I AM pretty sure that In Dulci Jubilo has the distinction of being the only Christmas carol to reach the top ten in the UK pop charts. Bing Crosby had massive sales with Silent Night but that was in the 1940s and British record charts were not published until 1952.
The carol was orginally written in a mix of German and Latin and is attributed to the German mystic Heinrich Seuse in about 1328. Also known as Blessed Henry Suso, he was a Dominican friar who lived for many years in Ulm, later the birthplace of Albert Einstein. According to folklore, Seuse heard angels sing the words which he transcribed and joined them in a dance of worship.
The most popular translation, by Robert Lucas de Pearsall in 1837, retains the Latin phrases and substitutes English for German. Pearsall, a barrister by trade, also adapted the melody from a tune which appears in a manuscript dating from around 1400 held at Leipzig University, though it is thought be earlier in origin. His arrangement is still in use and was voted second most popular choral Christmas carol with British cathedral organists and choirmasters, following In the Bleak Midwinter, in a 2008 BBC survey.
Here it is sung by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, in 2010, and here is a lovely Lancashire brass ensemble performance.
A translation of both the Latin and German words into English called Good Christian Men, Rejoice was made in 1853 by John Mason Neale, who also translated O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Good King Wenceslas.
In 1975 In Dulci Jubilo was released as a single by Mike Oldfield, reaching No 4 in the charts in January 1976.
As a matter of interest, here is the full top ten for the week of January 11 – a weird mixture of the great and the dire, with one or two in between:
1 Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody
2 Sailor: Glass of Champagne
3 Abba: Mamma Mia
4 Mike Oldfield: In Dulci Jubilo/On Horseback
5 10CC: Art for Art’s Sake
6 Chubby Checker: Let’s Twist Again
7 Andy Fairweather-Low: Wide Eyed and Legless
8 Billy Howard: King of the Cops
9 Small Faces: Itchycoo Park
10 Demis Roussos: Happy to be on an Island in the Sun
Oldfield first recorded In Dulci Jubilo in November 1974 as the B-side of his previous single, Don Alfonso, playing all the instruments himself. After Don Alfonso flopped, Oldfield re-recorded In Dulci Jubilo in October 1975 incorporating some of the previous version’s backing tracks but adding Leslie Penning on two recorders and a kortholt (a woodwind instrument from the Renaissance period), William Murray on snare drum and himself on acoustic and electric guitars, piano and ARP string synthesiser. It was issued as a double A side with On Horseback, which previously appeared as an untitled song at the end of Oldfield’s 1975 album Ommadawn.
Oldfield’s In Dulci Jubilo featured in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.
I have chosen this clip from Top of the Pops featuring Pan’s People, which you will view with nostalgia or disbelief.