Here is another hymn for this wonderful season of Advent! Before I continue, I want to take a moment to say thank you to all the people who have read my blog, and continue to read the new posts as they appear! My goal and prayer was to reach 1,000 page views by Christmas this year, and I am happy to announce that my goal has been met, and exceeded. We are now over 2,000 page views, and we still haven’t reached Christmas yet! God is good!
Now on to the hymn!
Title: Joy to the World
Meter: Common Meter (126.96.36.199. Repeat)
Composer: English melody, 18th Century; arr. Lowell Mason (8 January 1792- 11 August 1872)
Author: Isaac Watts (17 July 1674- 25 November 1748)
Though this text is very commonly known as an Advent/Christmas hymn, originally it was written as neither of those two. Written as the second half of a paraphrase of Psalm 98 from the Psalms of David (1719) written by Isaac Watts, the text stood as the first Christmas hymn in the Lutheran Book of Worship. Now, in today’s world, this hymn is usually one of the last Advent hymns, marking the close relation between the meaning for the season of Advent, and the meaning for the season of Christmas. Considered the father of English hymnody, Isaac Watts argued against the Calvinist practice of using only metrical psalms and instead supported using hymns. At first, Watts’ six hundred hymns and psalm paraphrases ran up against stiff opposition, but eventually the hymns broke through the barriers and set in motion English hymn writing. Though Watts had published many different books, the most well-known books are Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707), where Watts had included explanations as to why the hymns should be sung, and The Psalms of David (1719), in which he interpreted the psalms through a Christological lens.
Born the son of a Schoolmaster (who was well known for being a non-conformist) in Southampton, England, Isaac Watts showed promise of great maturity and intelligence from a young age. Having begun studying Latin at the age of four, and writing respectable verse at the age of seven, Watts was destined for something great. During Watts’ younger years, his father was imprisoned twice for standing up for his religious convictions, a path that Watts would later follow. At the age of 16 Watts was offered the opportunity to study at a University in England, but refused to offer so that he could study at the non-conformist academy with an independent pastor, Rev. Thomas Rowe in Stoke Newington, England (1690). Eventually, in 1693, Watts became a member of the Independent Congregation at Girdlers Hall, which was led by Thomas Rowe. At the age of 20, Watts finished his studies at the academy and moved back home for two years, in which he spent the majority of that time composing the bulk of his publication Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707-9). Most of these hymns were written and sung in the Southampton Chapel. Considered to be the first hymn ever written by Watts, “Behold the Glories of the Lamb” was written in order to raise the standard of praise in Southampton. Eventually, in 1698, Watts returned to Stoke Newington where he assumed the post of tutor to the son of a prominent Puritan, Sir John Hartopp.
Though Watts had begun his career in the church, it wasn’t until the age of 24 that he actually preached his first sermon. For three years, Watts was asked on and off to preach, until 1702, when he was officially ordained as pastor of the eminent Independent Congregation in Mark Lane, which was home to several prominent members including: Charles Fleetwood, Charles Desborough, Sir John Hartopp, Lady Havershom, and other distinguished members. In the following year (1703) Watts’ health began to deteriorate, which left him too weak to continue on his own, and thus he was given an assistant, Mr. Samuel Price. In 1712, however, Watts fell ill to a fever that shattered his constitution and created the need for Mr. Price to be promoted to Co-pastor of the Congregation. During this time, Watts became the guest of Sir Thomas Abney, of whom he would reside with Abney and his widow (After Abney had passed away in 1722) for the rest of his life. In 1728, Watts was awarded an unsolicited D.D. from the University of Edinburgh, which was one of the last events in Watts’ life before his health had turned worse, and would eventually claim him on November 25th, 1748. During his life, Watts penned over sixty different books in subjects ranging from geography, to logic and astronomy.
The tune most strongly associated with “Joy to the World” is Antioch, which was written by a prominent American Composer, Lowell Mason. The tune for “Joy to the World” was not coupled with the text until nearly 100 years after it was written. Originally published in Mason’s 1836 booklet Occasional Psalm and Hymn Tunes (the 3rd edition), the tune was marked “Arr. From Handel” (Westermeyer, p 40), which has added some confusion to the origin of the hymn tune. Because of the marking, many people wonder if the tune didn’t come from “Glory to God” and “Comfort Ye” from G.F. Handel’s Messiah, but it has been suggested that the origin begins three years prior to Mason’s booklet. The tune can be linked to tunes in Thomas Hawkes’s A Collection of Tunes (Watchet, Somerset, 1830), and William Holford’s Voce di Melodia (London, c. 1835)(Westermeyer, p 40). The apparent arrangements made by Mason may have been a slight arrangement of the melody (he changed four notes), and the coupling of the tune with Watt’s “appealing text.” Though he never was very good at it, Mason managed to take the melody and make the hymn into a fugue. This moves to show the “inertia and importance of the community in spite of what any individual author or composer may like or dislike,” (Westermeyer, p 40).
Lowell Mason is known as the father of American church music, and had shown musical prowess from his birth in 1792 in Medfield, Massachusetts. Mason has contributed many things to the world of music, including the large shift of respect of the profession of a musician that has changed over the last century. Mason is known to have played a large role in changing the face of early music education, as well as the education of music in the church. Spending most of his spare time practicing music, Mason had an incredible drive to get better as a musician and to constantly improve upon his skill. At the age of 20, Mason began a clerkship in a banking house in Savannah, Georgia, in which he spent any time when he was not working, practicing and taking lessons under the instruction of F.L. Abel. During his spare time, Mason began working in his personal compositions, and eventually came up with a collection of church music that was presented to a publishing company in Philadelphia and Boston, but was turned down by both companies. Eventually, the manuscript caught the attention of the Boston Handel and Haydn Society, and was submitted to the severest editor in Boston, Dr. G.K. Jackson. After Jackson had heartily approved of the manuscript, he entered some of his own compositions into the manuscript and resubmitted it to the publisher. In 1822, the publication was finally approved, and was published under the name of the Boston Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music, without the name of Lowell Mason (which was done at Mason’s own request). With the book becoming wildly popular, with nearly 17 editions published, Mason was given the opportunity to become an honorary member of the Handel and Haydn Society, but he turned down the offer so that he could become an active member, earning a guaranteed $2,000 a year.
Finally, in 1826, Mason returned to Boston, where he was offered the job of Director of Music at Hanover, Green, and Park Street churches, in which he would go between the two churches every 6 months. Eventually, Mason left the guaranteed money, and accepted a full time position as the Music Director at the Bowdoin Street Church. In 1827 Mason accepted the position as Director and Conductor of the Handel and Haydn Society, in which he earn the title of “Father of American Church Music.” Because Mason was in America, he was considered to be higher than his surroundings when it came to musical ability, but had he been in Europe, he may have been considered “average,” which allows us to know his musical prowess was so strong and played a prominent role in America.
(1) Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
(2) Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.
(3) No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
(4) He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.
My Take on the Hymn:
This hymn always amazes me, especially around Christmas time. The celebratory nature of the text allows us to feel the full joy of Christ’s arrival on Earth. With the coming of Christ, we need to make room for him in our hearts, and that is what the season of Advent is for. In the third stanza, the text “He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found” stands out to me above the rest of the text. Christ has come to us on Earth so that we as man would no longer be held by the bonds of Sin and Death, and he did these things from the moment he was born. Our lives are full of hurt every day, but Christ has promised us that he will take the hurt away from us, and this promise was fulfilled with his arrival on Earth. For centuries, prophets had been predicting Christ’s birth, but we as humans had to wait in slow anticipation for him to arrive, but this hymn perfectly describes the joy that can be found in the arrival of our savior, marking the end of our suffering, and the beginning of the reign of our Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God!
|If you cannot read music, just play the Youtube video and follow along!|
Julian, John. "Joy to the World! the Lord Is Come!" Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.
"Isaac Watts." - Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.
Julian, John. "ANTIOCH." Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.
Julian, John. "Lowell Mason." - Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.
Westermeyer, Paul. "Joy to the World." Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Vol. 1. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2010. 39-41. Print.