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It Came Upon The Midnight Clear/It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

(Edmund Sears/Richard Storrs Willis/Uzziah Christopher Burnap/Sir Arthur S. Sullivan)

This Christmas carol was written in New England as a poem requested of W.P. Lunt, who was a minister in Quincy, Massachusetts, in December 1849 and it made it’s first appearance in the Christian Register on the 29th of that month.  The appearance of this carol was almost a unique occasion in New England at the time as none were written, and it was still remembered that the Puritans forbade celebrating Christmas only 200 years previous, from 1659 to 1681 and if a child missed Christmas Day at school right up until 1870, they would suffer punishment or be expelled.

The words are several verses telling the story of the birth of Jesus and that even in today’s suffering of mankind there is still hope in Christ.  In 1850 it was set to the music called simply “Carol”, originally composed by Richard Storrs Willis for the hymn “See Israel’s Gentle Shepherd Stand” and published as “Organ Study No. 23”.  Uzziah Christophe Burnap made the adaptation/arrangement of the music, and several years later around 1870, an English version of the carol was put to the music “Noel” which was an adaptation of a melody written by Sir Arthur S. Sullivan.  Some time prior to 1860 the tune was adapted by Willis to be used for the carols “Calm on the Listening Ear” by Edmund Sears and “While Shepherd’s Watch Their Flock”.

Still very much heard today it has been taken to the No. 1 position in the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart by Daryl Hall & John Oates, been recorded in 2003 by the group Sixpence None the Richer and in 1981 it was sung in Sweden as “Jag ser en stjarna pa himmelen”, translated as “I See a Star in the Sky”, by the singer Stefan Borsch and appears in the Leroy Anderson composition Suite of Carols for String Orchestra.

Leroy Anderson and His Orchestra recordings
Decca B0003552-02 (CD: A Leroy Anderson Christmas)

Robert Shaw Chorale recordings
RCA 6429 – 2 – RG (CD: A Festival of Carols)
Arrangers – Robert Shaw/Alice Parker