"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is an English Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. The carol, based on Luke 2:14, tells of an angelic chorus singing praises to God. As it is known in the modern era, it features lyrical contributions from Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, two of the founding ministers of Methodism, with music adapted from "Vaterland, in deinen Gauen" by Felix Mendelssohn.
|Hark! The Herald Angels Sing|
|Text||Charles Wesley, adapted by George Whitefield and others|
|Based on||Luke 2:14|
|Meter||188.8.131.52 D with refrain|
|Melody||"Festgesang" by Felix Mendelssohn, adapted by William H. Cummings|
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" as performed by the United States Army Band Chorus
Wesley, who had written the original version as "Hymn for Christmas-Day," had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, which has since largely been discarded. Moreover, 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, most notably by Whitefield, who changed the opening couplet to the familiar one. In 1840—a hundred years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems—Mendelssohn composed a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg's invention of movable type printing, 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 known today.
The original hymn text was written as a "Hymn for Christmas-Day" by Charles Wesley, included in the 1739 John Wesley collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. The first stanza (verse) describes the announcement of Jesus' birth. Wesley's original hymn began with the opening line "Hark how all the Welkin rings". This was changed to the familiar "Hark! the Herald Angels sing" by George Whitefield in his 1754 Collection of Hymns for Social Worship. A second change was made in the 1782 publication of the Tate and Brady New Version of the Psalms of David. In this work, Whitefield's adaptation of Wesley's hymn appears, with the repetition of the opening line "Hark! the Herald Angels sing/ Glory to the newborn king" at the end of each stanza, as it is commonly sung today.
|"Hymn for Christmas-Day"
(Charles Wesley, 1739)
George Whitefield (1758)
|Carols for Choirs (1961)|
HARK how all the Welkin rings
HARK! the Herald Angels sing
Hark! The herald-angels sing
CHRIST, by highest Heav'n ador'd,
Christ by highest Heav'n ador'd,
Christ, by highest heaven adored
Hail the Heav'nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Heav'n-born Prince of Peace
Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Adam's Likeness, LORD, efface,
Adam's Likeness now efface,
In 1855, British musician William Hayman Cummings adapted Felix Mendelssohn's secular music from Festgesang to fit the lyrics of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" written by Charles Wesley. Wesley had originally envisioned the song being sung to the same tune as his Easter song "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today".
In Britain, "Hark! 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 three 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 at King's College Chapel, Cambridge.
An uncommon arrangement of the hymn to the tune "See, the Conqu'ring hero comes" from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus, normally associated with the hymn "Thine Be the Glory", is traditionally used as the recessional hymn of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at 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.
- "Hymn Texts and Tunes". Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary Handbook. Bethany Lutheran College. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
- Hymns and sacred poems, Bristol, 1743, p. 142.
- Hark! the Herald Angels Sing at Hymns and Carols of Christmas
- Watson, J. R. (1997). The English Hymn: A Critical and Historical Study. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 205–229. ISBN 0198267622.
- Whitefield, George (1754). A Collection of hymns for social worship. London: William Strahan.
- Tate, Nahum and Nicholas Brady (1782). A new version of the Psalms of David: fitted to the tunes used in churches. Cambridge: J. Archdeacon.
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- David Willcocks & Reginald Jacques (ed) Carols for Choirs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), see A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols 2015 Archived 2017-08-09 at the Wayback Machine, King's College Cambridge, URL accessed 11 December 2015
- Fentress, Sara Beth (13 December 2018). "Hark! Thoughts on a Christmas Classic". cfc.sebts.edu. The Center for Faith and Culture. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing carols.org.uk
- "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". SongFacts.
- Breed, David (1934). The History and Use Hymns and Hymn-Tunes. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company. Retrieved 2013-12-25.
- "Nine Lessons and Carols". King's College, Cambridge. Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2007-10-25.
- The Musical Times, March 1944
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, National Library of Australia.