Sunday, 7 December 2008

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

The words to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” were written by Charles Wesley, the brother of the founder of Methodism John Wesley. He was inspired by the sounds of London church bells whilst walking to church on Christmas Day. The poem first appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739 with the opening line of “Hark, how the welkin (heaven) rings”. Wesley’s evangelist colleague, George Whitefield, altered it to the familiar opening line over the protests of the author in 1753. Then in 1760 the Reverend Martin Madan substituted lines seven and eight, to what we know today.
The tune was originally composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1840 for the second chorus "Gott ist Licht" ("God is Light"), of the cantata Festgesang ("Festival Song"). Festgesang was written by the German composer to commemorate Johann Gutenberg and the invention of printing. Mendelssohn died in 1847 and in 1855 Dr William Cummings, who was an enthusiast of the German composer, put the words and music together in spite of the fact that Mendelssohn had made it clear that his music was not be used for sacred purposes. Additionally Wesley had envisaged his words being sung to the same tune as his Easter hymn, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." However it is Mendelssohn’s tune, which is the one generally used today.
Charles Wesley was a prolific hymn writer, penning over 6000 hymns, more than any other male writer. (Fanny Crosby wrote 8000). Wesley had the ability of expressing sublime truth in simple ways, his motivation in writing his hymns being to teach the poor and illiterate good doctrine. His brother, John Wesley claimed that Charles’ hymnal was the best theological book in existence. It is said Methodism was born in song and Charles was the chief songwriter. Amongst the hymns Charles Wesley wrote were, “O For A Thousand Tongues”, “Love Divine All Loves Excelling” and “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.”
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