|The Adoration of the Shepherds - Unknown Italian Artist circa 1630s, The National Gallery London|
The piece was composed in 1850 and concerns the shepherds saying goodbye to Jesus as he leaves Bethlehem for Egypt. The music is so soothing and soft it is very much like a lullaby Apparently when first heard in the nineteenth century, many who had previously disliked Berlioz's work were surprised that he could compose such a peaceful anthem.
The lyrics are traditionally sung in French but there are a number of English translations - it seems that every lyricist that has translated it seems to think that there's is the version closest to Berlioz's original words.
Thou must leave thy lowly dwelling,
The humble crib, the stable bare.
Babe, all mortal babes excelling,
Content our earthly lot to share.
Loving father, Loving mother,
Shelter thee with tender care!
Blessed Jesus, we implore thee
With humble love and holy fear.
In the land that lies before thee,
Forget not us who linger here!
May the shepherd's lowly calling,
Ever to thy heart be dear!
Blest are ye beyond all measure,
Thou happy father, mother mild!
Guard ye well your heav'nly treasure,
The Prince of Peace, The Holy Child!
God go with you, God protect you,
Guide you safely through the wild!
Translated by Paul England
I first heard it on Classic FM many years ago but in the last ten years it has become the piece of music that I associate most with the end of the festive season as at my church it is sung by the choir for the Communion Anthem on the Sunday before Epiphany. This service also usually signals the end of the holiday period as it usually the day before I head back to work.
The music brings me a moment of calm before everything returns to normal and busy routines and lives resume. It's a few minutes to look back on the joys that Christmas has brought and feel grateful for both the love and luxuries that I've enjoyed in the last few weeks. I also find it makes me review the outgoing year and think about the year to come, particularly the things I want to accomplish.
You may prefer to wait until December and next Christmas to listen to this beautiful piece but if you'd like a listen now, then may I recommend you follow this link to the Pavao Quartet's playing. Whilst there is no singing as it is played by a string quartet, this is a favourite version that I frequently listen to at home over Christmas. I may be biased as Jenny, one of the two violinists, is a friend, but it's very beautiful and instantly brings a sense of calm and tranquility at the end of a busy time.