Hark The Herald Angels Sing or Hark How All the Welkin Rings?
Hark the Herald Angels was originally known as “Hark How all the Welkin.” Who made the change and why? Randy Bushey explains the roles played by Charles Wesley and Felix Mendelssohn.
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Hark the Welkin or Hark the Herald?
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy…Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10,11).
Hark how all the welkin rings. Glory to the King of Kings.
So goes one of our favourite Christmas carols. At least that was the original version.
Hark the Herald and Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley – the author of 6500 hymns – included this carol in a collection of hymns and poems from 1739.
What is the welkin, anyway? In Middle English, the term referred to the clouds, skies, or heavens.
But the renowned preacher George Whitfield – famous for preaching during the Great Awakening in New England during
the 1730s and 40s, amended the carol apparently with Wesley’s implied consent. He discarded welkin and used the term “newborn King”, thus amending the first couplet as follows:
Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.
Other Changes to Hark the Herald Angels
Other changes were made to the lyric subsequently amending Wesley’s line:
by reducing the meter to what we know better:
Pleased as Man with men to dwell, JESUS our Immanuel.
When Wesley originally published the poem, it had not yet been set to music. If it was to be sung, Wesley decreed that slow, solemn music would most appropriately carry the words. He would not have been pleased with our contemporary carol.
Hark the Herald Angels’ Music was Composed by Mendelssohn
The music so familiar to carollers today was created by the German composer Felix Mendelssohn (famous for the Wedding March often heard at the conclusion of traditional weddings) and matched to Wesley’s poem 100 years after it was published.
It is lively, joyous, celebratory, animated and dynamic – all characteristics Wesley would likely have rejected. But the beloved carol will be forever remembered for its elegant poetry and compelling theological truth:
Glory to the Newborn King!
Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord.
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, Hail the Incarnate Deity!
Pleased as Man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King”.
After completing a 35 year corporate-management career in the general insurance industry, Randy is dedicated to full-time elder’s work at Bethel Gospel Chapel in North Bay (Ontario). With a primary pastoral focus in Bible teaching (preaching and leading Bible studies). Randy is also engaged in visitation, church music, and helping develop other men in their roles as Christ-followers, preachers and leaders. He is married to Pat who is investing her life in working with women and children in the local assembly. They are both energized by their 3 children (2 married) and 6 grandchildren!
You can listen to pod casts from Randy’s show, “The Faith Factor,” by clicking here.
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Steph Nickel –The Wonder of Christmas
Images Courtesy Of:
Angel – stux
Choir – delphinmedia
Music – MIH83
Candles – PublicDomainPictures