Lessons and Carols

by Derek Nickels, Director of Music

One of the most famous of Christmas Carols is Joy to the World, a rousing expression of the joy of Christmas. While it is one of the universally known carols that has been translated around the globe, its origins are often overlooked and taken for granted. Found in Hymnal 1982 as Hymn 100, "Joy to the World" is a compilation of several authors and musical sources that included Isaac Watts, Lowell Mason and the venerable George Frederic Handel. Many nineteenth century hymnal editors including Lowell Mason would borrow melodies taken from larger works of the great masters, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, and others, to match with texts of their own choice.

The prolific hymn author Isaac Watts (1674-1748) had paraphrased Psalm 98 for the 1719 publication Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. In this paraphrase, Watts attempted to make the psalm more Christian by the reference of "Lord" to mean "Messiah."  This paraphrase had been altered for several hymnals but appears in its original poetic verse in Hymnal 1982. For many years Lowell Mason was credited for arranging the tune Antioch from Handel's Messiah chorus "Lift up your heads." This tune also appeared in a collection edited by the conductor of the Choir at St. Clement's Church in Manchester, England, William Holford. Holford's version bears a stronger resemblance to Handel's Messiah version. By 1837 this tune and Watts' text were published in Lowell Mason's Occasional Psalm and Hymn Tunes, Selected and Original in Boston. It was identified as "an arrangement of Handel" and named Antioch.

Ironically, the Hymnal 1940 includes this text but matches it with the tune of Richmond, a tune we often associate with the text of "Hark! The glad sound! The Savior comes," and one of the hymns we sing every year at our annual Advent Lessons and Carols.

Please join us at our annual Lessons and Carols this Sunday, December 4, at 5:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary. There will be a light reception in the parlor to follow.