#214 I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

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Music only:
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1. I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

2. I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

3. And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

4. Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

5. Till, ringing, singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Text: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882
Music: John Baptiste Calkin, 1827-1905

-History: (Source: Wikipedia)

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is a Christmas carol based on the 1863 poem “Christmas Bells” by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.[1]

During the American Civil War, Longfellow’s oldest son Charles Appleton Longfellow joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father’s blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer,” he wrote. “I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good”.[2] Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded[3] in the Battle of New Hope Church (in Virginia) during the Mine Run Campaign. Coupled with the recent loss of his wife Frances, who died as a result of an accidental fire, Longfellow was inspired to write “Christmas Bells”.

He wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1864.[4] “Christmas Bells” was first published in February 1865 in Our Young Folks, a juvenile magazine published by Ticknor and Fields.[5] It was not until 1872 that the poem is known to have been set to music. The English organist, John Baptiste Calkin, used the poem in a processional accompanied with a melody he previously used as early as 1848.[3]

The Calkin version of the carol is the most popular. Elvis Presleythe Mormon Tabernacle ChoirMercyMeSteven Curtis ChapmanJohnny Cash, and Jimmie Rodgers have recorded this version. Less commonly, the poem has also been set to the 1845 composition “Mainzer” by Joseph Mainzer. Johnny Marks, known for his song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer“, set Longfellow’s poem to music in the 1950s. Marks’ version has been recorded by Fred Waring and the PennsylvaniansEd AmesKate SmithFrank SinatraSarah McLachlanPedro the LionHarry BelafonteThe CarpentersRockapella, and Bing Crosby. Marks’ composition is now generally accepted as the de facto version and is generally what is used for modern recordings of the song, though Calkin’s version is still heard as well.[citation needed]

In 1990, John Gorka recorded his arrangement entitled “Christmas Bells”, which uses stanzas 1, 2, 6, and 7 of the poem.

Bryan Duncan recorded “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” on his album Christmas is Jesus (Myrrh Records).

In 2002, Greg Gilpin set the words to the tune “Waly, Waly”, an American Folk Song, in a sheet-music arrangement that is interesting because of its use of handbells to illustrate the words. It omitted the last verse.

In 2004, Pedro the Lion recorded a version for the Maybe this Christmas compilation.

In 2005, Christopher Williams recorded a version on his album Unbroken Song (Big Red Van Music).

In 2006, Bette Midler recorded the song for her album Cool Yule.

In 2007, CCM artists, Jars of Clay included a version of the song on their Christmas Songs album. This version uses a new melody whose opening line is nearly identical to that of “Auld Lang Syne“.

In 2008, Mark Hall, lead vocalist of Casting Crowns, recorded his own arrangement, which was released on their Christmas album, Peace On Earth.