Adeste, fideles

Posted on 2nd December 2019 by simonbeattie

December and a hard frost have arrived here in Chesham, which can only mean one thing: it’s time for a good carol or two!

Simon, aged 6, dressed as an angel for a Christmas pageant and ready to sing some carols.

One of Simon’s pet projects for a while now has been acquiring first appearances in print of well-known Christmas carols. We thought, given the season, it would be nice to share some of them in the lead up to Christmas this year.

The first on our list is ‘Adeste, fideles’, whose first appearance in print was in An Essay on the Church Plain Chant: Part second.  Containing several Anthems, Litanies, Proses and Hymns. As they are sung in the Public Chapels at London (London, J. P. Coghlan, 1782). 

The first appearance in print of ‘Adeste, fideles’.

‘The genesis of this universally loved Christmas hymn is shrouded in obscurity.  The tune and four Latin verses are found in the manuscripts of John Francis Wade, a plainchant scribe well known in English Catholic circles …  [In his manuscript versions] Wade alternated between duple- and triple-time treatments of the tune, and he was perhaps responsible for the modern form in 4/4, first printed, in chant notation and with a bass part, in An Essay on the Church Plain Chant (Coghlan, 1782) [which is] thought to have been the work of Wade and Samuel Webbe …  It was presumably the Essay version that Webbe used when performing the hymn in the Portuguese Embassy chapel where he was organist and where, in 1795, it made such an impression on the Duke of Leeds that he commissioned an arrangement from Thomas Greatorex, director of music of the popular “Concerts of Antient Music” of which the Duke was a patron …  First performed at one of these concerts on 10 May 1797, it was repeated on many subsequent occasions, making the hymn famous far beyond the Catholic circles to which it had initially been confined’ (Keyte, The New Oxford Book of Carols, p. 242). 

The English words we use today, ‘O come, all ye faithful’, were written by Frederick Oakeley, and first appeared in A Hymnal for Use of the English Church (1852).

Stay tuned for more ‘first appearances’ of Christmas carols as we count down the days until Christmas!

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2 responses to “Adeste, fideles”

  1. Amanda says:

    Fabulous! Thank you for the research.

  2. Love the photo, Simon. It’s the same pair of glasses, right? You just grew into them.

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