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Hark, the Herald Angels Sing! It Took Over a Century to Get it Just Right.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | December 25, 2011

No. 776

 PHOTO; Living Nativity Scene in Kenya, 2011. Courtesy of Susan Ferson.


The hymnbooks credit Charles Wesley for the words and Felix Mendelssohn for the tune.  True, but that’s not the whole story.

Wesley (1707 – 1788) and Mendelssohn ( 1809- 1847) were not contemporaries. Wesley published the original version of  this work in 1839  under the title “Hark! How all the Welkin Rings”. The word means heaven. Over the next Century, various editors tinkered with the lyrics, notably George Whitefield, who revised the opening couplet to its present form.

In 1840, 101 years later, Mendelssohn composed a cantata, “Festgesang” commemorating Gutenberg and the printing press.  In 1855, an English musician named William H. Cummings put the hymn and the music together in its current form.  It is now regarded as one of the four great Anglican hymns.

It has been written that neither Wesley or Mendelssohn would have approved of the hymn in its final version.  Wesley set this hymn to a rather somber melody.  The Mendelssohn composition was a secular one.  Or so the critics say.

I wholeheartedly disagree.  If Wesley and Mendelssohn could be transported to the present day to hear a chorus and orchestra perform “Hark the Herald Angels Sing!”, after the initial shock wore off, they would both love it.

Merry Christmas 2011.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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