Richard Storrs Willis and Arthur Sullivan
Edmund Hamilton Sears
"It came upon a midnight clear/That glorious song of old/From angels bending near the earth/To touch their harps of gold./Peace on the earth, good will to men/From heaven's all gracious King./The world in solemn stillness lay/To hear the angels sing.
'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear' is all about the message of peace that the angels proclaimed on the first Christmas, when Jesus Christ was born. The song looks forward to a time when people will respond to the angels by living in peace with God and each other, and, in the last verse, likens doing so to offering the angels' song back to them: "When peace shall over all the earth/Its ancient splendors fling,/And all the world give back the song/Which now the angels sing."
A rock version of 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear' by Daryl Hall and John Oates rose to the number one spot on Billboard's chart in the Hot Adult Contemporary category in 2006.
Massachusetts minister Edward Hamilton Sears wrote the words to 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear' as a poem that was published in Boston's Christian Register in 1849. It was one of the first times that an American writer had penned words that would become a Christmas carol.
The American composer Richard Storrs Willis, who had studied music with renowned composer Felix Mendelssohn in Germany, wrote a tune called 'Carol' and adapted the words of Sears' poem to that music about a decade after the poem was first published. The result was the best known version of 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.' But in England, the lyrics of 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear' were set in 1874 to a different tune, called 'Noel,' written by composer Arthur Sullivan.