“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a popular Christmas carol that was first published in 1739 in “Hymns and Sacred Poems.” The song wasn’t initially very popular, but rose to prominence more than 100 years later after undergoing a number of changes. In fact, the song that we know today is quite different from the original version. Let’s find out who wrote the lyrics and composed the tune for this popular carol.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was written by the famous English hymn writer, poet and Methodist leader Charles Wesley. The original opening line was actually “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”, but this was altered to the now familiar opening by Wesley’s co-worker George Whitefield despite the protests of Wesley.
Wesley originally wrote the lyrics to go with the tune from the song Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, which he also wrote. He wanted a slow and solem tune for his song and that is the way it was performed for many years. In 1840 the famous German composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote a tune, known as Festgesang, to celebrate the invention of the printing press. In 1855 English musician William H. Cummings adapted Mendelssohn’s piece of music to fit with the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” This upbeat tune might not have been what Wesley envisioned, but it led to the widespread popularity of the song.
Did you know?
Wesley wrote more than 2,000 hymns and many are still used in churches today.
It can be said that both the composer and songwriter would be dissapointed with the current version of the song. Not only had Wesley requested slow and solem music for his song, but Mendelssohn didn’t want his music used for religious purposes!