Charles Wesley and George Whitfield
"Hark! The herald angels sing/Glory to the newborn king/Peace on earth and mercy mild/God and sinners reconciled/Joyful all ye nations rise/Join the triumph of the skies/With the angelic host proclaim/Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing' tells the story of an event recorded in the Bible after Jesus Christ was born on the first Christmas: an angel appeared in the sky to announce Christ's birth, and shortly thereafter was joined by a huge amount of other angels singing out praises: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men'" (Luke 2:13-14).
At the end of the popular TV special 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' (which has aired during every Christmas season since 1965), the Peanuts characters all sing 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing' together.
Prolific hymn writer Charles Wesley, who helped his brother John begin the Methodist Church, wrote the original words to 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing' in 1739 as a Christmas hymn that was published that year in a book called Hymns and Sacred Poems. The first two lines were: "Hark, how the welkin [an old English word for heaven] rings/Glory to the king of kings.” But in 1753, Wesley's friend and co-worker George Whitfield changed those lines to the ones we know today: "Hark! The herald angels sing/glory to the newborn king."
The song was originally sung to the tune of 'Christ the Lord is Risen Today'. In 1840, Felix Mendelssohn composed a cantata called 'Festgesang' (Festival Song) to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. The tune that Mendelssohn wrote for that occasion is the one that organist William Hayman Cummings used in 1855 to arrange the lyrics for 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing', resulting in the song that people are familiar with today.