|Composer (attributed to):||George Kirbye (1592)|
|Incipit:||13321 44323 55453|
|Source:||The Whole Book of Psalmes, T. Este, 1592|
While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
all seated on the ground,
an angel of the Lord came down,
and glory shone around.
WINCHESTER OLD is a famous common-meter psalm tune, presumably arranged by George Kirbye (b. Suffolk, England, c. 1560; d. Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England, 1634) from a melody in Christopher Tye's Acts of the Apostles and published in T. Este's The Whole Book of Psalmes (1592) set to Psalm 84. Kirbye was responsible for most of the harmonizations in that psalter. A musician at the estate of Sir Robert Jermyn near Bury St. Edmunds, Kirbye apparently also served as church warden of the local St. Mary's Church and composed several volumes of madrigals that were very popular in his time.
WINCHESTER OLD has been associated with Nahum Tate's Christmas text ever since it was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). The tune title refers to Winchester, an ancient town in Hampshire, England. The song could be sung as a miniature oratorio, with the choir doing the narration (st. 1, 2a, 5), a soloist singing the angel's words (st. 2-4), and on the final stanza (st. 6) the entire congregation becoming the "throng of angels" and the choir singing descant–with all the stops pulled out!
--Psalter Hymnal handbook. 1988