Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Advent 2009: “When Christ Was Born in Bethlehem,” Ebenezer Beesley

Advent 2009: “When Christ Was Born in Bethlehem,” Ebenezer Beesley

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 03, 2009

Ebenezer Beesley (1840-1906), director of the Tabernacle Choir throughout the 1880s, was a prolific writer of hymn tunes — eleven of his melodies remain in our hymnal today, including such favorites as “High on the Mountain Top,” “Sing We Now at Parting,” and “God of Our Fathers We Come unto Thee.” He composed music for the Juvenile Instructor, compiled songbooks for the Mutual Improvement Associations and the Sunday Schools, and generally employed his time and talents for the musical betterment of Zion.

This arrangement of “When Christ Was Born in Bethlehem” was published in the 1927 Latter-day Saint Hymns.

(I think you can read the words clearly enough, but I’ll include the words as text on these posts to make the words visible to Google.)

When Christ was born in Bethlehem,
’Twas night, but seemed the noon of day;
The stars, whose light
Was pure and bright,
Shone with unwav’ring ray,
Shone with un’wav’ring ray;
But one, one glorious star,
But one, one glorious star
Guided the Eastern Magi from afar.

Then peace was spread throughout the land;
The lion fed beside the lamb;
And with the kid, to pasture led
The spotted leopard fed,
The spotted leopard fed;
In peace the calf and bear,
In peace the calf and bear,
The wolf and lamb reposed together there.

As shepherds watch’d their flocks by night,
An angel brighter than the sun,
Appeared in air, And gently said,
Fear not, be not afraid,
Fear not, be not afraid.
For lo! beneath your eyes,
For lo! beneath your eyes,
Earth has become a smiling paradise.



  1. I received piano lessons from his daughter (whom I knew as Sister Dahlquist). She made a point of encouraging her students to study musical history, including vaudeville, and would loan us books from her personal library to this end.

    Comment by S. Taylor — November 3, 2009 @ 7:28 am

  2. This looks like fun. Do you know if it has been published anywhere else? The Steve C family singers might have to perform it at the Christmas party talent show this year.

    Comment by Steve C. — November 3, 2009 @ 8:36 am

  3. *There’s* a personal connection I never would have dreamed of, S.!

    I think it must have been published in earlier hymnbooks during his lifetime, Steve C; I haven’t tried to locate earlier publications, though. (Googling brings up 3,000 hits — it was new to me, but evidently not to many others.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 3, 2009 @ 9:40 am

  4. This was hymn 295 in the 1948 hymnbook. Other than a slight reduction in the suggested speed (from 120 to 108 beats per minute) and the dropping of the piano and forte markings on the bottom two systems, it’s identical.

    Oh, and it’s specifically designated for choir in the 1948 book.

    It does appear that the world is generally slowing down, at least when it comes to Mormon music.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 3, 2009 @ 11:11 am

  5. (Can’t see it… no pix here) but the text did sound familiar, with a melody line going in my head with it. Glad to know there’s a reason. Thanks Mark B.

    Comment by Coffinberry — November 3, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

  6. FWIW, I learned today that Beesley won $25 for his arrangement as part of a Deseret News Christmas contest. It was published in the Deseret Evening News on December 15, 1900, and performed by the Tabernacle Choir on December 23, 1900. It appeared in Deseret Sunday School Songs (1900).

    Comment by Justin — November 3, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

  7. FWIW = a lot. Thanks!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 3, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

  8. Er, Deseret Sunday School Songs (1909).

    Comment by Justin — November 3, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

  9. Thanks. I’ll have to look it up in the 1948 hymnal.

    Comment by Steve C. — November 3, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

  10. Thanks for noting that the tempo was so quick, Mark B. I started off playing it much slower, but it does sound better at 120. My husband thought it sounded a bit familiar, like Coffinberry mentioned, but it didn’t ring any bells (ouch… bad pun) for me.

    I would agree with the choice to leave it out of the current hymnbook. Not worth an entire page.

    The title reminded me of the lovely old piece, Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem. I think I’ll stick with the various medieval arrangements of that text.

    What a fascinating project, Ardis! Thanks!

    Comment by Researcher — November 3, 2009 @ 5:15 pm

  11. And another note on this piece. Ebeneezer Beesley also composed the tune to the sacrament hymn “Reverently and Meekly Now” (185) which uses some similar techniques, including the phrase sung in the women’s parts, joined by the men at the end (“I have ransomed even thee”) which might be why it sounded familiar to someone like my husband, who has a better ear for music than I do.

    Comment by Researcher — November 4, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

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