Angels We Have Heard On High

Angels We Have Heard On High (iTunes)
Words and music from French Carol, Music arr. by Edward Shippen Barnes
From the album The 50 Greatest Songs of Christmas (Ross Records)

In "Angels We Have Heard On High," singers share the story of the shepherds' encounter with the choir of angels as told in Luke 2:8-18.  The text comes from a French carol entitled "Les Anges dans nos campagnes" ("Angels in our countryside").  It was translated into English in 1862 by James Chadwick (1813-1882), a Roman Catholic Bishop in northeast England.

The tune, known as GLORIA, was arranged as we know it today by Edward Shippen Barnes (1887-1958), an American organist and graduate of Yale University.  Probably the most well-known part of the carol, the refrain "Gloria in excelsis deo," is the Latin rendition of the angels' anthem in Luke 2, "Glory to God in the highest!"  The melody line here includes a long melisma, in which one syllable of text is sung to many notes in succession.  The hymn is a joyful proclamation of God's glory and an invitation to worship the newborn King.