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An Easter Carol of peace for the people of Ukraine

Just published! The latest Fullscore Publishing edition is an Easter carol hymn, I Heard the Bells on Easter Day, an arrangement of well-known Christmas carol words, with optional descant. Using only slightly edited, but entirely appropriate words (...Then from each black, accursed beast, The cannon thundered from the East...), it is set to a delightful, bell-like tune by Herbert Brewer. The short, SATB choral piece is dedicated to all the people of Ukraine in Eastern Europe, who are defending their country in an indefensible and unjust war. The universal message is strong: The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men...

Free download of the sheet music here (opens in new tab).

Here's a little of the the back story of the original poem and carol: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is a Christmas carol based on the 1863 poem Christmas Bells by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). The song tells of the narrator hearing Christmas bells during the American Civil War, but despairing that 'hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men'. After much anguish and despondency the carol concludes with the bells ringing out with resolution that 'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep' and that there will ultimately be '...peace on earth, good will to men' [Luke 2:14]

In 1861, two years before writing this poem, Longfellow's personal peace was shaken when his second wife of 18 years, to whom he was very devoted, was fatally burned in an accidental fire. Then in 1863, during the American Civil War, Longfellow's oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, joined the Union Army without his father's blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. 'I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer', he wrote. 'I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good.' Charles was soon appointed as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded in the Battle of Mine Run. Charles eventually recovered, but his time as a soldier was finished.

Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1863. Christmas Bells was first published in February 1865, in Our Young Folks, a juvenile magazine published by Ticknor and Fields. References to the Civil War are prevalent in some of verses 4 and 5, which are not commonly sung. The refrain "peace on Earth, goodwill to men" may be a well-known Christmas message but could not be more appropriate in this time of war in Ukraine, Eastern Europe.

The poem was first set to music in 1872 by the English organist John Baptiste Calkin, who used the poem set to his melody Waltham from1848. The Calkin tune for the Christmas carol has become the most well known and widely sung in churches.

However, in 1956 Johnny Marks composed a version that Bing Crosby recorded, using verses 1, 2, 6 and 7. 'Bing Crosby's workover of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day looks like a big one for the '56 Yule and a hit potential of enduring value', wrote Variety, that year. Marks's tune has been recorded over 60 times, with total sales exceeding 5 million copies. Listen to Crosby’s version here:

Sir (Alfred) Herbert Brewer (1865-1928), who wrote the music for this edition, was a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral and studied at Exeter College, Oxford, after which, in 1883, he received the first organ scholarship to the Royal College of Music. He later had organist positions at Bristol Cathedral and St Michael's, Coventry; he was organist and music master at Tonbridge School from 1892 to 1896, and then spent 30 years at Gloucester Cathedral, directing the Three Choirs Festival between 1898 and 1925.

Free download of sheet music (opens in new tab):

Photo by Ukrainian photographer and composer Arthur Lagoda @ArchiLagoda


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