The Hymns and Carols of Christmas


Version 1
Words: Traditional French carol, "Les Anges dans nos Campagnes"
Translated from French to English by Bishop James Chadwick (1813-1882);
Appeared in Holy Family Hymns (1860) and The Crown of Jesus Music (1864, adapted by Henri Friedrich Hémy).

Compare: Version 2, the adaptation by Earl Marlatt, 1937
Angels We Have Heard On High - Marlatt

Music: "Gloria (Barnes)," an adaptation of the French carol melody Les anges dans nos campagnes arranged by Edward Shippen Barnes (1887-1958).
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

A slightly different arrangement is used in Hearken, All! What Holy Singing

1. Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

2. Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song? Refrain

3. Come to Bethlehem and see
Him1 whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King. Refrain

4. See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.2 Refrain


1. In some versions: Christ whose birth the angels sing; Return

2. An alternate fourth verse:

See, within a manger laid,
Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth,
Lend your voices, lend your aid
To proclaim the Saviour’s birth! Return

Sheet Music from Carol 181, Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New. Boston: Parish Choir, 1916
SATB: MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Melody Line: MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Angels_We_Have_Heard_181.gif (281551 bytes)

Sheet Music from W. A. Pickard-Cambridge, A Collection of Dorset Carols (London: A. W. Ridley & Co., 1926), #30
With the note: Verse 2, Trebles; verse 3, Men; verse 4, Full.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Note Pickard-Cambridge's vocal directions at the bottom of the score.

Sheet Music from St. Basil's Hymnal, 12th Edition. New York, Benziger Brothers, ND.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Sheet Music From Nicola A. Montani, ed., The St. Gregory Hymnal And Catholic Choir Book. Philadelphia: St. Gregory Guild, 1940, #7, p. 10.

See A Garritan Community Christmas for an MP3:
Angels We Have Heard On High, Jim Hammer

Editor's Notes

The 18th Century French carol Les Anges dans nos Campagnes has been the basis of numerous English carol translations:

Others may merely share the tune, as is the case with

The editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols have a good background on this carol and Les Anges (#195).

In The Christmas Carol Reader, William Studwell records an intriguing bit of misinformation about this concerning Bishop Telesphorus of Rome in A.D. 129. According to the tale, the Bishop ordered the refrain of this carol to be sung annually to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, and that this refrain evolved into the famous French carol Les anges dan nos campagnes. Charming, according to Professor Studwell, but incorrect.

In fact, the carol appears to have come from France in the 18th century, possibly from from the Lorraine region. Several sources indicate that first French publication was in Quebec in Choix de cantiques sur des airs nouveaux (1842). Another early French collection was Nouveau recueil de cantiques (1855).

The first certified English translation was in by the English Bishop James Chadwick in his 1860 Holy Family Hymns. Another early English publication was Henri Frederick Hemy's Crown of Jesus Music, Part II, 1862. R. R. Chope followed in 1877 with Carols for Use in Church, with a sanitized fourth verse for the Anglicans which, as Keyte and Parrott noted, avoided calling on Mary and Joseph.

Here's where it gets a bit hazy. Some sources believe that the first English translation was by James Montgomery on December 24, 1816, in the Sheffield Iris in a poem titled "Nativity;" it would later be known as the carol Angels From The Realms of Glory. The scholars seem to be lined up both for and against on this issue. Both sides seem to have their arguments. My college French is now 40+ years old (and, honestly, was never that good anyway), but the literal translation provided by Keyte and Parrott in The New Oxford Book of Carols doesn't seem to support this contention. For me, the fact that the first French publication, in Quebec, 26 years after Montgomery's poem appears, doesn't support the "for" argument. "Your mileage may differ."

Many modern versions use a version of "Gloria" an anonymous tune arranged by Edward Shippen Barnes (1887-1958), an American organist who studied at Yale University from 1910-11 and then briefly at the Schola Cantorum in Paris. On his return to the United States he was the organist at the Church of the Incarnation in New York from 1911-1912, at Rutgers Presbyterian Church from 1912-1924, in Philadelphia at Saint Stephen's Church from 1924-1938, and in Santa Monica, CA at the First Presbyterian Church from 1938. He died at Idylwild, Ca in 1958. In addition to his arrangement of "Gloria" (at an date unknown to me), he composed numerous other musical pieces.

A posting by William C. Egan, Moderator, Christmas International Group at, May 23, 2005:

French legend tells us that shepherds in the country's southern hills 
watching their flocks on Christmas Eve would call to each other
across the fields and hills, singing the words "gloria in excelsis
Deo," which is Latin for "glory to God in the hightest."
The shepherds' song, an imitation of the song of the angels as they 
announced the birth of Christ on the first Christmas Eve, came from a 
second-century Latin chorale made popular when Pope Telesphorus, the 
pontiff from 125 to 136, ordained that "gloria in excelsis Deo" be
sung at midnight mass each Christmas Eve.
In France in 1855, the Latin refrain sung by the shepherds was joined 
to the text and tune we sing today to become "Angels We Have Heard on 
High." The verses come from a French carol called "Les anges dans nos 
campagnes" and the music from a popular French song of the day.

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