des Religieuses" was published in 1866 by the Paris publishing firm of Choudens for women's voices, choir and solo, with accompaniment by piano and organ. Lyrics by Jules Barbier.

Also found in

The sheet music is still published by Novello & Co Ltd., #NOV400514 (8 pages). The IMSLP also has  sheet music to Noël, plus a MIDI, and several individual instrument parts.

Anthems by Gounod adapted to English by Rev. Webb include:

Source: Henry Tolhurst, Gounod (London: George Bell & Sons, 1904), pp. 21-22.

Rev. Webb was a co-editor with Rev. William Cooke, Canon of Chester, of The Hymnary: A Book of Church Song (1872), music edited by Joseph Barnby. He was one of the two texts Editors of the Hymnal Noted, Part II, 1856.

Notes:

A beautiful adaptation of this exceptional Anthem was sung by The Mitchell Boychoir in The Bishop's Wife (David Niven, Loretta Young, Cary Grant, 1947). There was a clip at YouTube of the choir's performance, but it has been removed due to a copyright claim. Their adaptation of the Sequence was:

O sing to God your hymns of gladness,
Ye loving hearts your tribute pay ;
Your Lord is born this happy day.

Then pierce the sky with songs of gladness,
Disperse the shades of gloom and sadness ;
The Lord is born this happy day.
O sing to God your hymns of gladness

O sing to God your hymns of gladness
Ye loving hearts your tribute pay
Your Lord is born this happy day.

Then pierce the sky with songs of gladness
Disperse the shades of gloom and sadness
Your Lord is born this happy day
O sing to God your hymns of gladness

O Word of God for us incarnate,
     O Word of God for us incarnate,
By faith we hear Thine angels sing,
Thy blessed angels sing their hymns,
     Thine angels sing their hymns of praise to Thee their King.

We join with them in adoration,
     We join with them in adoration.
We pour to Thee our supplication
That Thou would grant us, Lord, salvation.

Directed, as they were, by an angel, it is no surprise that the choir came to its feet as it sang "Thine angels sing their hymns of praise to Thee their King." And for me, each time that I see this video, I am brought to tears of joy when I join the boys in singing: "We join with them in adoration." Perhaps that honor may be accorded to us all.

The song can also be streamed or downloaded from the Boy Choirs web site for the Mitchell Boy Choir (together with three songs from “Going My Way” with Bing Crosby, including Ave Maria). The choir, under the direction of Robert Mitchell, appeared in over 100 films.

A copy of the December, 1916 recording of O Sing To God, by Betsy Lane Shepherd, Helen Clark and the Oratorio Chorus may be downloaded from The Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, Department of Special Collections, Donald C. Davidson Library, University of California, Santa Barbara. The recording, Edison blue Amberol 3031, can also be streamed from Christmas on Cylinders Concert Part Two at The City of London Phonograph & Gramophone Society web site. Speaking only for myself, I reduced the volume on my computer before opening those web pages.

Soloist (Soprano):
O sing to God your hymns of gladness
Ye loving hearts your tribute pay
Your Lord is born this happy day
Then pierce the sky with songs of gladness
Disperse the shades of gloom and sadness
The Lord is born this happy day
O sing to God your hymns of gladness.

Chorus:
O sing to God your hymns of gladness
Ye loving hearts your tribute pay
Your Lord is born this happy day
Your Lord is born this happy day
Then pierce the sky with songs of gladness
Disperse the shades of gloom and sadness
Your Lord is born this happy day
O sing to God your hymns of gladness.

Soloist (Alto):
Mark how the Mother lulls to slumber
Her new born Babe with tenderest love,
And guards her treasure from Above!
O blessed Child, with her who bore Thee,
We, too, will kneel in faith before Thee.
O God Incarnate, we adore Thee.
O God Incarnate, we adore Thee.

Chorus:
O sing to God your hymns of gladness
Ye loving hearts your tribute pay
Your Lord is born this happy day
Your Lord is born this happy day
Then pierce the sky with songs of gladness
Disperse the shades of gloom and sadness
Your Lord is born this happy day
O sing to God your hymns of gladness.

Soloist & Chorus
O Word of God for us incarnate
O Word of God for us incarnate
By faith we hear thine angels sing
Thy blessed angels sing their hymns
Thine angels sing of praise to thee their King
We join with them in adoration
We join with them in adoration
We pour to thee our supplication
That Thou would grant us, Lord, salvation.

There are a number of performances of Gounod's "Noël" at YouTube from Germany, France, Italy and Holland, including:

Noël, Charles Gounod
Soloist: Mme Andrée Laramée, soprano, singing "Montez à Dieu, chants d'allégresse!" by Jules Barbier.
Organist: M Yvon Bélanger

Montez à Dieu, chants d'allégresse!
O coeurs brûlés d'un saint amour.
Chantez Noël! voici le jour
Le ciel entier frémit d'ivresse!
Que la nuit sombre disparaisse!
Voici le jour! voici le jour!
Montez à Dieu, chants d'allégresse!

Ô Vierge mère, berce encore
L'enfant divin, et dans ses yeux
Aspire la clarté des cieux!
De son regard, céleste aurore,
Sur ton front pur qui se colore.
Une auréole semble éclore!
Une auréole semble éclore!

Ô Dieu sauveur, ma voix t'appelle,
De tes enfants j'entends le choeur
Remplir les cieux d'un chant vainqueur!
Laisse à mon âme ouvrir son aîle!
Qu'elle s'envole et sente en elle
Qu'elle s'envole et sente en elle
Rayonner ta flamme éternelle.
 Return

The program notes to the Christmas with the Vienna Boys Choir gives a translation which begins "Ascend to God, songs of joy." See: Program Notes - The Vienna Boys Choir, pp. 28-29

Other performances include:

Noel! (Gounod) - Acqui T., Santo Stefano, 26/12/2010
concerto di santo stefano 2010 alla chiesa di san francesco di acqui terme.
coro mozart di acqui terme con coro e orchestra della polifonica gavina di voghera.
direttore: m° aldo niccolai
solisti: lucia scilipoti (soprano) - cecilia bernini (contralto)

Santo Stefano 2012 - Gounod, Noel!
XV Tradizionale Concerto di Santo Stefano 2012 ad Acqui Terme, Chiesa di San Francesco
Coro Mozart di Acqui Terme
Orchestra e coro "A. Gavina" di Voghera
soprano: Lucia Scilipoti
contralto: Oksana Lazareva
direttore: M° Aldo Niccolai

George Valentin, tenor - Weihnachtliches Konzert - NOEL by Gounod
19.12.2010 - Rogate Kirche , Hamburg - Germany.

Mirella Golinelli, Soprano: "Noel" by Gounod

Volendams Vocaal Ensemble
Kerstconcert 20-12-2009 St.Vincentiuskerk Volendam Noel, Charles Gounod o.l.v. Marlie Durge,
sopraan Isabel Delemarre, organist Bram Biersteker & Hoorns Begeleidingsorkest

C. Gounod - Noel - Corale del Duomo Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
A performance by the Corale del Duomo Castelnuovo di Garfagnana during the Concerto di Natale, December 18, 2010.
Registrazione LIVE - Concerto di Natale del 18 dicembre 2010
Duomo SS. Pietro e Paolo di Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
Corale del Duomo - www.coraledicastelnuovogarfagnana.it

The original poem "Gesang der Nonnen" (“Song of the Nuns”) by Johan Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862)

Erhebet euch mit heil'gem Triebe,
Ihr frommen Schwestern, himmelan
Und schwebt auf blühnder Wolkenbahn!
Da leuchtet uns die reinste Sonne,
Da singen wir in Frühlingswonne
Ein Lied von dir, du ew'ge Liebe!

Ob welken alle zarten Blüten
Von dem Genuß der ird'schen Glut:
Du bist ein ewig Jugendblut
Und unsrer Busen stete Fülle,
Die ew'ge Flamme, die wir stille
Am Altar und im Herzen hüten.

Du stiegest nieder, ew'ge Güte,
Du lagst, ein lächelnd Himmelskind,
Im Arm der Jungfrau, süß und lind;
Sie durft aus deinen hellen Augen
Den Glanz der Himmel in sich saugen,
Bis sie die Glorie umglühte.

Du hast mit göttlichem Erbarmen
Am Kreuz die Arme ausgespannt.
Da ruft der Sturm, da dröhnt das Land:
Kommt her, kommt her von allen Orten!
Ihr Tote, sprengt des Grabes Pforten!
Er nimmt euch auf mit offnen Armen.

O Wunderlieb, o Liebeswonne!
Ist diese Zeit ein Schlummer mir,
So träum ich sehnlich nur von dir;
Und ein Erwachen wird es geben,
Da werd ich ganz in dich verschweben,
Ein Glutstrahl in die große Sonne.

The poem was found in Uhland's Gedichte (J.G. Cotta, 1841), pp. 25-26. Return

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