Joy to the World

“Joy to the World” is, perhaps, the most widely and popularly performed Christmas carol, having appeared in nearly 1800 different hymnals since its initial publication, according to the website

The lyrics of “Joy to the World” were written by the prolific English hymn-writer Isaac Watts (1674-1748) as a paraphrase of Psalm 98 and published in his Psalms of David Imitated (1719) under the heading “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” The paraphrase is a Christological interpretation — i.e., an understanding of a passage of Old Testament scripture as pointing to the Christ of the New Testament.

As hymn texts and tunes were often printed separately, Watts indicated that “Joy to the World” should be sung to any Common Meter (CM) tune — a poetic meter consisting of four lines that alternate between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, with each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Consider the CM tunes, “Amazing Grace” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” for example — both very different from the tune commonly associated with Watts’ text today.

That tune was written, or at least arranged, by the American hymn-writer and music educator Lowell Mason (1792-1872) and published in The National Psalmist (Boston, 1848). Mason had published three earlier arrangements of the tune he named “ANTIOCH,” the first in 1836 and attributed as being “from Handel.” Although Mason was a great admirer and scholar of Handel’s music, and though the first four notes of Mason’s “ANTIOCH” are the same as the first four in the chorus “Lift up your heads” from Handel’s Messiah, the similarity ends there.

This arrangement of “Joy to the World” for brass quintet features a “bell-tone”-like fanfare in the introduction, interlude, and ending; textural contrasts between high and low brass; and tasteful re-harmonizations of the tune in the middle and concluding verses.

Score, parts (Bb tpt. 1, Bb tpt. 2, F horn, tbn, tuba) — $12.99

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