Song of the Week - O Come, O Come Emmanuel

As this will be the last "Song of the Week" post in this Advent season, I thought I'd take up one of the oldest, most solemn and most loved Advent songs: "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

The origins of this song are quite murky, and steeped in antiquity. Certainly the original genesis of the phrase is found in Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." The Hebrew word "Immanuel" literally translates as "God with us."

The idea of using this phrase as an Advent antiphon may go back as far as the 8th century, but it was certainly common in the 12th century liturgy as the Latin phrase "Veno, veni Emmanuel." Gradually over the centuries, the other verses and the rest of the refrain were added. I can remember from my youth in the Catholic church, that this hymn was sung every Sunday in Advent; the first two verses on Advent Sunday, the third and fourth on the second Sunday, and so on until all eight verses had been sung. Some versions include a pause after the "Emmanuel" (Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel... shall come to you O Israel...) others don't. I remember being a little kid asking "Who is Emmanuel and why is he rejoicing?"

In modern times, this song is oft-recorded, and rarely does a serious Christmas album go without it. Artists the like of Joan Baez, The Carpenters, Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Wynona Judd, Sixpence None the Richer and Steven Curtis Chapman have recorded this song, as well as dozens more. The underlying Gregorian rhythm suits itself to a variety of musical styles, from church organ to Latin to Regge to dance-pop.

The song is often played in the key of G, starting on the minor sixth (Em), although there have been countless variations on this as well.

One of my favorite version of the song is by Steven Curtis Chapman.


Popular Posts