Singing at home

Antioch (Southern Harmony version)

At yesterday’s singing, we sang no Christmas music — except for one song I brought, “Antioch” from the 1854 edition of the Southern Harmony. William Walker borrowed “Antioch” from Lowell Mason; this is the well-known tune more commonly called “Joy to the World,” and there is no connection with no. 277 Antioch in the Sacred Harp. Here’s a link to a PDF of my newly-typeset version of Walker’s adaptation of Lowell Mason’s Antioch:

Antioch. C.M.

The tune Antioch has complicated roots. Several authorities cite John Wilson’s definitive essays on this topic: “Handel and the Hymn Tune: II, Some Hymn Tune Arrangements” (The Hymn, vol. 37, no. 1, January 1986, p. 31); and “The Evolution of the Tune ‘Antioch'” (The Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland Bulletin 166, vol. 11, no. 5, January 1986, pp. 107-114). Paul Westermeyer summarizes Wilson’s arguments as follows:

ANTIOCH is the well-known tune associated with Watts’s text “Joy to the World,” heard yearly with other “Christmas carols.” It appeared in 1836 in No. 3 of Lowell Mason’s booklets, Occasional Psalm and Hymn Tunes. Mason is usually given credit for arranging it from two pieces in Handel’s Messiah, “Glory to God” and “Comfort Ye.” John Wilson, an exacting sleuth in these matters, has shown that the roots and metamorphosis of this tune are considerably more complicated than that. Mason’s role seems to have been “changing four notes of the melody” and “allying it with Watts’ appealing text.” The second half, in spite of the Shaw-Mason antipathy to it, is in a “fuging tune” style where one part follows another imitatively. (Let the People Sing: Hymn Tunes in Perspective [Chicago: GIA Publications, 2005], pp. 297-298.)

A more detailed discussion of the origins of the tune, with several examples, may be found in The Hymnal 1982 Companion (New York: Church Publishing, 1994), pp. 99-101. This last source quotes Wilson regarding Mason’s treatment of the third verse of Watts’s text:

[Mason] also gave a short alternative ending for Watts’s rather curious third verse, now usually omitted, where the last line “far as the curse is found” hardly merited fugal festivity.

It’s hard to sing this short alternative ending; we tried, but pretty much blew it. Rebecca noted that we should have tried singing it on the notes before trying it with the words; if you try to sing this, that might be a good idea.

Mason’s tune first appeared the year after the first edition of the Southern Harmony. However, in the 1854 edition, William Walker included Antioch as no. 316, and credits the tune to Mason’s 1848 collection Carmina Sacra. Walker dropped the alto part to conform with his preference for three-part tunes, and slightly simplified the bass part by dropping a sustained E below low C in measures 9-12. Aside from that, Walker used Mason’s tune without modification, including adopting Mason’s heavy bar lines to show breaks between lines of the poetry. For comparison, here’s an image of Antioch as it was printed in Carmina Sacra:

A quick note about the text: It is part of Watts’s metrical paraphrase of Psalm 98, which Watts identified with the coming of the messiah. Thus, even though most people identify this text with Christmas, the topic really has no more to do with Christmas than does Handel’s Messiah — which is to say, nothing. But most of us don’t care about that — it’s now traditionally associated with Christmas, and we like it that way.