Christmas Article: History of Joy To The World

Issac Watts (1674-1748) was evidently short and not very handsome. A young lady (Elizabeth Singer) who had fallen in love with him from his writings, asked him to marry her, but when she saw him in person she took back the offer. She wrote later that Issac Watts was "only five feet tall, with a shallow face, hooked nose, prominant cheek bones, small eyes, and deathlike color.....I admired the jewel but not the casket" that contained the jewel. Maybe, he wasn't a looker, but Issac Watts could certainly write. Wanting to write songs based on the Psalms from a New Testament background, Issac Watts wrote Joy To The World from Psalm 98. (Ps 98:4 Make a joyful noice unto the Lord all the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praise....). Watts was not immediately appreciated. "How dare he take the pslams and try to improve them," was the outcry.

Many years after Watts' death, Dr. Lowell Mason (1792-1872) took the hymn and placed it to music based on The Messiah by Frederick Handel (1685-1759), a contemperary of Issac Watts. Lowell started composing music in my home state of Georgia where he lived and worked as a banker (Savannah, GA) from 1812 - 1827. When he tried to publish his first set of musical works, it was rejected. Finally, the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, Massachusetts accepted it. Born in Massachusettes, in 1827 Lowell returned there from Georgia where he eventually became president over the society that finally published his works. He went on to a great music career, composing over 1600 sacred works, including "Antioch" in 1848 which now takes the title of Isaac Watt's work, Joy To The World.

Joy To The World is now universally sung as one of the most joyous songs of Christmas. Watts' poem,Joy To The World, has also been sung to John Wyeth's tune, "Nettleton", to which is more commonly sung "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." However, Lowell's tune remains the most popular. --- Bill Drennon

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