Audio Demo: Hymnal harmonization (RVW) / SATB a cappella (adapt. RVW) / harmonized descantFree score
CHRISTE SANCTORUM is in the class of the 'French diocesan tunes' that emerged in the 18th C antiphonaries (roughly similar to today's pew missals) and method books. This tune apeared in an instructional volume by François de la Feillée, Méthode de Plaint-Chant (1823), not, though often cited, in the 1681 Paris Antiphoner. Both bear the same ordination hymn, Christe pastorum caput atque princeps, but the tunes are not the same; the earlier book also includes the hymn Christe sanctorum decus angelorum. As was the custom, these publications provided the melody only in square note neumes, though organ accompaniment books for these tunes were also in circulation. As it happens, caring not a whit for any previous harmonization, Ralph Vaughan Williams rescued this tune from obscurity, infusing it with his own majestic harmonization for the 1906 English Hymnal.
The more familiar Christe sanctorum decus angelorum ('Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels'), is a 9th C. office hymn for the Feast of St Michael and All Angels. It celebrates by name the celestial visitors who have graced this earth, and once again calls on them to renew their graces: Christ the Savior, three archangels (Michael, defender; Gabriel, herald; Raphael, healer), Mary, the saints, and all the company of angels. The hymn concludes with a Gregorian doxology.
This tune is now more frequently paired with the Matins (midnight) hymn Father we praise thee, a vernacular rendering by Percy Dearmer of Nocte surgentes for the 1906 English Hymnal and sung today as a morning hymn. Though attributed to Gregory the Great (6th C) it's earliest attestation is some four centuries later. Fred Pratt Green, who began writing hymns after retirement wrote "Christ is the world's light," a popular pairing with this tune. It was written in 1969 for Hymns and Songs, a supplement to the Methodist Hymnal in Great Britain (copyright held by Hope Publishing). The English version of the Latin hymn Christe sanctorum is usually sung to another French tune from the same period, COELITES PLAUDANT.
Jan 24 2013
Descant text (Father we praise thee):
All-holy Father, Son and equal Spirit,
Trinity blessèd, send us thy salvation;
thine is the glory, gleaming and resounding
through all creation.
– Anon. Latin office hymn, c. 10th C