“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. As it is known in the modern era, it features lyrical contributions from Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, two of the founding ministers of Methodism, with music adapted from “Vaterland, in deinen Gauen” by Felix Mendelssohn.
Wesley, who had written the original version as “Hymn for Christmas-Day,” had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, which has since largely been discarded. Moreover, Wesley’s original opening couplet is “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”. The popular version is the result of alterations by various hands, notably by 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 propels the carol known today.
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