Friday, December 24, 2010

Hark, It's Gutenberg

Gutenberg's head imposed onto an angel's bodyPhillip Brunelle, director of Minnesota's influential choral group VocalEssence, recently clued me in to the origin of the carol "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing":

The music by Felix Mendelssohn was composed for male chorus in 1840 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg's printing press. After the ceremony was done, people said, "Oh, that's just a wonderful tune, and it could be something sacred" and Mendelssohn said, "It will never work with a sacred text." Well, how wrong he was, because 20 years later, the combination of [Charles] Wesley's words and his music came together, and we got 'Hark The Herald.' "
In the original German-language cantata, called "Festgesang," the part of the tune where we sing the words "Hark the Herald" was instead the name "Gutenberg." (You can hear an excerpt here, at about 4:40).

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