89

On Christmas Night

Scripture References

Thematically related:

Further Reflections on Scripture References

For the narrative this song is reflecting, see Luke 2.
Stanza 3 refers to sin departing “before his face”. See Matthew 1:21.

Tune Information

Name
SUSSEX CAROL
Key
F Major or modal
Meter
8.8.8.8 refrain 10.9

Hymn Story/Background

Luke Wadding published his Smale Garland of Pious and Godly Songs (Ghent, 1684). This carol, included in that collection of eleven songs, became popular and the text was often revised over the years. Ralph Vaughan Williams received a copy (text and tune) in 1904 from one of his choir members, a Mrs. Verrall of Monks’ Gate, near Horsham, Sussex, and prepared the current arrangement. His setting was included in the popular Oxford Book of Carols (1928), still a source for many Lessons and Carols services at Christmas time. 
— Emily Brink

Author Information

Luke Wadding (b. 1628; d. 1691) was born in Ballycogley Castle in Ireland, a still-existing castle built by the Wadding family that dates from the 13th century. They were colonists that prospered after the English invasion of that area, but the family left the castle and lost their lands following the invasion under Cromwell’s rule. He studied in Paris, earned his doctorate, and became bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Ferns, in County Wexford, Ireland, sometime around 1683. 
— Emily Brink

Composer Information

Through his composing, conducting, collecting, editing, and teaching, Ralph Vaughan Williams (b. Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, England, October 12, 1872; d. Westminster, London, England, August 26, 1958) became the chief figure in the realm of English music and church music in the first half of the twentieth century. His education included instruction at the Royal College of Music in London and Trinity College, Cambridge, as well as additional studies in Berlin and Paris. During World War I he served in the army medical corps in France. Vaughan Williams taught music at the Royal College of Music (1920-1940), conducted the Bach Choir in London (1920-1927), and directed the Leith Hill Music Festival in Dorking (1905-1953). A major influence in his life was the English folk song. A knowledgeable collector of folk songs, he was also a member of the Folksong Society and a supporter of the English Folk Dance Society. Vaughan Williams wrote various articles and books, including National Music (1935), and composed numerous arrange­ments of folk songs; many of his compositions show the impact of folk rhythms and melodic modes. His original compositions cover nearly all musical genres, from orchestral symphonies and concertos to choral works, from songs to operas, and from chamber music to music for films. Vaughan Williams's church music includes anthems; choral-orchestral works, such as Magnificat (1932), Dona Nobis Pacem (1936), and Hodie (1953); and hymn tune settings for organ. But most important to the history of hymnody, he was music editor of the most influential British hymnal at the beginning of the twentieth century, The English Hymnal (1906), and coeditor (with Martin Shaw) of Songs of Praise (1925, 1931) and the Oxford Book of Carols (1928).
— Bert Polman