It’s been all about the tune for me this morning.
I know this lyric as a choral piece by composer and music director Michael Harrison – a beautiful setting of these lyrics that evoke the hope of the lyrics (the cascading voice thing that happens on “peace, good will” is gorgeous and the intricacies of parts on “bright as paradise” is simply glorious. I wish there was a recording of it; I own a copy of the sheet music and if you’re interested, I can see if Michael will let me share with you on an individual basis.
But I digress. My point is that I opened the hymnal, saw the title, started singing Michael’s version, and realized there was a very different tune in front of me – a plainsong chant called Adoro Te Devote. Now it does work from a mood perspective, but the pattern in each phrase is harder to pick up and felt somewhat plodding to me.
As I looked for other tunes in similar meter, my first stop was our hymnal. And guess what tune this fits?
Cranham – the one we know as In the Bleak Midwinter. Go ahead, sing a bit of it now.
In the lonely midnight, on the wintry hill,
shepherds heard the angels singing, “Peace, good will.”
Listen, O ye weary, to the angels’ song,
unto you the tidings of great joy belong.
Though in David’s city angels sing no more,
love makes angel music on earth’s farthest shore.
Though no heavenly glory meet your wondering eyes,
love can make your dwelling bright as paradise.
Though the child of Mary, heralded on high,
in his manger cradle may no longer lie,
love will reign forever, though the proud world scorn;
if you truly seek peace, Christ for you is born.
Works, doesn’t it? Beautifully, I might add. I suspect our lyricist, Unitarian minister Thomas Chickering WIlliams (who served All Souls NYC from 1883-1896), had that tune in mind as well.
Now you can do what you like, but I know that if I want a choir to sing these words, I’ll use Michael Harrison’s arrangement. And if I want a congregation to sing these words, I’ll have them sing it to Cranham.
And you can be I want these lyrics to be sung on Christmas. They honor the story, honor the awe and wonder, honor the expansiveness of our theologies. It’s gorgeous and glorious.
Kinda like the moment they describe.
If you mean the Holst tune (sorry but I am at home and my hymnbook is not) then TC Williams could not have meant that tune.
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Hello, I just came across your post as I was poking around online for background information on “In the Lonely Midnight”, as I prepare for the Portland Community Orchestra’s 2019 Holiday concert. I ended up here by a very circuitous route. It began with my coming across the organ piece “Communion sur un Noël” by Jean Huré. I decided to arrange that work for the community orchestra I direct. At some point I thought it would be nice to hear the original “Noël” that this piece is based on. After much searching, I was unsuccessful in finding any Christmas carol with the melody that appears in the “Communion sur un Noël.” My closest contact was finding a Breton fiddle tune, “Tamm Kreiz,” which has a similar beginning to the mystery Noël. Undeterred, I thought my fallback position could be finding a Christmas text which matched the rhythm of the Huré tune. Even though, as far as I can tell, he never states the carol in full, I stitched together a version which seemed to make sense musically. My next step was to head to the wonderful website/resource on all things Christmas (musically) – The Hymns and Carols of Christmas. After working through the table of contents alphabetically, I came across the carol “In the Lonely Midnight.” The text worked perfectly with the music, and on top of that, the somber sounding melody matched the feeling that the text portrayed. At this point I became curious about the original music of “In the Lonely Midnight,” and thus through various fits and starts I came across your posting on the carol. It just so happens that a few years back, on one of our other Holiday concerts, we had a guest singer who joined us for “In the Bleak Mid-winter!” Another very beautiful and haunting carol. If you are interested in what “In the Lonely Midnight” sounds like with the Jean Huré tune, I would be glad to send you a copy. I think it will be a very lovely addition to our Holiday performance this year. Thank you for the notes on your adventures with “In the Lonely Midnight.” And all the best for the 2019 Holiday season!