This post is on the quintessential carol for Epiphany: ‘As with gladness, men of old’ by William Chatterton Dix, to the tune DIX by Konrad Kocher.
William Chatterton Dix
William Chatterton Dix (1837-98) was born in Bristol, the son of a surgeon, educated at Bristol Grammar School and then abandoned both scholarship and the West Country for a career in maritime insurance, based in Glasgow. His health was never robust, and he suffered from long periods of illness and convalescence. During one of these – on 6th January, 1859 – he wrote this carol, which was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern two years later. Dix’s illnesses became increasingly more severe, and he spent months confined to bed, and in the grip of depression. However, during this time many of his finest and most enduring hymns were written, such as ‘Alleluia! Sing to Jesus’, ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’ and ‘What child is this, who, laid to rest’. (Interesting that a disproportionately large number of hymn-writers have found inspiration among the bleakest depths.) Despite his poor health, Dix lived long enough to see many of his successful works bear fruit.
Konrad Kocher (1786-1872) was a German composer who settled in Stuttgart and founded the School for Sacred Song there. This tune was composed originally as a setting for the hymn ‘Treuer Heiland, wir sind hir’ (‘Faithful Saviour, we are here’), published in 1838. It was discovered by William H. Monk, the musical editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern, who shortened Kocher’s tune slightly to make it fit Dix’s text, and gave the carol’s author the honour of naming the tune after him. Dix did not agree with the coupling, but could not argue with the success of that hymnal, nor the enduring appeal the carol subsequently enjoyed. Today, the tune DIX is also often used for Folliott Sandford Pierpoint’s hymn ‘For the beauty of the earth’.
As ever, the following descant is free to download and use, so please do so, and let us know how you get on. And we’d be delighted to receive any audio or video of your attempts.