The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Joy to the World!

The Kingdom of Christ

For Advent, For Christmas Eve, For Christmas

Joy To The World - The Popular Version of Watts, alt. [this file]
Joy To The World - The Original Version by Watts
Joy To The World - Joshua Sylvester
Joy To The World - William Henry Husk
Joy To The World - Richard R. Terry
Joy To The World - Dr. Steve H. Hakes

Words: Isaac Watts, Psalms of David, Psalm 98, 1719.
This version differs from the original by Watts.

Music: "Antioch," Lowell Mason, 1848.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Mason's original score said "from George Frederick Handel." However, scholars who have studied the issue state that none of the music actually comes from Handel's work. The tune is named after the city of Antioch, Syria, where believers were first called "Christians" (Acts 11:26).

Alternate tunes:
Copenhagen, by Peter Christian Lutkin, 1905, MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / XML
Richmond by Thomas Haweis, MIDI / Noteworthy Composer/ XML
Nativity by Henry Lahee, MIDI / Noteworthy Composer/ XML
Meter: CM with Repeat.

1. Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room;
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing.
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.

2. Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ.1
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy

3. No more let sin and sorrows2 grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,3
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

4. He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness.
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.


1. Or: Let us our songs employ. Return

2. Or: sins and sorrow, or sins and sorrows. Return

3. Or: As far as sin is found. Return

Sheet Music "Antioch" from O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #106

Sheet Music from Henry Sloane Coffin and Ambrose White Vernon, eds., Hymns of the Kingdom of God. New York: The A. S. Barnes Company, 1910, #37, P. 73.

Sheet Music from T. C. O'Kane, et al., eds., Joy To The World, or Sacred Songs for Gospel Meetings. (Cincinnati: Hitchcock and Walden, 1879), No. 1, p. 1.

joy_to_the_world-1-Joy_To_World-OKane.jpg (91386 bytes)

Also found in W. A. Pickard-Cambridge, A Collection of Dorset Carols (London: A. W. Ridley & Co., 1926), #5, with the first two verses as above, plus this third verse (without attribution):

3. O may my humble soul be found,
Among the favored band:
And with them all my praise shall sound
Throughout Emmanuel's land.

Pickard-Cambridge notes that verses 1 and 2 are from Isaac Watts, Psalms of David, 1719,, Ps. 98, Part 2. He also adds "The last line of each verse should be sung, 2nd time p, 3rd time cres. to f, as in verse 1."  Sheet music from Pickard-Cambridge:

MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF/ XML

Also found in Roundell Palmer, ed., The Book of Praise. Boston: Sever, Francis, & Co., 1870, # XLIV, pp. 51-52.

Public Domain Recordings:

LibriVox Christmas Carol Collection 2006 (Recording by Kim Butler)

A Garritan Community Christmas for MP3s:
    Joy to the World, Stefan Kristinsson
    Joy to the World, Daniel Powers
    Joy to the World, Louis Dekker

See and play the Noteworthy Composer score if you have installed the NoteWorthy Composer Browser Plug-in

Joy To The World - Antioch
Joy To The World - Pickard-Cambridge

Only tested by Noteworthy for Netscape, Opera, and IE Browsers (Versions 4 or 5)
In my experience, it also works with Firefox.

See also Joy to the World (Link opens in a new window at Sally DeFord Music)

William Studwell, The Christmas Carol Reader (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995)

"Genius" and "at his best ... unapproachable" are accolades not dispenses to everyone who has taken pen in hand. These lofty plaudits plus "the bard of Southampton" and "father of English hymnody" have been showered upon Isaac Watts (1674-1748), the author of "Joy to the World!" Only one other English-language hymn writer, Charles Wesley, the lyricist for "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," is seriously compared to Watts. If a choice had to be made as to which of these two great hymnists has made the larger historical contribution, the decision would probably go to Watts.

A nonconformist pastor and prodigious author of theological and philosophical books (about 60) and hymns (about 700), Watts is most remembered for the extraordinary hymns, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," "Our God Our Help in Ages Past," and "Joy to the World!" The renowned nineteenth-century English author Matthew Arnold considered "When I Survey" to be the best hymn in the English language. "Our God" has been described as "England's second national anthem," and "Joy" ranks in the very top level of Christmas songs. First published in Watts' 1719 work, The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, "Joy" was a paraphrase of the second part of Psalm 98. Originally the opening line read "Joy to the earth," but eventually the better term "world" entirely supplanted "earth."

Over a century after Watts' carol lyrics first appeared, it was printed with a splendid, dynamic tune in an 1839 collection entitled The Modern Psalmist. The sole indication of authorship for the melody was the cryptic notation "from Handel." Because of this strange wording and some similarities between parts of the tune and parts of the Messiah, the superlative 1742 choral work by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), the melody has almost universally been attributed to the English music master. Yet the links to Handel are very weak and tenuous and scholars have basically refuted the hypothesis of Handelian authorship.

The probable composer of the tune for "Joy" was Lowell Mason (1792-1872) a prominent American music educator, music editor, and hymn writer. In Mason's background there are three elements that tend to support the suspicion that he was responsible for the melody. First, he was deeply immersed in the music of such classical composers as Handel, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and readily commuted between their domain and his own creativity. Second, Mason had a decided tendency toward anonymity and many of his own compositions were unsigned. Supposedly, he was the "arranger" of the 1824 tune which is commonly used with another of Watts' hymns, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," but various factors very strongly tempt one to believe that Mason actually composed the 1824 melody. Third, Mason was a hymn tune composer of some accomplishment. On top of the strong possibility that he produced the tune for "When I Survey", he is definitely credited with the composition of the good tunes for "My Faith Looks Up to Thee" and "Nearer, My God, to Thee." Add to these three characteristics the fact that Mason was the editor of the 1839 collection in which the tune for "Joy" first appeared, and a fairly convincing case for Mason can be assembled. Apparently, Mason was influenced by Handel during the creation of the melody, and quite possibly was sincerely unsure where the dividing line between Handel and himself really was. Hence the misleading notation in the 1839 collection involved, following perhaps predictably by the folklore concerning Handel. (To compound the confusion, recent research has indicated that Mason was not only under the influence of Handel, but may also have "borrowed" the tune from yet another source.)

In spite of the uncertainty about the tune's origins, there is no doubt that the carol synthesized by the joint talents of the father of English hymnody and the father of American hymnologic anonymity has few peers in quality or international popularity. Both words and music, carried along by extremely esthetic conveyances of term and tone, joyfully proclaim the birth of Jesus. Of all the sacred carols, "Joy" is perhaps the most positive and uplifting declaration of the message of Christmas. The exclamation point almost universally inserted by carol editors after the initial line, "Joy to the world!," powerfully punctuates the exhilarating effect that this carol has had for the past century and a half.

Robert Joseph, The Christmas Book

If this carol brings you a true sense of joy, it may be because the music is drawn from George Frideric Handel’s inspiring masterpiece, "The Messiah." Handel was born in Germany in 1685. Though his father wanted him to be a lawyer, George smuggled a piano into the attic where he would practice. Fortunately for us today, he studied music in Italy, and later he chose England for his home. Handel wrote some of the greatest operatic, choral, and sacred compositions of all time. One of these, "The Messiah", is an oratorio performed every Christmas season by choral groups around the world.

If you would like to see exactly where the melody for this carol comes from, borrow the score for "The Messiah" from your library, or listen to a recording. The first four notes of "Joy to the World" (in the key of D) can be heard in the first four notes of the chorus "Lift Up Your Heads," in the original key of F. The middle section of the carol (...and heaven and nature sing) can be found in the slow temple instrumental introduction of the opening recitative solo, "Comfort Ye My People."

’The Messiah’ is filled with many beautiful passages, but we must give thanks to the American composer Lowell Mason, who in 1830 chose several of them and matched them up with the words of Isaac Watts, an English minister who was born over 150 years before. Rev. Watts was himself a master of adaptation. It was he who introduced the concept of paraphrasing the Bible into the texts for hymns. He earned the title, "Father of Hymnody" by writing over 600 songs for church use. The words for this carol were inspired by Psalm 98. With such fine sources as the Bible and "The Messiah", this carol has become a true classic, returning every season to bring more ‘Joy to the World.’

Keyte and Parrott, eds., The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)

The origins of this tune have yet to be completely uncovered (the attribution to Handel probably results solely from the resemblance of the opening to ‘Lift up your heads’ in Messiah). It first appears as an English psalm tune in the 1830s, and was set to Watt’s text, a paraphrase of Psalm 98, by the America Presbyterian Lowell Mason in 1836.

NOBC setting II is an arrangement by Thomas Clark of the English version of the melody.

William L. Simon, ed., The Reader's Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (Pleasantville, NY: Readers Digest Association, revised 2003)

Words by Isaac Watts; Music by Lowell Mason

Though the triumphant words "Joy to the world" exemplify the Christmas feeling, this familiar text is actually a translation based on five verses from Psalm 98 in the Old Testament, Isaac Watts, the English hymnist and cleric, published his Psalms of David, which contains these verses, in 1719. More than a century later, in 1839, American composer and music educator Lowell Mason decided to set them to music modestly including the phrase "From George Frederick Handel," apparently to honor his idol, the composer of Messiah and many other masterpieces. For nearly l00 years, the world accepted this ascription, until musicologists pointed out that not a single phrase in the music can be said to have come straight from any work of Handel’s.

William C. Egan, The History of Carols

Isaac Watts published the words for this hymn in 1719. He had written his first hymn in 1692 at the age of 18 as a protest against what he thought was the low quality of songs in Anglican hymnals. A century after he published "Joy to the World" the words were set to a tune devised by Dr. Lowell Mason from a theme in Handel's "Messiah." Best recording: Anna Moffo.

William J. Reyholds, Popular carol says little about Christmas story

-- 12/11/97

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heav'n and nature sing.

Issac Watts included this hymn in his Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament in 1719, as part of his version of Psalm 98 (vv. 4-9). Despite the fact that some words in the hymn also appear in the psalm, it is difficult to find any close connection between the two.

While the initial stanza announces that "The Lord is come," it is the only stanza that is related to Christmas and the birth of Jesus. The other stanzas could easily be appropriate for any season of the year.

There is no mention of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the manger or the wise men. Yet, who would deny this hymn a choice place among the traditional carols?

The exuberant joy that permeates the psalm as it lauds the God of the Old Testament is present in the hymn but in praise of Jesus Christ. A marvelous climax occurs in the final couplet:

The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love.

For more than a century the hymn was sung to numerous tunes which fit its poetic structure (Common Meter). Then, in 1839, Lowell Mason, a New England music educator, published in Boston a tune that has become indelibly associated with these words.

Mason indicated that it is "from Handel," for he borrowed two musical phrases from Handel's Messiah ("Lift Up Your Head" and "Comfort Ye") and wove them into a joyful song for Christmas.

Mason named the tune "Antioch" for the ancient Syrian city that was the point of departure for Paul's first two missionary journeys and where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

Source:; UMR Communications, 2400 Lone Star Drive, Dallas, Texas 75212. 1-800-947-0207

Don Wigton

Isaac Watts based this jubilant Hymn on psalm 98 which declares, "Shout for joy to the Lord. ..burst into jubilant song with music." This melodic instrumental by Don with its lighthearted acoustic guitars and delicate piano with a touch of joyous strings captures the excitement of this ecstatic praise. We pray that you will filled with joy to the Lord as you experience the thrill of praise to God that is captured in this piece.

Isaac Watts is no doubt the greatest of all English hymn writers. Son of Nonconformist imprisoned twice for his religious views, Watts learned Greek, Latin, and Hebrew under Mr. Pinhorn, rector of All Saints, and headmaster of the Grammar School in Southampton. Isaac’s taste for verse showed itself in early childhood, and his promise caused a local doctor and other friends to offer him a university education, assuming he would be ordained in the Church of England. However, Isaac declined and instead entered a Nonconformist Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690, under the care of Mr. Thomas Rowe, pastor of the Independent congregation at Girdlers’ Hall; Isaac joined this congregation in 1693.

Earthly Delights: Xmas Carols

As with many hymns by Isaac Watts, born into an Independent (i.e. Congregational Church family) this one is a Christianized versions of a Psalm - in this case Psalm 98, The Psalms of David, 1719. The verses were not set to music until nearly 100 years later, when, in the 1830s, the American composer and music educator Lowell Mason, put them to a tune he ascribed to 'George Frederick Handel'. For the next 100 years people believed this to be the case, the tune certainly having echoes of the Messiah choruses, but it is now thought to be Mason's own Handelian-influenced composition. The tune is named after the city of Antioch, Syria, where believers were first called 'Christians'.

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