Sing Along on the Tenth Day of Christmas

There’s a lot going on in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”

Three eight-line stanzas, each followed by a two-line refrain. A whole lot of theology packed in by the original author, Methodist Charles Wesley, one of the most prolific hymn writers in history (whose original version was longer). A lot of revisions since then.

Originally published in 1739, Wesley’s lyrics were edited by George Whitefield and republished in Hymns for Social Worship in 1753. (And we’re glad he did that: Wesley’s original opening line had been “Hark! how all the welkin rings.” No herald angels at all in that version, which Wesley called “Hymn for Christmas-Day.”) Here’s how it looks in Whitefield’s revision: note the long “s” character.

The lyrics have been set to at least three different melodies. The one we recognize, from a cantata by Felix Mendelssohn written a century after the lyrics, has a nine-note vocal range, making it tough for many people to sing.1

And finally, there are some editorial considerations. Some versions put the angels’ lines in quotation marks, and I like that. When Wesley and Whitefield wrote this nearly four centuries ago, male-centric lyrics were the norm; now it’s become common to make some more inclusive substitutions.

Anyway, here are the lyrics I used.

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 th'angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem."
Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored,
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of the Virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with us to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris'n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that we no more may die,
Born to raise all us on earth,
Born to give us second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Click here for the recording.

Not sure what this is about? Click here!

Join us at https://lavezzi.us/ on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas to join in this virtual sing-along. Care to be a serial singer? Here you go:

Notes:

  1. For this recording, I transposed it down into the key of E, with a range from B to C#. I tried E-flat too, but that seemed a bit growly for some singers. Anyway, you would not want to hear me sing it as provided in my music book, where it appears in G and tops out at E.

Author: StgCoach

Retired teacher and public education leader. Pastoral musician, community activist, parliamentarian, and photographer.

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