Christmas Tips & Fun

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Music of Christmas

There’s A Lot to Know About Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

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t was originally published in a book of hymns in 1739 – but if you were in church back then and tried to sing along people would have looked at you funny because you would have been singing the wrong tune… and probably the wrong lyrics.

Charles Wesley wrote the words and instead of the beginning we know, he wrote "Hark! how all the welkin rings/ Glory to the King of Kings."

The welkin? It’s an archaic English word for sky – "I say, old chap, what a brilliantly blue welkin we have today. Perfect for hunting the old fox, eh?" But in Dante’s Divine Comedy the welkin (further segregated into the empyrean) is the dwelling place of God, so that sort of makes sense.

Charles was one of a family of Anglican pastors and his brother John founded what would become the Methodist Church. Charles wrote most of the Methodist Hymnal and, when he wrote Hark! how all… he instructed the music to be somber and formal. A classmate at Oxford, and eventual founding member of the Church, George Whitefield, rewrote the opening line to read "Hark! the herald angels sing/ Glory to the newborn King" – but the music stayed the same until about a hundred years later.

In 1849 Felix Mendelssohn wrote a cantata to, of all things (well, maybe not so surprising since they were both German) celebrate Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. It is pretty much the music of the cantata that now works so well with the original (and revised) lyrics of Hark.

A herald, by the way was a messenger sent by a monarch to proclaim something or carry messages of import.


Written by Dianne Weller
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