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A Medieval Christmas hymn from the masters of sacred music

VOCES8 sings "In Dulci Jubilo"

YourClassical MPR | Fair Use via YouTube

J-P Mauro - published on 12/22/23

VOCES8 breathes life into a 600-year-old Christmas hymn written by a beatified German Dominican Friar, a tune far more worthy than radio fare.

The same old Christmas tunes have been on the radio for almost a month already and as Christmas day approaches, our ears are eager to hear something new. Thankfully, the esteemed vocal group VOCES8 anticipated our needs and released “In Dulci Jubilo,”a Medieval hymn written by a beatified German Dominican friar for the season of Christmas. 

Alright, a Medieval hymn isn’t exactly “new,” but even what is old can sound new to those who have never heard it. This is especially true when VOCES8 so expertly breathes life into a song that’s at least 600 years old. 

“In Dulci Jubilo” is Latin for “In Sweet Rejoicing,” a reference to the jubilant celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, at Christmas. The English translation of the first verse reads: 

In sweet rejoicing,
now sing and be glad!
Our hearts’ joy
lies in the manger;
And it shines like the sun
in the mother’s lap.
You are the Alpha and Omega!

The song is written in the polyphonic style, meaning that each singer is singing a solo vocal line, but all parts come together to make chords. It is also a macaronic piece, which means that it is sung in multiple languages. In this case, “In Dulci Jubilo” was originally written with both Latin and German lyrics, however it sounds as though VOCES8 have worked some English in as well. 

It was written by Blessed Henry Suso, a Dominican Friar who lived from 1295 – 1366. According to Hymns and Carols of Christmas, Bl. Suso was gifted this hymn by angels, who sang the tune to him in a vision. A passage from Suso’s biography – or autobiography as has been debated – reads: 

Now this same angel came up to the Servant [Suso] brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew the Servant by the hand into the dance, and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus, which runs thus: ‘In dulci jubilo’, etc.

Click here to listen to more fine sacred music from VOCES8.

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