#209 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Music & voice:
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Music only:
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Lyrics:

1. Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations, rise;
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem!

(Chorus)
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!

2. Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Text: Charles Wesley, 1707-1788
Music: Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-1847

-History: (Source: Wikipedia)

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems, having been written by Charles Wesley. This is not the version widely known today. A sombre man, Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the joyful tune we now expect. What is more, Wesley’s original opening couplet is “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”.

The popular version is the result of alterations by various hands, notably George Whitefield, Wesley’s co-worker, who changed the opening couplet to the familiar one, and Felix Mendelssohn. A hundred years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems, in 1840, Mendelssohn composed a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, and it is music from this cantata, adapted by the English musician William H. Cummings to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, that propels the carol we know.[1] [2]

In 1855, English musician William H. Cummings adapted Felix Mendelssohn‘s secular music from Festgesang to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” written by Charles Wesley.[3] Wesley envisioned the song being sung to the same tune as his song Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,[4] and in some hymnals, is included along with the more popular version.

This hymn was regarded as one of the Great Four Anglican Hymns and published as number 403 in “The Church Hymn Book” (New York and Chicago, USA, 1872). [5]

In the UKHark! The Herald Angels Sing has popularly been performed in an arrangement that maintains the basic original William H. Cummings harmonisation of the Mendelssohn tune for the first two verses but adds a soprano descant and a last verse harmonisation for the organ in verse 3 by Sir David Willcocks. This arrangement was first published in 1961 by Oxford University Press in the first book of the Carols for Choirs series. For many years it has served as the recessional hymn of the annual Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.[6]

An uncommon arrangement of the hymn to the tune “See, the Conqu’ring hero comes” from Judas Maccabaeus (Handel) normally associated with the hymn Thine Be the Glory is traditionally[7] used as the recessional hymn of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. This is broadcast live each year on Christmas Eve on RTÉ Radio 1. The usual (first) three verses are divided into six verses each with chorus. The arrangement features a brass fanfare with drums in addition to the cathedral organ and takes about seven and a half minutes to sing. The Victorian organist W. H. Jude, in his day a popular composer, also composed a new setting of the work, published in his Music and the Higher Life.[8]

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