"Personent hodie" is a Christmas carol originally published in the 1582 Finnish song book Piae Cantiones, a volume of 74 Medieval songs with Latin texts collected by Jacobus Finno (Jaakko Suomalainen), a Swedish Lutheran cleric, and published by T.P. Rutha. The song book had its origins in the libraries of cathedral song schools, whose repertory had strong links with medieval Prague, where clerical students from Finland and Sweden had studied for generations. A melody found in a 1360 manuscript from the nearby Bavarian city of Moosburg in Germany is highly similar, and it is from this manuscript that the song is usually dated.
The Latin text is probably a musical parody of an earlier 12th century song beginning "intonent hodie voces ecclesie", written in honour of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of Russia, sailors and children – to whom he traditionally brings gifts on his feast day, 6 December. Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott note that two of the verses have an unusual double repeat ("Submersum, -sum, -sum puerum"; "Reddens vir-, vir-, vir-ginibus"). In "intonent hodie", these were used to illustrate the three boys and three girls saved by St Nicholas from drowning and prostitution, respectively. The text was probably re-written for the Feast of the Holy Innocents (28 December) when choristers and their "boy bishop" traditionally displaced the senior clergy from the choir stalls. The carol is still often associated with Holy Innocents' Day.
Songs from Piae Cantiones continued to be performed in Finland until the 19th century. The book became well known in Britain after a rare copy of Piae Cantiones owned by Peter of Nyland was given as a gift to the British Minister in Stockholm. He subsequently gave it to John Mason Neale in 1852, and it was from this copy that Neale, in collaboration with Thomas Helmore published songs in two collections in 1853 and 1854 respectively.
The most common English translation of the text is by "James M. Joseph", a pseudonym of the composer Jane M. Joseph (1894–1929). She translates the title as "On this day earth shall ring", although there are several other English translations. Other versions include Elizabeth Poston's 1965 "Boys' Carol", which translates the first line of the text as "Let the boys' cheerful noise/Sing today none but joys" and John Mason Neale's "Let the Song be Begun", which uses the melody but not the text of the carol. Aidan Oliver's non-verse translation renders the text as "Today let the voices of children resound in joyful praise of Him who is born for us."
The carol became more prominent in England after being arranged for unison voices and orchestra in 1916 by Gustav Holst (1874–1934), where in its organ reduction it is often used as a processional hymn in church and cathedral services. Holst's version often forms part of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and was last featured in the service broadcast by BBC2 from King's College Chapel, Cambridge in 2011 following the sixth lesson. This arrangement is sometimes referred to as "Theodoric" in reference to the composer's middle name (Theodore).
In addition to Holst's version, there is a harmonised choral arrangement by Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott in the New Oxford Book of Carols, an arrangement by Antony Pitts in the Naxos Book of Carols and two arrangements by John Rutter; one for choir and full orchestra which emulates percussive medieval instrumentation, and another in his anthology Dancing Day for female or boys voices with harp or piano accompaniment. The Retrover Ensemble's performance for Naxos Records pairs the piece with Gaudete, another carol from Piae Cantiones.
Several recorded versions are arranged in a more folk-oriented style: for example, a performance by Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band on their 1987 album A Tapestry of Carols, which utilises period instruments. The female a cappella quartet Anonymous 4 have also recorded the song with its original "Intonent hodie" text on their CD Legends of St. Nicholas.
The contemporary English cross-disciplinary music ensemble North Sea Radio Orchestra have recorded a small-ensemble instrumental version of the piece arranged for two violins, cello, clarinet, bassoon, oboe, piano, vibraphone, chamber organ and guitar. This appears on their 2008 album Birds.
Robert Cummings, writing in the Allmusic guide, states that the "melody is glorious and ebullient in its lively, triumphant manner. It largely consists of bright, resolute three-note phrases whose overall structure gradually rises, then descends."
|Latin text of "Personent hodie" (1582)||Literal translation||English translation by Jane M. Joseph (1894–1929)||Latin text of "Intonent hodie" (c. 1360)|
qui nobis est natus,
summo Deo datus,
et de vir, vir, vir (2x)
|Let resound today
the voices of children,
Him who is born to us,
given by most high God,
and conceived in a virginal womb.
|On this day earth shall ring
with the song children sing
|In mundo nascitur,
|He was born into the world,
wrapped in swaddling clothes,
and laid in a manger
in a stable for animals,
the master of the heavens.
The prince of Hell has lost his spoils.
|His the doom, ours the mirth;
when he came down to earth,
|Sanctus hic inclitus,|
|Magi tres venerunt,
|Three Magi came,
they were bearing gifts,
and sought the little one,
following a star,
to worship him,
and offer him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
|God's bright star, o'er his head,
Wise Men three to him led;
|Let all the junior clerics
and also the boys
sing like angels:
"You have come to the world,
I pour out praises to you.
Therefore, glory to God in the highest!"
|On this day angels sing;
with their song earth shall ring,
In several versions, such as the Holst arrangement, the third verse has "parvulum inquirunt, Bethlehem adeunt" in place in place of "munera offerunt, parvulum inquirunt."
- Robert Cummings, "Personent hodie" at allmusic, URL accessed 4 January 2009
- Hugh Keyte, Andrew Parrott, "Personent Hodie, On This Day Earth Shall Ring" in The Musical Times, Vol. 133, No. 1795 (September 1992), pp. 1–4
- "On This Day Earth Shall Ring" at hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com, URL accessed 4 January 2009
- Gustav Holst, "Personet hodie" in the Oxford Book of Carols (London: Oxford University Press, 1928), p.171.
- Ralph Vaughan Williams, Martin Shaw (ed.), note to J.M. Neale "January Carol" the Oxford Book of Carols (London: Oxford University Press, 1928), p.291.
- The Boys' Carol at Golden Hind Music, URL accessed 4 January 2009
- "Personent hodie" at hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com, URL accessed 4 January 2009
- Nine Lessons and Carols 2011 order of service at the Choir of King's College, Cambridge website, URL accessed 31 December 2011
- Personent hodie arranged by Gustav Holst at the Choral Public Domain Library, URL accessed 4 January 2009
- Erik Routley, An English-speaking Hymnal Guide, (London: Liturgical Press, 1979), p.140
- Antony Pitts, The Naxos Book of Carols (Faber Music, 2003)
- John Rutter, Dancing Day at singers.com, URL accessed 4 January 2009
- Markus Tapio, Piae Cantiones: Latin Song in Medieval Finland. Naxos Records 8.554180
- Brian Wilson, Review of A Tapestry of Carols at MusicWeb, URL accessed 27 January 2009
- Anonymous 4, Legends of St. Nicholas. Harmonia Mundi HMU 907232
- Guido Maria Dreves, Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi Volume: 21, (Leipzig: O.R. Reisland, 1895)