The Three Kings

"The Three Kings",[1] or "Three Kings From Persian Lands Afar", is a Christmas carol by the German composer Peter Cornelius. He set "Die Könige" for a vocal soloist, accompanied by Philip Nicolai's hymn "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" ("How Brightly Shines the Morning Star"), which he erroneously thought was an Epiphany hymn. In fact, it is an Advent hymn in which the morning star is an allegory for the arrival of Jesus, not the Star of Bethlehem. In Cornelius' original second setting, the accompaniment was played on a piano but the English organist Ivor Atkins later arranged the accompaniment for choir, with the choir singing the words of the original hymn. The German words have been translated into English by H.N. Bate.[2] The carol describes the visit of the Biblical Magi to the Infant Jesus during the Nativity and is also used as an Epiphany anthem.[3]

The Three Kings
The Adoration of the Magi (Matthias Stom) - Nationalmuseum - 18796.jpg
The Adoration of the Magi by Matthias Stom
Native nameDie Könige
MelodyPeter Cornelius


"Die Könige", from: Weihnachtslieder Opus 8,3
Composer Peter Cornelius

Cornelius wrote his first version of the German hymn "Die Könige" in 1856 as part of Weihnachtslieder, Op. 8, for a solo voice and piano. This first setting of the text, which does not cite Nicolai's hymn, was published posthumously in 1905 and remained relatively unknown. In 1859 he composed a completely new version again for soloist and piano, using the 16th-century chorale "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" ("How Brightly Shines the Morning Star") by Philipp Nicolai in the piano accompaniment after a suggestion from Franz Liszt.[4] This version was again revised in 1870 before publication. The hymn was originally translated in 1916 by W. G. Rothery.[5] The more commonly used translation, including references to the Magi being from Persian lands, was made in 1928 by H.N. Bate[6] for the "Oxford Book of Carols".[7] The original piano accompaniment by Cornelius was transcribed various times for choir, among them by the organist at Worcester Cathedral, Ivor Atkins, in 1957.[3][8][9] Another arrangement for choir a cappella for five to eight voices was written by Clytus Gottwald in 2011.[4]

Other publicationsEdit

"The Three Kings" was included in a Nick Hern Books adapted publication of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.[10] In 2016, the carol was included by the head of chapel music at Winchester College, Malcolm Archer,[11] in the 2016 publication of the Carols Ancient and Modern" hymnal.[12]


  1. ^ "The Three Kings". The Royal Free Music Society Archive. Retrieved 2017-01-01.
  2. ^ "Three Kings". 2015-12-03. Retrieved 2017-01-01.
  3. ^ a b "Carols from King's - Carols from King's programme information". BBC. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2017-01-01.
  4. ^ a b Gottwald, Clytus. "Peter Cornelius/Clytus Gottwald / Drei Weihnachtslieder / nach Texten des Komponisten" (PDF). Carus-Verlag. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  5. ^ "The Three Kings". Hymns and Carols of Christmas. Retrieved 2017-01-01.
  6. ^ "Three Kings From Persian Lands Afar". Hymns and Carols of Christmas. Retrieved 2017-01-01.
  7. ^ Williamson, John (2005). Words and Music. Liverpool University Press. p. 119. ISBN 0853236194.
  8. ^ "Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity" (PDF). Collegium Records. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-05-19. Retrieved 2017-01-01. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ "The Three Kings - Peter Cornelius, Atkins". Oxford University Press. 1957-07-25. Retrieved 2017-01-01.
  10. ^ Dickens, Charles (2007). Karen Louise Hebden (ed.). A Christmas Carol (Nick Hern ed.). Nick Hern Books. p. 27. ISBN 978-1854599872.
  11. ^ "Who has put it together?". Hymns Ancient and Modern. Retrieved 2017-01-01.
  12. ^ "What's included in Carols Ancient and Modern?". Hymns Ancient and Modern. Retrieved 2017-01-01.

External linksEdit