Sunday, 7 December 2008

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

The words for this American carol are based on a poem written by a young Unitarian minister in Massachusetts, Reverend Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876), reportedly at the request of his friend and fellow minister, W. P. Lunt. It was first presented at his 1849 Sunday School Christmas celebration and was originally published on December 29th 1849 in a church magazine, The Christian Register. The poem was not the first Christmas poetry by Sears. He had written other Nativity lyrics and several books on religious topics. In addition, he was the editor for the Boston-based Monthly Religious Magazine from 1859 to 1871.
The following year, inspired by the poem, a friend of Sears, Richard Storrs Willis (1819-1900) adapted the words to a melody called "Carol", which he had written for the organ. Willis, who was an eminent editor and critic for the New York Tribune, had studied music in Europe as a young man, with, among others, Felix Mendelssohn, the composer of the music for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
Mendelssohn so much admired Willis’s work that he rearranged some of it for orchestra.
It could be claimed that this was the first Christmas song to be composed in the United States, which is today considered to be a standard. In the mid 1850s the Americans were only beginning to celebrate the Christmas traditions of their English forebears. The influence of works such as A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens were beginning to enthuse the American nation. Within twenty years other classic carols celebrating Christmas such as, "We Three Kings of Orient Are", "Jingle Bells", "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" had been written in the United States.
(I originally wrote this for Songfacts).

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