I collect hymnals – the older the better. It’s fascinating to see how musical tastes have changed over the years, and see which hymns were included or excluded. Language changes and various issues (such as temperance) rise and fall from prominence.
As far as Christmas Carols go, in addition to my Oxford Book of Carols, there are three hymnals that have held my attention. I actually possess one of these, and I’ve just found copies of the other two online. I guess that will have to do, if I can’t actually own the physical copies.
The first of these is Hymns Ancient and Modern, and is a general hymnal rather than being specific to Christmas. For many years it was the primary hymnal of the Church of England, and is a standard reference for hymnology. Anne Dudley put together an excellent CD of Advent and Christmas music based on tunes from the hymnal and entitled it Ancient and Modern. I was able to acquire a copy of Ancient and Modern on eBay. I think mine is the 1916 edition, and it’s a small pocket version with only the words to the hymns – no music (pictured above.)
In the mid-to-late 20th Century there was a revived interest in ancient melodies for worship. I noticed this in our most recent Presbyterian Hymnal, which included more plainsong chants and hymns with ancient origins. These next two hymnals are even older than Hymns Ancient and Modern.
The second hymnal on my list has been trickier to find. Piae Cantiones ecclesiasticae et scholasticae veterum episcoporum (Devout ecclesiastical and school songs of the old bishops), or, more simply, Piae Cantiones, is a much older work. It was published in the late 1500’s by a Finnish clergyman, and was later also published in Sweden and Germany.
Like Ancient and Modern, Piae Cantiones was a general collection of hymns, all in Latin. However, it seems that the Christmas music from that collection is what is most used today. From that collection we get A Child Is Born in Bethlehem (Puer nobis nascitur), Good Christian Men, Rejoice! (In Dulci Jubilo), On This Day Earth Shall Ring (Personent Hodie), Good King Wenceslas (Tempus adest floridum) and the stirring Gaudete!, recorded by The Kings Singers and other choral groups.
While I’d love to have a copy for my collection, finding a 1500’s hymnal would be nearly impossible. I’d even be happy with a facsimile, if I could find one. However, I have found a scanned version in PDF format on a German musicians’ website. As seen in the example below, the hymnal uses old style musical notation.
The third hymnal is William Sandys‘ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern in 1833. Despite the similarity of names, this collection predates Hymns Ancient and Modern by nearly 30 years. This collection marks the first known publication in English of many well-known Christmas Carols, including “The First Noel”, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In”, and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”
I don’t have a physical copy of this hymnal either – yet. I’ve found a complete version of it online through Google Books. You can download a PDF file of the colletion, or, better yet, you can order a reprint from Qoop.com, which is what I’ve done. There is a direct link from the Google Books page. I’ve used Qoop to print calendars and other photographs, and I’m curious to see how they handle this. The price was quite reasonable – just under $16 including shipping.
So, three old hymnals, one original copy, one facsimile on the way, and two virtual copies. That’s not too bad. I’d love to see some of these other older hymnals digitized. I may have to scan a few of the ones in my collection and see if I can contribute.