HYMN 289 All My Heart this Night Rejoices/The Journey of the Magi Bach Christmas Oratorio Part V
German: Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen
Text: Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) Tune: Johan Georg Ebeling (1637-1676)
1. All my heart this night rejoices As I hear far and near Sweetest angel voices. "Christ is born," their choirs are singing 'Til the air ev'rywhere Now with joy is ringing.
2. Forth today the Conqu'ror goeth, Who the foe, sin and woe, Death and hell, o'erthroweth. God is man, man to deliver; His dear Son now is one With our blood forever.
3. Shall we still dread God's displeasure, Who, to save, freely gave His most cherished Treasure? To redeem us, he hath given His own Son from the throne Of his might in heaven.
4. He becomes the Lamb that taketh Sin away and for aye Full atonement maketh. For our life his own he tenders; And our race, by his grace, Fit for glory renders.
5. Hark! a voice from yonder manger, Soft and sweet, doth entreat, "Flee from woe and danger. Brethren, from all ills that grieve you, You are freed; all you need I will surely give you."
6. Come, then, banish all your sadness, One and all, great and small; Come with songs of gladness. Love him who with love is glowing; Hail the star, near and far Light and joy bestowing.
7. Dearest Lord, thee will I cherish. Though my breath fail in death, Yet I shall not perish, But with thee abide forever There on high, in that joy Which can vanish never.
Tr. Catherine Winkworth
MEDITATION To translate is to betray, a meme translators know and understand. You either produce a literal version that is clunky or one that is beautiful and unfaithful. There may be middle ground here, but I find it difficult to walk that tightrope. What a translator of a hymn wants is not just that people get what the original author wrote, but in a way that they will recognize as worthy of singing and cherishing.
When we were working on new translations for the LBW in the early 70s, Winkworth was our standard and nemesis. Her Victorian diction and poesy seemed so out of touch with the aesthetics of the day that we had to change or completely discard them. It slowly dawned on us that she was difficult to improve upon. This hymn is proof of that.
We ended up with “Once again my heart rejoices,” rather pedestrian next to the poetic phrase, “All my heart this night rejoices.” I protested when it was presented, but the question of its faithfulness defeated me. As did the comment "all your heart" is not good English. I gave up. Winkworth's language is hyperbolic and while somewhat unfaithful—"joyful will my heart be springing" is literal—is more in the spirit of Gerhardt. One can scoff at its being a bad translation, and a strange construction, but it sounds and means what Gerhardt might have meant to say in English, I would argue.
In reducing the number of stanzas, many of the theological and biblical connections were omitted. The hymn still retains the sense of the birth of Jesus as the middle of a story that began before creation. God becomes human as was determined from the beginning. He will be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, from John’s first chapter. Thus we should join with the shepherds and the wisemen following the star to him so we can worship him. Because "His dear Son/Now is one/With our blood forever."
Not to have the full sweep of the story of salvation misses the reason for the season as the old preachers would say. The searching of the wisemen for the manger shows us its meaning. They left everything to find Jesus. A parable of the Christian life.
The Bach Christmas Oratorio, V, for today, meditates on the Wisemen seeking Herod's advice on where to find the baby Jesus and Herod's reaction to their quest. As it explores Herod feelings, it wonders why anyone should fear Christ. He has come to be our king. Which means Herod is being dethroned; he understands this immediately. But all of us need dethroning. We all need Christ as Lord of our hearts. The cantata closes with a hymn not much known today, but perfect for this theme: The closet of the heart is dark, "Yet, as soon as your beams of grace only peep within it, it seems to be full of sunshine." Amen! May all of your hearts, now filled with his sunshine, rejoice in this good news!
Gerhardt had fifteen stanzas in his original text. Johann Crüger, his friend and colleague at Nikolai church in Berlin, did write a tune for it, but his successor, Johan Ebeling, born in Lüneburg, set over one hundred of Gerhardt's hymns and published it in 1667. This tune has become the preferred one. Ebeling ended up in Stettin, now in Poland, where he taught music until his death in the same year as Gerhardt. He wrote cantatas and other music for church.
Bach used the tune by Ebeling in some of his cantatas, and passions, proving the importance of having the birth of Jesus and his death connected in our understanding of Jesus’ life.
LINKS F. Melius Christiansen setting sung by National Lutheran Choir https://youtu.be/AzR9Q9g4-Bk
Cambridge Singers with John Rutter—it cuts the stanzas down to Christmas https://youtu.be/uN2r_D664dU
Concordia Chapel Choir with a setting by Z. Randall Stroop, the conductor is Matthew Culloton https://youtu.be/QL4XVyWzRho
Bach Christmas Oratorio Part Five, John Gardiner with Anne Sofie Von Otter https://youtu.be/TPU8mOs-sZ4
Translation of the text: