Christmas Carols in the French Hymnbook

A few years ago, I talked about Christmas songs that are included in the various translations of the Latter-day Saint hymnbook that are not in the English hymnal.  I’m hoping to share the music and translations of those songs over the next few Decembers, starting this time with the music in the French hymnbooks.  In this case, there are three Christmas hymns in the hymnbook that appear in the French edition that aren’t in the English: “He Is Born, the Divine Christ Child” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” and “Sing We Now of Christmas“.

He Is Born, the Divine Christ Child

“He Is Born” (“Il est né le divin Enfant”) is a relatively well-known carol that is included in the French and Tahitian hymnbooks.  For the translation presented below, I’ve used the Samuel Bradshaw translation paired with the music from the French hymnal.

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (“Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”) is a well-known German Christmas song frequently sung during the Advent season that leads up to Christmas. It is also one of the Christmas sonsg featured most frequently in Latter-day Saint hymnbooks outside of the English edition.  It is included in the German, Dutch, French, Icelandic, and Swedish editions of the hymnal.  I’ve elected to use the translation that I’m most accustomed to (the Theodore Baker translation) paired with the music from the French hymnal.  Given that the French version is, itself, a translation, there are some differences between the English version presented here and the French version (see Table 1).

German original Baker’s version
Translation of French
Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
From an ancient tree,
aus einer Wurzel zart, From tender stem hath sprung.
From the old trunk of Jesse,
wie uns die Alten sungen, Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
During the austere winter,
von Jesse kam die Art As men of old have sung;
A fresh branch springs up.
Und hat ein Blümlein bracht It came, a flow’ret bright,
And on the hard ground,
mitten im kalten Winter, Amid the cold of winter,
In the calm and clear night,
wohl zu der halben Nacht. When half spent was the night.
A rose has bloomed.
Das Röslein, das ich meine, Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
By fervent mouth
davon Isaias sagt, The Rose I have in mind, Of loyal servants,
ist Maria die reine With Mary we behold it,
God, with his gentle voice,
die uns das Blümlein bracht. The virgin mother kind;
Promised a Savior.
Aus Gottes ew’gem Rat To show God’s love aright,
He comes, supreme honor,
hat sie ein Kind geboren She bore to men a Savior,
With a humble servant
und blieb ein reine Magd. When half spent was the night.
All to his pure happiness.
Das Blümelein, so kleine, O Flower, whose fragrance tender
He comes without fair appearance;
das duftet uns so süß, With sweetness fills the air,
Of the humble He is the king;
mit seinem hellen Scheine Dispel with glorious splendour
He knows His pain
vertreibt’s die Finsternis. The darkness everywhere;
Heal him by faith.
Wahr Mensch und wahrer Gott, True man, yet very God,
Death causes no more fear:
hilft uns aus allem Leide, From Sin and death now save us,
He gives us hope
rettet von Sünd und Tod. And share our every load.
By dying on the cross.

Sing We Now of Christmas

The Christmas song “Sing We Now of Christmas” or “Christmas Comes Anew” (“Noël nouvelet”) is somewhat lesser known in the United States of America, but is a personal favorite of mine.  I’ve relied on a basic translation that I’ve seen a few different places online, posted as anonymous and used the music from the French hymnal.  Rather than repeating the words of the verse three times as it is presented in the French hymnal, I elected to stick with the same words after the initial statement.

So, there you have it.  The three Christmas songs found in the French hymnal that are not found in the English hymnal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

6 comments for “Christmas Carols in the French Hymnbook

  1. “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” is a great Christmas song, but I find all the English translations deeply unsatisfying. I’ve tried and failed to do any better myself. How’s the French?

  2. Some of those old French carols can charm the most hardened curmudgeon in to the Christmas spirit.

    I love John Rutter’s arrangement of this darling French carol:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRwZhPxUd3I&ab_channel=JohnRutter%26TheCambridgeSingers

    Also, I have to say that the original French lyrics to “He Is Born” sound much better with the melody:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fBdEa-iCpg&ab_channel=JohnRutter-Topic

    Again, arranged by John Rutter.

  3. As far as the French goes, Jonathan, I’m not particularly fluent in French, so I don’t know how it sounds to someone who is more familiar with the language. As far as accuracy to the original, though, it seems even further away than the English.

  4. I fell in love with Il est né on my mission (French speaking in Quebec, but the 1985 hymnal hadn’t been translated yet), and I agree that somehow the French sounds go with the melody in a way that is utterly lost in translation. Though honestly the French lyrics for the first of the verses are just about as clunky.

    Ursula Vaughan Williams translated Lo How a Rose for the Oxford Book of Carols her husband Ralph Vaughan Williams edited. I like it less than the standard translation, but your mileage may vary. The carols is an all-time favorite of mine in any translation.

    Noël Nouvelet is fine too. :)

  5. Thanks for spotlighting these. In my experience on my mission, the French Saints loved singing these hymns!

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