The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

"Hymn For Christmas Day"

Version 1

Luke 2: 8-14

Words: Hark! How All The Welkin Rings, alt.,
Charles Wesley (1707-1788), Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739
Amended by
George Whitfield (1714-1770), 1753
Martin Madan (1726-1790), 1760
And Others

Music: "Mendelssohn," William Hayman Cummings; first presented Christmas Day, 1855.
Based on themes from "
Festgesang" ("Festival Song," 1840), by Felix Mendelssohn, a cantata honoring printer Johann Gutenberg.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Meter 77 77 77 77 77

1. Hark! The Herald Angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born 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 Hosts proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"1
    Hark! the herald angels sing,
    "Glory to the new-born King."

2. Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting lord
Late in time behold Him come,
Off-spring of a2 Virgin's womb3
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail, the incarnate deity
Pleased as Man with men to dwell,4
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
    Hark! the herald angels sing,
    "Glory to the New-born king!"

3. Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace,5
Hail, the Sun6 of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His Wings.
Now He lays His Glory by,7
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
    Hark! the herald angels sing,
    "Glory to the New-born king!"

4. Come, Desire of nations come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Oh, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
    Hark! the herald angels sing,
    "Glory to the New-born king!"

5. Adam's likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.
    Hark! the herald angels sing,
    "Glory to the New-born king!"

Footnotes

1. Or: Universal nature say, | "Christ the Lord is born today!" Return

2. Or: 'the' Virgin's womb. Return

3. Or: Offspring of the favored one. Return

4. Or: Pleased as man with man to dwell, Return

5. Or: Hail the heavenly Prince of Peace! Return

6. Or: 'Son' of Righteousness. Return

7. Or: "Mild he lays his glory by" or "Mild He lays His throne on high." Return

Alternate Third Verses

3. Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that men no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Risen with healing in his wings,
Light and life to all he brings,
Hail! The Sun of Righteousness!
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
    Hark! The herald angels sing,
    "Glory to the newborn king.

3. Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that men no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His Wings.
    Hark! The herald angels sing,
    "Glory to the newborn king.

Alternate Fourth Verses

4. Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman's conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent's head.
Now display thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
    Hark! the herald angels sing,
    "Glory to the newborn King!"

4. Come, Desire of nations come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the Woman's conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent's head.
Adam's likeness now efface:
Stamp Thine image in its place;
Second Adam, from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
    Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,
    Glory to the Newborn King.

4. Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface;
Stamp Thy likeness in its place;
Oh, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.
    Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,
    Glory to the Newborn King.

Sheet Music from John Clark Hollister, ed., The Sunday-School Service and Tune Book (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1863, 1865), #18, p. 37.

This version features five four-line verses. The fifth verse bears particular attention.

Sheet Music from William Sterndale Bennett and Otto Goldschmidt, eds., The Chorale Book For England. Congregational Edition. (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1863, Supp. 1865), #212.

Sheet Music from Arthur Henry Brown, ed., The Altar Hymnal (London: Griffith, Farrar, Okeden & Welsh, 1885), #13, p. 44.

Sheet Music "Mendelssohn" from Mary Palmer and John Farmer, eds., Church Sunday School Hymn-Book (London: Church of England Sunday-School Institute, 1892), #38.

Sheet Music adapted by Rev. R. F. Smith from Rev. Richard R. Chope, Carols For Use In Church (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1894), Carol #17
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Carol-017a.gif (210045 bytes)

Carol-017b.gif (205364 bytes)

Sheet Music from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol # 650

Hark_The_Herald_Angels_650.gif (246373 bytes)

Sheet Music "Mendelssohn" from O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #132

Sheet Music from Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), p. 125.

Sheet music from A. B. Goodrich, ed., A New Service And Tune Book For Sunday Schools (New York: Gen. Prot. Episc. S. S. Union and Church Book Society, 1863, New Edition, Enlarged, 1866), #13, p. 34.

See A Garritan Community Christmas for MP3s:
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Mark Zimmer
Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Stefan Kristinsson

See also Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (Link opens in a new window at Sally DeFord Music)

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Mendelssohn

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

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In my experience, it also works with Firefox.

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing:
du! Kantas Angel-ĥor’
in Esperanto! by Gene Keyes

An Additional 6 Christmas Carols by Gene at Jula Karolaro

Plus 148 Christmas Carols in Esperanto at Kristnaskaj Kantoj

The Gospel According to Luke
Chapter 2, verses 8 - 14

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"


Versions on this site include:

Notes:

Hardly has a Christmas hymn undergone so many changes to get from what was originally written, to what we sing today. It was first written by Charles Wesley who was said to have been inspired by the joyous sounds of London church bells heard during a walk to church on Christmas Day. It was published in his brother John's collection of Hymns and Sacred Poems, 2 vols. (Bristol: Felix Farley, 1749).

Charles' original text (Hark! How All The Welkin Rings, which consisted of 10 four-line verses) was rewritten in by George Whitefield (1714-1770) in 1753 (changing the first two lines), and by Reverend Martin Madan (1726-1790) in 1760 (changing lines seven and eight). Other changes occurred in 1782, 1810, and 1861.

Earliest text that I have access to is Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, William Sandys, ed. (London: Richard Beckley, 1833), pp. 143-44, which reproduces five of the original ten verses (1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 of the above, abridged).

The above text most closely follows that from Richard R. Chope, ed., Carols For Use In Church (London: William Clowes & Sons, Ltd., 1894), p. 30. The version from Charles L. Hutchins, ed., Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916) is substantially the same. Both sources only reproduce the first three verses found above. It has been noted that the last bit of editing, by W. H. Cummings, was early printed in a volume edited by Chope. Other volumes containing only the first three verses include Hymns Ancient and Modern (1889 edition), The English Hymnal (1906), The Book of Common Praise (1909), and Songs of Praise (1925).

Verse 4 follows the version given in The Methodist Hymnal (1905). This verse is also found (as verse 3) in Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott, eds., The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

Source for the fifth verse has been lost.

The carol was not found in Percy Dearmer, R. Vaughan Williams, Martin Shaw, eds., The Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928), Shaw and Dearmer. eds., The English Carol Book, First or Second Editions (London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1913 and 1919 respectively) or Bramley and Stainer, eds., Christmas Carols, New and Old  (London: Novello Ewer & Co., ca. 1860s-70s).

In addition to the textual changes, two different tunes have been attached. Originally, the tune was one commonly affixed to Wesley's celebrated Easter song, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." According to William Studwell, it was "a poor fit at best."

But in 1855, William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915), an English organist, adapted Wesley's hymn to some passages from Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's June 1840 choral work entitled "Festgesang"; the full title given by the publisher, Breitkopf & Härtel, is Festgesang zur Saekularfeier der Erfindung der Buchdruckerkunst (but not the similarly titled Festgesang an die Kuenstler, Op. 68, 1846). This Festgesang honored the 400th anniversary of Johann Gutenberg's invention of moveable type and was  performed June 24, 1840, in Leipzig's open marketplace. Cummings was a Mendelssohn enthusiast who sang as a choirboy under the composer’s direction in London.

At this point, it is impossible to say precisely where Cummings took his inspiration, however, the tune by Cummings appears to have been inspired by some passages in the second movement, "Lied" ("Vaterland, in deinen Gauen") from Festgesang.

Mendelssohn had earlier predicted that this particular music would never be quite suited to a sacred text, describing the piece as "soldierlike and buxom" (in a letter to his English Publisher, Mr. E. Buxton, 30 April 1843). H. J. Gauntlett also united it with Wesley’s hymn in an arrangement which appeared in 1858. Yet, the music and text work beautifully to describe how the angels were able to find people, namely lowly and oft despised shepherds, to proclaim the Good News of hope and salvation to; perhaps Mendelssohn underestimated his music's spiritual sound.

According to Studwell, this new synthesis was published in 1856, reprinted by Chope in Congregational Hymn and Tune Book, 1857, and reprinted by Monk and Steggall in Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861 (the 1876 edition printed only the first thee verses, as did the 1867 edition).

Ian Bradley, in The Penguin Book of Carols (London: Penguin, 1999), reproduces both the original and a modern version, with extensive notes, which are recommended.

We don't know what Charles Wesley thought about the many changes to his hymn, some of which were made during his lifetime, but his brother John had this to say in the Preface to the 1780 edition:

Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our Hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them; for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse.

Therefore, I must beg of them one of these two favours; either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page; that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.

Finally, this carol has the distinction of being one of only two carols or hymns that a played each year during the "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" at King's College, Cambridge. Every year since 1918, this carol is performed immediately following the Bidding Prayer. The only other hymn to share this honor is Cecil Frances Alexander's Once In Royal David's City. For more information, please see Carol Services and Carols and Hymns from the Festival Of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Special thanks to Yi-Peng of Singapore for his research and generosity in sharing the fruits of that research.

Sources:

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