Music: William Seal (c1790)

In the Leicestershire Records Office is a splendid music manuscript book produced by William Seal in the early 1790s. It includes psalm-tunes, hymns and anthems, all in beautifully neat music notation and copperplate handwriting, with occasional doodles helpfully including the year. Seal may have been an organist (an early piece in the book looks like a voluntary), but there are also symphonies for two or three individual instruments.

Each page is about 15 inches high by 9 inches wide.

The first example included here (in pdf format) is from page 272, and is entitled A Hymn for Christmas Day in the original but Shepherds, rejoice here (there are several other hymns for Christmas Day). It starts with a short two-instrument symphony, followed by a single verse for two voices (possibly treble/tenor and bass), with a four-part chorus. Fuging passages appear throughout, but it is a straightforward (and glorious!) piece to sing.

The original time signature is retorted time, not cut common as in the transcription.

The verse reads:

Shepherds, rejoice and send your fears away;
News from the sky, salvation born today.
Jesus the God comes down to dwell with you;
Today he comes, but not as monarchs do.

Arlie Prokop has pointed out that the words are an adaptation of a common-metre hymn by Isaac Watts (Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Book 1, Hymn IV, part 1). The first two verses read:

Shepherds! rejoice, lift up your eyes,
And send your fears away;
News from the regions of the skies,
Salvation's born today.

Jesus, the God whom angels fear,
Comes down to dwell with you:
Today he makes his entrance here,
But not as monarchs do.

New for 2006 -- Two further hymns for Christmas day, Hark, the herald angels sing, and a version of While shepherds watch'd (or 'Wild shepherds' as it's known in the William East Quire) composed by William Knapp with a symphony added by Seal.