Joy to the World

Joy to the World (iTunes)
Words by Isaac Watts, Music by G.F. Handel
From the album Sanctuary (Olivia's Attic Music)

"Joy to the World" is one of the most popular Christmas hymns ever written. However, it was not originally written as a Christmas hymn.  English hymnwriter Isaac Watts (known as the "Father of English Hymnody" for writing about 750 hymns) based the text on Psalm 98 and intended it to be a hymn proclaiming Christ's second coming, rather than remembering his birth in Bethlehem. The verses we now sing only comprise the second half of Watts' original text, which was first published in 1719. Baroque composer George Frederic Handel is given some credit for writing the tune, as the music reflects themes in his famous oratorio Messiah.  However, American church musician, Lowell Mason (born in Medfield, MA), put together the hymn arrangement that we sing today. Mason wrote over 1600 hymn tunes himself, and had a hymnal published by Boston's Handel and Haydn Society.  He is well-known for introducing music programs into American public schools and is thought of as the first music educator in the U.S. Among other positions, he also served as organist and choirmaster at Park Street Church.

This week's recording is by folk singer-songwriter Claire Holley, who included it on her album Sanctuary in 1999.