Print Shortlink

Adeste, Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful)

Latin version: John Francis Wade/ Abbe Etienne Jean Francois Borderies)
(English version: John FrancisWade/Frederick Oakeley/William Thomas Brooke)

This Christmas carol has been identified as having the words and music originally written by John Francis Wade sometime in the 1740s, possibly 1743 or earlier, and published as “In Nativitate Domini Hymnus” in his Cantus Diversi pro Dominicis et Festis of 1751.  It would later appear with words and music in Evening of the Offices of the Church in 1760 and An Essay on the Church Plain Chant by Samuel Webbe in 1782.

It has undergone many, many changes throughout its history and has been mistakenly taken for a medieval Latin hymn and also mistakenly ascribed to King John IV of Portugal and Saint Bonaventure.  It is sometimes called the “Portuguese Hymn” for the simple reason it was played at the Portuguese Embassy by Samuel Webbe and after the Duke of Leeds had heard it there he commissioned a “fuller arrangement” of it by Thomas Greatorex.

The lyrics were originally written in Latin, possibly when John Wade had fled England in the Jacobite Rebellion and settled in Douia, France, and he would never translate them into English himself.  This honour went to Frederick Oakeley and William Thomas Brooke about a century later who translated Verses 1, 2, 3 and 6 and stanzas 4 and 6 respectively, and they were published in Murray’s Hymnal of 1852 under the name “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

“Adeste, Fideles” is still used for performances of the Latin version of this hymn with the fifth, sixth and seventh verses being added by Abbe Etienne Jean Francois Borderies around 1822 and yet a further verse being added in the mid 1800s for the Epiphany by an unknown author.  The music, especially the initial tune part, has been thought to be partly taken from an adaptation of the song called “Air Angolis” which was transcribed for a Roman Catholic choir from the song “Rage Inutile” which appeared in the comic opera Acajou written by Charles Simon Favart in 1744.  The most popular arrangement to be sung today is by Sir David Willcocks and is annually heard at King’s College, Cambridge, in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Often used by other composers it has been featured in Leroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival, Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s Carol Symphony and the fourth movement of Franz Liszt’s Weihnachtsbaum cycle.  On the European continenent, especially France and Germany, it is known as “The Midnight Mass” as monks took it and adapted it into a procession piece for Christmas Eve.

Popular artists that have used all or part of the carol are the group Hanson and the Swedish singer Carola Haggkvist and Twisted Sister took inspiration from it for their song “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.  The most heard parody is when crowds get together and sing “Why Are We Waiting” to its tune.

Black Dyke Mills Band recordings
Chandos 4541 (CD: A Christmas Fantasy)
Choir – Huddersfield Choral Society
Conductor – Roy Newsome

Boston Pops recordings
Philips 416 287 – 2 (CD:  We Wish You a Merry Christmas)
Conductor – John Williams
Choir – Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Choirmaster – John Oliver

DG 419 414-2 (CD: White Christmas)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler

RCA 09026-61685-2 (CD: Pops Christmas Party)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler

Sony SK 48232 (CD: Joy to the World)
Conductor – John Williams
Choir – Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Choirmaster – John Oliver

Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra recordings
Naxos 8.990005 (CD: Christmas Festival)
Conductor – Richard Hayman

Rochester Pops Orchestra
Koch CHD 1531 (CD: Joy to the World  Carols for Orchestra and Chorus)

St Louis Philharmonic Orchestra recordings
Sonari records – 7 55724 00272 3 (CD: Christmas with the Philharmonic)
Conductor – Robert Hart Baker