Of Psalms & Composers: “Joy To The World”

"Joy To The World" was written in the 18th Century; this is a sketch of a Christmas market scene in that century.

“Joy To The World” was written in the 18th Century; this is a sketch of a Christmas market scene in that century.

One of the most beloved of the traditional Christmas songs is “Joy To The World.” The regally triumphant melody and hopeful lyrics proclaim a message of praise. And yet, maybe we wonder at the words, and question the joyous music; the joy, peace, prosperity, and triumph in the song are hardly reflected in our current world.

So what were the song writers thinking? And who wrote the music anyway?

Welcome to Gazette665’s December historical blog series “You’re Singing History.” During the next few weeks, we’ll be digging through the past to find our who wrote our favorite Christmas songs, what inspired them, and if they’ve had any significant moment in history.

Who Wrote The Words of “Joy To The World”?

Isaac Watts. Who on earth is that? you may be wondering. Isaac Watts was a famous hymn writer who lived between 1674 and 1748. He wrote many, many hymns…over 750! His songs are based on passages of the Bible, and “Joy To The World” (written in 1719) is no exception. But this famous Christmas song didn’t start off as holiday music. It is actually based on the last few verses of Psalm 98, which talks about Christ’s second coming, not His first coming when He was the babe in the manger.

Let’s compare the original Scripture passage to the hymn Watts penned! (The text in red is the song, the black text is Scripture.)

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.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. (Psalm 98:4)

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.

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.

Sing to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of a psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a horn; shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.  Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it; let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the Lord… (vs.6-8)

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.

For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness he shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity. (vs. 10)

G.F. Handel probably wrote part of the music for "Joy To The World"

G.F. Handel probably wrote part of the music for “Joy To The World”

Who Wrote The Tune for “Joy To The World”?

Well, Lowell Mason – an American hymn writer  who wrote over 1600 songs – arranged the music in 1831, but the tune seems to have a longer history.

You see, George F. Handel – the German/English composer who wrote famous “classical hits” like Water Music, Music for Royal Fireworks, and The Messiah – wrote some musical lines that sound a lot like “Joy To The World.” These lines appear in several of his oratorios, but there is never the complete score to the tune we call “Joy To The World.”

So who wrote it? The best answer: Handel wrote a few triumphant lines of music and Mascon arranged the music and filled in the “gaps” in the song.

Enjoy The Music

With lyrics and phrases of music coming from the early 18th Century, this classic, historic Christmas song has boldly proclaimed the joy of the promise of peace on earth when Christ returns to earth.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What’s your favorite Christmas carol?

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