The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Hark, Hark! What News

Alternate Titles: The Old Hark
The Birth of Christ

Version 1

Words: English Folk Carol, 17th or 18th Century

Tune: "The Old Hark," Leicestershire, England Folk Carol, 18th Century
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Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833), pp. 145-7.
Also compared to Davies Gilbert, "Some Ancient Christmas Carols."
London: Nichols and Sons, 1822, reprinted Boston: Elibron Classics, 2007.
The 1822 edition has been scanned and posted on Google Books.

1. Hark, Hark! what news the Angels bring
Glad tidings of a new-born King,
Who is the Saviour of mankind,
In whom we may salvation find.

2. This is the day, the blessed morn,
The Saviour of mankind was born,
Born of a maid, a Virgin pure,
Born without sin, from guilt secure.

3. Hail, blessed Virgin, full of grace!
Blessed above all mortal race,
Whose blessed womb brought forth in one,
A God, A Savior, and a Son.

4. A perfect God, a perfect man,
A mystery which no man can
Attain to, tho' he's e'er so wise,
Till he ascent above the skies.

5. Arise, my soul, and then, my voice,
In hymns of praise early rejoice,
His fame extol and magnify,
Upon those errands Angels fly.

6. As Angels sung at Jesus' birth,1
Sure we have greater cause for mirth,
For why, it was for our sake2
Christ did our human nature take.

7. Dear Christ, thou didst thyself debase,
Thus to descent to human race,
And leave thy Father's throne above:
Lord, what could move thee to this love?

8. Man that was made out of the dust,
He found a paradise at first;
But see the God of Heaven and earth
Laid in a manger at his birth.

9. Surely the manger where he lies
Doth figure out his sacrifice,
And by his birth all men may see
A pattern of humility.

10. Stupendous Babe! my God and King,
Thy praises I will ever sing,
In joyful accents raise my voice,
And in my praise of God rejoice.

11. My soul, learn by thy Saviour's birth
For to debase thyself on earth,
That I may be exalted high,3
To live with him eternally.

12. I am resolved whilst here I live,
As I'm in duty bound, to give
All glory to the Deity,
One God alone in persons three.

Notes:

1. Gilbert: If angels sung at Christ's birth, Return

2. Gilbert: For why? It was for our sake, Return

3. Gilbert: That thou may'st be exalted high, Return

Also found in G. Walters, A Good Christmas Box (Dudley: G. Walters, 1847, Reprinted by Michael Raven, 2007), pp. 14-15, which has the following differences (changes in italics):

Sheet Music From Joel Read, ed., The New England Selection; or Plain Psalmist. Second Edition. (Boston: Printed for the Author by Manning and Loring, 1812), p. 1.

Christmas Hymn-Read-NE_Psalm-1.jpg (207789 bytes)

Sheet Music from Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols (London: John Nichols And Son, First Edition, 1822)

Gilbert_Hark-hark-01_1822.jpg (67626 bytes)

Sheet Music from Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols. London: John Nichols And Son, Second Edition, 1823, #5.

Gilbert notes at the bottom of the sheet music: "Apparantly [sic] less Ancient than the others." Gilbert gives only gives five verses: 1, 2, 6, 11, and 12, above.

Sheet Music from William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833)

music10.gif (308797 bytes)

Sheet Music from Richard R. Terry, Gilbert and Sandys' Christmas Carols (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., 1931)
"Words and melody from Gilbert's 'Christmas Carols,' 1822"
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Rev. Terry's Note:

This melody has every appearance of being not a carol, but a Psalm-tune of the type prevalent in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The music in Gilbert's book is in three parts, with the melody in the Tenor, (the usual form of a Psalm-tune in those days). The 'counterpart' of the other two parts is of a very primitive type.

Sheet Music from Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), p. 92. "From Some Ancient Carols, with the Tunes to which they were formerly sung in the west of England. Collected by Davies Gilbert, FRS., F.S.A., etc., 1822" (See above)
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Editor's Note: This is a three-part piece (melody, counter-tenor, and bass). See the sheet music for additional details not disclosed by the Noteworthy Composer or PDF scores which reproduce all three parts but only represent the melody lyrics.

Dr. Dunstan's Notes from page 92:

Gilbert's small book now very rare contains the tunes and words of eight Carols. "The Editor is desirous of preserving them," he says in his preface, "as specimens of times passed away ... and also on account of the delight they afforded him in his childhood." With the exception of "Hark! Hark!" the music is in a crude two-part harmony; and it has been necessary occasionally to alter both the Bass and "Counter" of this example in order to prevent cacophony. Even with these corrections, the harmony is still very "bare" in places; but if the setting is sung by three male voices (after the manner of the old Three-Man's Songs common in Cornwall) the general effect is quaintly pleasing. An accompaniment of clarinets and bassoons (or other wind instruments) may be added or "the strings" (Violins, 'Cellos, etc.) may be employed but key-board instruments are out of place.

In spite of its technical defects, Gilbert's Collection is of considerable value as a musical record. The melodies and words may be regarded as generally reliable; while the harmonic faults perhaps largely due to the imperfect copying of parts in the MS. books used by the Singers and Players of the day may easily be remedied by a competent musician.

The best of the Carols recorded by Gilbert are in the present volume. See [88-A Virgin Most Pure, 90-When God At First Created Man, 97-Whilst Shepherds Watch'd Their Flocks By Night, 100-God's Dear Son; all links open in a new window].

N.B. There is a tradition at Leigh, Lancs., that the words and tune of this carol were written by Handel and presented one morning as "payment for bed and breakfast" at the house of a Mr. Guest, where he had stayed the night; but it is more likely that the tune was taken to Lancashire by some Cornish miner (or miners) about 70 years ago. The words, and a tune with an elaborate Refrain, are in Evison's Psalter (early Eighteenth century); and still another setting has for many years before been traditional in Northamptonshire (See the 1928 No. of Tre Pol and Pen, p. 88).

Sheet Music from Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), p. 93. "Traditional in Cornwall." 17th Century. Dr. Dunstan also notes "This is the setting generally sung in the Redruth-Camborne district."
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Editor's Note: See the sheet music for additional details not disclosed by the Noteworthy Composer or PDF scores which reproduce all four parts but only represent the melody lyrics. There are additional performance details on the original sheet music.

Sheet Music from Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), p. 94.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

Editor's Note: See the sheet music for additional details not disclosed by the Noteworthy Composer or PDF scores which reproduce all four parts but only represent the melody lyrics.

Dr. Dunstan's Notes from page 94:

On March 8, 1929, in a car on the way from Perranporth to Bissoe, my brother-in-law, Capt. T. Collett, of Polglaze, Perrancoombe (80 years of age), sang me the following tune, which he heard in 1886 at Honey Bees' Ness, between Orange River and Kimberley, sung by two Cornishmen, one from Mabe, the other from Flushing. I thought it so fine and characteristic that I immediately recorded it on a leaf torn from the chauffeur's pocket book.

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Richard R. Terry, Gilbert and Sandys' Christmas Carols

Hark! Hark! What News - Terry

Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book, p. 92.

Hark! Hark! What News - Dunstan (92)

Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book, p. 93.

Hark! Hark! What News - Dunstan (93)

Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book, p. 94.

Hark! Hark! What News - Dunstan (94)

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Editor's Note:

This carol originated in the 17th or 18th century, and occurred frequently in 18th century collections. It is said to remain popular in South Yorkshire. Three musical settings are reprinted in The New Oxford Book of Carols (Carol 75). Two additional settings are found in Erik Routley's University Carol Book (Carols 38 & 39, based on that appearing in Sandys).

See Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott, eds., The New Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

As is so often the case, there are several variants of this carol, including

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