Advent: Christmas Carols, Part 2.

We are focusing on three predominant Christmas Carols which are continually sung through the Christmas season by both sacred and secular recording artists and choirs. I refer to Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. When were they written and by whom? Today, we examine O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

O Come All Ye Faithful is also known by its Latin title Adeste Fidelis. It has been attributed to various authors, including John Francis Wade (1711–1786), John Reading (1645–1692), King John IV of Portugal (1604–1656), and anonymous monks.

The earliest printed version is in a book published by John Francis Wade, but the earliest manuscript bears the name of King John IV, and is located in the library of the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa in Portugal. A manuscript by Wade, dating to 1751, is held by Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, UK.

The original four verses of the hymn were extended to a total of eight, and these have been translated into many languages. The English translation of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” by the English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley, written in 1841, is widespread in most English-speaking countries.

The lyrics are as follows.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels:
O come, let us adore Him, (3×)
Christ the Lord.

God of God, light of light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
True God, begotten, not created:
O come, let us adore Him, (3×)
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of Heaven above!
Glory to God, glory in the highest:
O come, let us adore Him, (3×)
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore Him, (3×)
Christ the Lord.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. Its lyrics were written by Charles Wesley. Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the joyful tune expected today. Moreover, Wesley’s original opening couplet is “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”.[1]

The popular version is the result of alterations by various musicians, notably by Wesley’s co-worker George Whitefield who changed the opening couplet to the familiar one, and by Felix Mendelssohn, whose melody was used for the lyrics.

In 1840—a hundred years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems—Mendelssohn composed a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg‘s invention of movable type printing, and it is music from this cantata, adapted by the English musician William H. Cummings to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” that is known today.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was regarded as one of the Great Four Anglican Hymns. The other three include All Praise to Thee, my God, this Night, by Thomas Ken, Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending, by Charles Wesley, and Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, by Augustus Montague Toplady.

The lyrics to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing are as follows.

Hark! The herald-angels sing
“Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”

Hark! The herald-angels sing                                                                                                            “Glory to the new-born king”

Christ, by highest heaven adored
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Hark! The herald-angels sing                                                                                                          “Glory to the newborn King”

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings;
Mild He lays His glory by
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”

A fourth stanza by George Whitfield is often included.

Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us thy heav’nly Home;
Rise the Woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent’s Head. Adam’s Likeness now efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place;
Second Adam from above,
Work it in us by thy Love.

 Hark! The herald angels sing                                                                                                     “Glory to the new-born king”

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

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