Angles Sing Like a Broken Record

Angles Sing Like a Broken Record

Hymn #203 — “Angels We Have Heard on High”

Text: French carol (ca. 1862)
Music: French carol
Tune name: GLORIA

Hymn #203 is a study in creating a hymn out of only 2 lines of music.

Have a look…

Lines 1 and 2 are identical in every way except for the text.

Lines 3 and 4 are each 6 bars long instead of 4 bars. But they are also a copy of each other. The only difference is the final cadence which elongates the end of the 3rd line.

So, as far as creativity goes, this French carol is a bit repetitive, but it still works the action in the Gloria section is so much fun.

Lines 1 and 2 are pretty straight forward musically. 1 chord, then 3 chord, then a 6 chord, a 5 chord and another 1 chord to get started. Then a 1 chord, 5 chord, some more 1 chord for a bit, then a 5 chord followed by a final 1 chord. The tune pretty much keeps to the 1 chord jumping between A, C and F with a few touch downs in between.

The Glorias are much more interesting. I think it’s safe to say that this is the longest melisma in the entire hymnal. Remember what a melisma is? It’s a line of music that has only 1 syllable of text. This melisma is 16 notes long. And it’s fun to sing. There’s a little boy in our ward that belts this sucker out every time we sing this hymn. It’s amazing how much sound can come out of a 6-year-old when he’s excited.

The opening 3 bars of the Gloria section are a 4-part descending sequence. Basically, take the first bar, copy it, and move it down a step, and you get the 2nd bar. Do that one more time down a step, and you get the 3rd bar. Each of the SATB voices follows suit. We hear the angels voices descending down to us, and then we respond in raising the voices back up, “in excelsis Deo.”

Then we do it all again, hold out the “Deo” a little longer, and we have a fun Christmas hymn.

There’s not much more to it than this. Pretty simple stuff. But enjoyable to sing.

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


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

The text for this hymn comes from an anonymous French carol dating back to the eighteenth century, though the text and melody could be centuries older. The English version we use is a translation by James Chadwick with some alterations by Henri Hemy. The version we use is a macaronic text, meaning that it is a mixture of languages. The verses are in English and the Chorus is Latin for “Glory to God in the Highest!”

The fourth verse not in our hymnal is this: See within a manger laid Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth! Mary, Joseph, lend your aid, sing with us our Savior's birth. Would be a nice addition. The tune was first published with this text and the two are synonymous with each other. It is a very good tune and evocatively brings feelings of Christmas time.

A brisk tempo is very appropriate for this lively and spritely tune. Somewhere in the vicinity of 126-130 is a good peppy tempo for this hymn. I would match the bright tempo with a bright registration, utilizing high mixtures, but not filling out the sound too much.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Larigot 1 ⅓’, Mixture
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Subbass 16’, Light Reed 16’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Trumpet 8’
Pedal: Heavy Reed 16’