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Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending

Music for Gaudete Sunday

A few nights ago I was looking for Advent music to post this weekend. I came across this hymn, which I hadn't heard before. I played it once, only half-listening, shrugged, and then ran out time for looking without finding anything better, so ended up not posting anything. But we sang this today at Mass, and by the third verse I was thinking "Actually, this is great."



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Oh, that's my hands-down favorite Advent hymn, which is saying a lot because Advent hymns are my favorites of the whole year. The third verse just kills me every time.

There's an Anonymous 4 setting of an old shape-note hymn, "Return Again," from their Gloryland album, that I love in Advent, too, though it's not really explicitly an Advent hymn. I keep trying to find it on YouTube, but I guess nobody else loves it as much as I do.

I wasn't paying much attention to the words, just trying to navigate the tune. The hymnal attributes the words to Charles Wesley, but various sources on the web don't mention him.

I don't see Anonymous 4's "Return Again" on YouTube, either. There are a number of "Return Again"s but I don't think they're the same song. There's a 30-second sample here, if anybody wants to get just a taste of it.

Most of the performances of it that you hear are that kind of rowdy shape-note singing, which is great, but I love the plaintiveness of Anon. 4's rendering -- soulful and shot with longing.

We have the sheet music of their arrangement, and I've actually always wanted to pair it with the Rorate Coeli (RC as introit, RA at offertory or Communion) for Advent IV, but we haven't sung it in Mass thus far. I think we could -- our new pastor talks a lot about how the music of the Mass should be at least *in the spirit of* chant, and I think you can sing that piece in that spirit, though that's certainly not the spirit in which it was written.

We did do it in our Advent Lessons and Carols last night, though. We do not sound as beautiful as Anonymous 4, but still it was pretty nice . . .

I bet it was.

Judging by the A4 sample, you can indeed sing it in that spirit. That's an excellent guideline from your pastor.

I wish I could sing--I mean actually sing with the skill needed to do music like that.

Advent hymns are what preclude me from becoming an Eastern Xn, which, I agree Sally, are the best of the liturgical year. This hymn was written by the great Methodist reformer Charles Wesley who wrote others as well.

In any event, this hymn is best sung on the first Sunday in Advent-the practice of many Anglican parishes. The Catholic habit of singing Veni, veni Emmanuel is entirely inappropriate for the first Sunday

Hmm, why?

We used to sing this at school. One of my favourites. I like the illustrations on this video, but I can't hear the words very well apart from the ones I know.

I didn't pay any attention to the video when I first posted it. Later I did, and liked it except for the very unconvincing Jesus in the clouds.

There seems to be some disagreement about whether Wesley wrote the words or not. This says he altered them from someone else's original. He doesn't seem to have written the tune. This certainly manages to sound authoritative.

The 'O' antiphons, from which the hymn O come O Come derives from begin as the antiphons on the 17th of Decemebr at Evening Prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours suggests that the hymn not be sung until the antiphons begin right around Advent 3. That being said, it's my favorite Advent Hymn, so I want to hear it as much as possible!

Ah. I am a liturgical ignoramus.

I can't say I want to hear it as much as possible now, because I've heard it so much and it's in danger of overexposure--we used to sing it at home during Advent. But it is very beautiful. I remember the first time I heard it: at a folk-ish liturgy in an Episcopal church, sung by one young woman accompanied by guitar. Sounds bad, but she had a good voice and ok guitar, and the melody was instantly mesmerizing.

"Return Again," and a bunch of other Anonymous 4 is available on Spotify. I'd never heard of them until this thread. Beautiful. "Return Again" is gorgeous.

I know them by reputation, but that's all. Don't think I've ever actually heard them, and definitely not that song. There's a lot of their stuff on Rdio, too, but unfortunately not that album.

The rendition of of Lo, He comes... by the Lichfield Cathedral Choir found on youtube is especially good; less orchestral.

Mac, this hymn is esp good for the first Sunday because of its stress upon Christ's return in glory, which really is this season's keynote. This fact, btw, is captured most successfully in the collects of the 79 Book of Common Prayer, the book's other shortcomings notwithstanding.

"The Liturgy of the Hours suggests that the hymn not be sung until the antiphons begin right around Advent 3. That being said, it's my favorite Advent Hymn, so I want to hear it as much as possible!"


Robert mentions above that he'd not heard of Anonymous 4. They are one of the "premiere" ensembles in the world of medieval vocal music, admired for their luminous tone and sensitive singing. They've made a long string of superb recordings for Harmonia Mundi.

The Gloryland album is almost unique in their repertoire for not being medieval music. If you'd like to hear them on their "home turf", I would recommend An English Ladymass, Legends of St Nicholas, and La Bele Marie as being particularly good. But pretty much everything they touch turns to gold.

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