06 December 2009

Veni Redemptor Gentium

Some of my favourite hymns are Advent hymns. No, not the Christmas songs that fill the malls and airwaves around this time of year, but the Advent hymns that fill us with a sense of expectation at both comings of the Messiah. One of the very best has to be Saviour of the Nations, Come. The Latin text, Veni, Redemptor gentium, is attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan, famed mentor to the even more famous St. Augustine of Hippo. It was translated into German as Nun Komm, Der Heiden Heiland by Martin Luther in 1523. The tune was adapted from a 12th-century gregorian chant by Johann Walther the following year.

As great as J.S. Bach, Buxtehude and others are, I much prefer the old German chorales before the baroque composers got their hands on them and so heavily ornamented them. Accordingly, here below the hymn is sung in Latin by the Schola Cantorum Riga in Latvia. Simple is better.

Here is a version of the same tune beautifully performed by lute and descant viol. (I make no apologies for the busy visuals at the edges!)

Finally here is an intriguing jazz rendition of the hymn as arranged by Christian Steyer for piano and choir, performed a year ago in Berlin:

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