Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

 
Something to listen to while you read. Sheet music available at Sheet Music Plus.

Tune Name: Mendelssohn

Fun Fact: An Post, the Irish Post Office, issued a 78c stamp in November 2007 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley who penned this carol’s original text.

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Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of kings;
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born today!”

The prolific hymn writer Charles Wesley (1707-1788) first published those opening words to his Hymn for Christmas Day in 1739. Wesley detested the idea of anyone messing with the text of his hymns – he referred to any changes as “the nonsense or […] doggerel of other men” – but his close friend George Whitefield (1714-1770) must have missed that memo. In 1753, Whitefield altered the first line to read “Hark! The herald angels sing” and opened the floodgates for other changes including Rev. Martin Madan’s (1726-1790) overhaul of lines seven and eight and the addition of a refrain by repeating the first two lines.Tidings of the Angels Piano Sheet Music

Wesley would probably not be pleased.

And neither would Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

Hark! The Herald was a forlorn carol without a permanent melody until William H. Cummings (1831-1915), an English musician, tenor, and organist at Waltham Abbey, decided in 1856 to attach it to a tune from Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s (1809-1847) Festgesang (Op. 68). It was rather a bold move since the original work was written for the 1840 Gutenberg Festival in Leipzig, celebrating the anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, and Mendelssohn stated, “It will never do to sacred words.”

But, as the saying goes, “never say never” because when the tune and text were published together in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” became a very popular Christmas hymn…and still is today.

So, sorry (not sorry 🙂 ) Wesley and Mendelssohn:

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King;
peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise;
join the triumph of the skies;
with the angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”