In 2007, alumna Mim Vagt ’50 visited Dr. Charles Flynn to present the College with a copy of the sheet music for the well-known Christmas carol, Gesu Bambino, composed by Pietro Yon in 1917. The 1923 sheet music bears the inscription: “Most respectfully inscribed to the Academy and College of Mount St. Vincent on the Hudson.” Probably it was a tribute to Pietro’s brother S. Constantino Yon who was for many years director of music at the Mount.
Ms. Vagt noted that it was unusual for a school to have such a famous Christmas carol dedicated to it. It has been recorded by famous artists such as Domingo, Pavarotti, Battle and others.
Originally written in Italian in 1917, Gesu Bambino was translated into English by Frederick H. Martens. It was published in 1923 by J. Fischer & Bro., and first performed at St. Francis Xavier Church in 1924.
The melody and lyrics of the chorus are derived from Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful). The music historian Salvatore Basile notes that the song achieved “the near-impossible feat of surviving in the standard holiday repertoire, with important performances, innumerable recordings, and every kind of vocal and instrumental arrangement.”
Born in Italy, Pietro Yon (1886-1943) came to the U.S. at age 21 to become the organist of St. Francis Xavier Church, Manhattan, a position he held until 1926. His brother S. Constantino Yon had preceded him and held a similar position at St. Vincent Ferrer Church, also in Manhattan. In 1926 Pietro became the assistant organist of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York. Two years later he was named music director. He was a consultant for both the Cathedral and for Carnegie Hall when they were seeking new organs. Among his pupils was Cole Porter, as well as many noted organists.
Pietro Yon died in 1943 on the feast of St. Cecilia, patron of musicians, Nov. 22. Among the mourners at his funeral was Toscanini. The Mass of Requieum was Yon’s own composition.
He also composed the Missa Regina Pacis, sung at the Cathedral at a Mass of Thanksgiving on April 18, 1959, that marked the sesquicentennial of Mother Seton’s founding of the Sisters of Charity in America.
Lyrics to Gesu Bambino:
When blossoms flowered ‘mid the snows, upon a winter night,
Was born the Child, the Christmas Rose, the King of Love and Light,
The angels sang, the shepherds sang, the grateful earth rejoiced,
And at his blessed birth the stars their exultation voiced.
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!
Again the heart with rapture glows to greet the holy night,
That gave the world its Christmas Rose, its King of Love and Light.
Let ev’ry voice acclaim His name, the grateful chorus swell.
From paradise to earth He came that we with Him might dwell.
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!
(Sources used: Salvatore Basile, Fifth Avenue Famous: The Extraordinary Story of Music at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Fordham University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8232-3187-4, p. 78; Sr. Marie de Lourdes Walsh, SC, The Sisters of Charity of New York, 1809-1959 (3 vols., Fordham University Press, 1960, II: 331); http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietro_Yon; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ges%C3%B9_bambino
–Notes by Regina Bechtle, SC, 12/6/13
Thanks ! Beautiful. Merry Christmas ! xo NYF ’51 Great seeing you, Sr. Regina. in the autumn with ‘the bride’ to be !
Thank you for posting this. Our elementary school choir in Newport RI sang Gesu Bambino at Christmas. I was always deeply moved by the exquisite lyrics and melody. The irony is that one day I would be attracted to the Sisters of Charity.
Again, many thanks and many Christmas blessings.
I was fortunate enough to be a student at College of Mount Saint Vincent when Mr. Constantino Yon was Director of music. I will always remember the beauty of his playing on the college organ. It was a musical treat.
Miriam Smith Vagt ’50
My mother graduated from the Mount in 1930. Her minor was music and she loved Gesu Bambino. One of her professors was the brother of the composer. It is such a beautiful hymn and unfortunately it is not heard as frequently as some other Christmas hymns.