‘Jack Finn’s Carols


first snow, winter 2015

Finnish Christmas carols are often seen as extraordinarily depressing.

That isn’t quite fair. In fact, we have a Finn (Jaakko Suomalainen, Jacobus Finno) to thank for some of the best loved carols worldwide. He was a priest and head of the cathedral school in Turku, and collected the wildly successful Piae Cantiones ecclesiasticae et scholasticae veterum episcoporum (Pious ecclesiastical and school songs of the ancient bishops). It was first published in Griefswald (then ruled by Sweden, as was Finland) in 1582, and an early edition is in the university library of Jyväskylä, where I live.

You can see it, the oldest songbook in the Nordic countries, in context on the university website (excellent images and text in Finnish).

Or find the score and list of songs on the International Music Score Library Project site.

Or listen to a selection from Piae Cantiones performed in Latin by Swedish singers from Uppsala here – many of the tunes may be familiar from modern hymns and carols. But they changed a bit along the way.

Some of the best known music in the collection is still sung today, such as Gaudete and in Dulci Jubilo.  Divinum mysterium became, with words inspired by Prudentius’ poem Corde natus ex parentis, Of the father´s love begotten, one of my favourites.

Good King Wenceslas puts completely new words to Tempus adest floridum, which is actually a spring carol about everything blossoming. For the English words, you can see a free translation here on the splendid Clerk of Oxford blog. Or watch these Finnish sixth formers having a lot of fun performing it in Latin and Finnish – you can get the spring feeling from it.

Today the days start getting longer; the light is returning. May you have a joyful, music-filled Christmas, as we turn back towards the light.

Translator, editor, writer, reader

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Posted in Christmas, history, translation

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