It’s worth remembering that, in ecclesiastical terms, the Christmas season lasts until Candlemas on 2nd February – that is, forty days after Christmas Day. So it’s entirely appropriate to be singing carols throughout January – and if you aren’t, why not?
Today post is about a real evergreen, holly-laden classic: ‘Hark! the herald-angels sing’ by Charles Wesley, to the tune MENDELSSOHN by – again, no prizes – Felix Mendelssohn.
Charles Wesley (1707-88) needs no introduction: the brother of John, and one of the founding fathers of Methodism, this short summary concentrates mostly on his reputation as a prolific hymn-writer. He is believed to have written over six thousand hymn texts, the rate of which increased alarmingly after his sudden evangelical conversion in 1738. ‘Hark how all the Welkin rings’ (as it then was) first appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems the following year. Then without its refrain, Wesley envisaged it being sung to the tune EASTER HYMN (more commonly sung with ‘Christ the Lord is risen today’). In 1758 Wesley’s Methodist colleague George Whitefield reworked the lyrics, changing the first line, and by the end of the 18th century it had been re-versified with the two-line refrain added at the end of each verse.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) never knew of his contribution to our Christmas repertoire. His Festegang, written in 1840 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of movable type, includes this familiar tune in its second movement. Mendelssohn expressly forbade this music from being repurposed for sacred works, yet eight years after his death, an English musician, William H. Cummings, adapted the tune to fit Wesley’s text. The pairing was an immediate success, and is now the established tune for the carol. Traditionally, Hark! the herald-angels sing has been the recessional piece at the service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, where the popular arrangement by David Willcocks is invariably used.
With all respects to David Willcocks, we present an alternative arrangement of this carol with a new harmonisation and descant. As ever, it’s free to download and use, so please do so, and let us know how you get on. And we’d be delighted to receive any audio or video of your attempts.
Watch and listen to the choir King’s College, Cambridge sing Hark! the herald-angels sing HERE