Ode to Joy to the World

Ode to Joy to the World.jpg

Text: Isaac Watts (1674-1748);
altered by William W. Phelps (1792-1872; LDS)
Music: George F. Handel (1685-1759)
arranged by Lowell Mason (1792-1872)
Tune name: ANTIOCH

I can’t think of a better hymn to kick-off the Christmas section in our hymnal.

Right away we’re tossed into the “joy” of the season with a rousing high register and dotted rhythms.

As Jason discusses below, much of this hymn was pieced together by Lowell Mason from favorite parts of Handel’s “Messiah.”

The entire hymn is built on a descending scale, a few dotted-eighth sixteenths, and a winding up repetitive fire cracker.

Why not begin the melody with the high D and blast out the word, “Joy!” I love it. And then after the scale descends, we get to climb back up bar by bar… “earth receive her King!” until we return to the high D.

I really like a brisk tempo. It helps the long note on “King!” feel not so long. And luckily, most of the words are short, single syllable words which makes it easy to sing the words at a fast tempo without getting garbled.

The second phrase is a series of 2 more descending scales from the high D, but this time the scale is sped up and dancing over a pedal bass note. I like to play around with the pedal note in the final verse. I’ll descend down bar by bar, D, C-natural, B, A, for a little variety.

Phrase 3 is where the little wind up fire crackers occur, 4 repeated notes with the 4th one shooting up through sixteenth notes. The off-set men’s parts are add some extra fun to the festive spirit.

The fourth phrase begins with the last of the fire crackers which descend to a low D and a quick octave leap up to high D before descending in a similar way as phrase 1, though taking varied approach to the final D.

There aren’t too many bells and whistles. Just good old fashioned writing, not holding back the joy of the season. The harmony is completely diatonic (fitting the key signature). They rhythm does a lot to propel the hymn forward. It’s all around an excellent Christmas hymn.

I hope that when you program this in your ward, you’ll take it at a festive quick tempo and let that organ sing out with a boom!

That’s all for today. Have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This is a tremendous hymn to begin the Christmas section of our book. This text is a paraphrase of the last five verses of Psalm 98 by the master hymn-text writer, Isaac Watts. It was not originally intended for Christmas, but was published it in Watts’ Psalms of David Imitated (1719) under the heading “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” Such is the nature of this hymn as apt for the Second Coming that the text in our hymnal has been edited by William Phelps (a common occurrence with this text, as it has a long history of being edited by others…) to more reflect the millennial message.

The tune is attributed to George Frederic Handel and as being edited by Lowell Mason. It is unclear how much of the music is Handel’s, though it is clear that much of the melodic material is derived from his Messiah. It is likely that Lowell Mason took themes from the Messiah and combined them with the Watts text.

It is suggested by one source that the opening is much like “Glory to God,” while another postulates that it is like “Lift up your heads.” Both sources agree that the beginning of the second half “and Saints and Angels Sing…” could be derived from “Comfort Ye My People.” Karen Davidson reports that “Lowell Mason himself gave principal credit to George F. Handel; when he published “Joy to the World” in Occasional Psalms (1836), he marked it “Arr. from Handel.” We do not know for sure why he named the tune ANTIOCH; he took Bible names almost at random for his tunes.”

When I play this hymn every Christmas Eve (it is the final hymn for all of our services), I like to use Mack Wilberg’s arrangement as the source of my introduction, interlude, and harmonization. I think it works very well. My postlude this year after Bach BWV 729 is an arrangement on this hymn by Craig Phillips, followed by I Saw Three Ships by Richard Elliott. I highly recommend the Phillips arrangement!

Both registration and tempo should be bold to exclaim the arrival (or coming) of the Savior! A tempo around 106-108 beats per minute is a great tempo to drive this majestic hymn forward with gusto (please don’t ever play it as slow as suggested in the hymnal, at least not at the slow end… I suppose that the very top of the range is okay, but 76 is mighty slow!). Utilizing the full resources of the organ for your registration is a must!

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Bourdon 16’ (which you can retire for the inner verses), Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔, Larigot 1 ⅓’, Mixture, Trumpet 8’ (see note for 16’ in the Great), Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Bourdon 16’, Mixture, Trumpet 8’, Clairon 4’
Swell: Mixture, Bassoon 16’, Tierce 1 ⅗
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Heavy Reed 16’