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Alphonsus' Music

St. Alfonso de Liguori, 1696-1787, lived during the Baroque era, a contemporary of Bach and Handel. Like them Alfonso was a composer. His main works were classical chorales, popular hymns and carols.  An original Alphonsian chorale is housed in the London Museum.

pianoIn his warm Neapolitan melodies, St. Alphonsus sets out to move the emotions of people in regard to their faith, while at the same time, through his librettos, assisting them to open their minds and be of resolute will.  It was a holistic approach to leading the human person in faith.  In the music of St Alphonsus the medium is the message.  He crafted his music as an expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of his love.

Perhaps the best example of this fact is the Christmas carol, Tu scendi dalle stelle.  In 1870 the original Neapolitan words were translated into Italian by Pope Pius IX. Alphonsus wrote this quite long carol during the summer of 1755 while he was living in the Redemptorist house at Diliceto, in the Proviance of Foggia.  The original Neapolitan title was Quanno nascette Ninno.

Alphonsus composed on the harpsichord. Listen to a harpsichord in the video below (Tom Kopman playing J.S.Bach’s Toccata in G major, BWV916).

Pastorale di Natale

Over the years S.Alfonso de Liguori’s Tu scendi dalle stelle became a mythic song in Italian culture.  Giuseppe Verdi is reported to have said, ‘Christmas without Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle is not Christmas.’ Such was the genius of Alphonsus to plant this seed of God’s love in the hearts, minds and families of his culture and beyond. Arrangements of Tu scendi dalle stelle are as many as the sands on the Amalfi Coast.  Here are some to which you may care to listen.

Tu scendi dalle stelle

Tu scendi dalle stelle, originally the property of the peasants on their bagpipes and shawns, over the years became the property of every street musician, especially those who played the popular button accordion and piano accordion. St. Alphonsus’s carol, variously interpreted, remains ever-popular.

Tu scendi dalle stelle

Tu scendi dalle stelle is here sung by the mixed choir at St. Angela Merici parish in Fairview Park, Ohio, USA, for Christmas, 2007, 252 years after St. Alphonsus composed the original Neapolitan ‘Quanno nascette Ninno’.

Quanno nascette Ninno

These are the words used is St. Alphonsus’ original 1755 Neapolitan version. Here they are sung by Mina in the style of the day. This style reveals some influence of Arabic music upon the music of southern Italy at that time. Contrastingly, the accompaniment is a contemporary blues arrangement.

O bella mia speranza

O bella mia speranza was written by St  Alphonsus. It is performed in this video by the Coro Polifonico Alfonsiano and conducted by Father Paolo Saturn

Tu scendi dalle stelle (Live)


This version of Tu scendi dalle stelle is a popular version sung by the late Alex Baroni at the 1999 Vatican City Christmas concert in the Pope Paul IV auditorium.

From the  Associazione Musicale - Culturale "San Leucio" Coro Polifonico Arcivescovile  "San Leucio" Via Madonna della Scala, 56- 72100 – Brindisi, there are the following MP3 files:

Quanno nascette Ninno
Tu scendi dalle stelle - 1
Tu scendi dalle stelle - 2

S. Alfonso de Liguori wrote many other songs that spread around among the people how much God loved them and how close God was to them.

S. Alfonso, through his music, reached into every home sharing the Gospel as he did so. In the age of the Internet his insights invite the Church to respond to Jesus’ words:

Go, therefore, apprentice the nations in my ways; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.  And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.
- Matthew 28:19-20