Expressing the good news of Christ's birth who is born to save, this medieval carol calls all Christians to "rejoice with heart and soul and voice!" The earliest manuscript of the text dates from around 1400 (Leipzig), though the carol wasn't published until 1533 in Joseph Klug's Geistliche Lieder. Mention of the carol, however, was made by a fourteenth century writer who claimed that angels sang this hymn while dancing with the mystic Heinrich Suso (d. 1366). The carol is part of the late medieval tradition of teaching Bible stories to peasants by means of folk music. The original bilingual text combined Latin and German.
John M. Neale provided a rather free English paraphrase that was published in his Carols for Christmastide (1853). The English text originally began "Good Christian men, rejoice" and also included additional words because Neale's associate, Thomas Helmore, made an error in transcribing the rhythm of the tune.
IN DULCI JUBILO was originally a folk dance; it is filled with rhythmic energy. There are many organ and choral arrangements of this tune. Sing this lilting lively carol in unison or in parts with bright flute accompaniment (either real flutes or flute stops on the organ). Observe a ritardando only in the final phrase of stanza 3. Sing with two pulses per bar.
In the late medieval period, there was a tradition of using folk songs to teach illiterate church-goers the Gospel story. This hymn is a good example of that practice. Written in a combination of Latin and German, it would be familiar in both the vernacular and the language of the Church. When set to a familiar folk tune, the people would be able to sing along with ease, and would understand the story.
Over the centuries, this hymn has been translated into many different languages, so many more people could hear and sing these beautiful words that call us to praise. A missionary diary claims that on September 14, 1745, at the Moravian mission in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, this hymn was simultaneously sung in thirteen different languages. What a marvelous thought, that we can sing the same song with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, celebrating the story that began all of our own stories.