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Songs of the Season: Angels We Have Heard On High

Everyone knows this tune—it’s another Christmas standard—but I have to confess I didn’t know the title of the song, and the only words I really knew were those most obvious ones from the chorus, that whole “Gloria / In Excelsis Deo” bit.

The song reportedly evolved out of a Christmas custom in southern France, where shepherds tending their flocks on Christmas would call out across the hills “Gloria in excelsis Deo, Gloria in excelsis Deo!” in celebration of Jesus’ birth.

The words of the song are based on a traditional French carol known as Les Anges dans nos campagnes (literally, “Angels in our countryside”) composed by an unknown author in Languedoc, France. That song has received many adjustments or alignments including its most common English version that was translated in 1862 by James Chadwick, the Roman Catholic bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, north east England. The carol quickly became popular in the West Country, where it was described as ‘Cornish’ by R.R. Chope, and featured in Pickard-Cambridge’s Collection of Dorset Carols.

There is also a Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) translation of the carol which is known as Ainglean chuala sinn gu h-ard (literally, “Angels We Have Heard on High”). This was translated into Gaelic by Iain MacMilan from James Chadwick’s English translation. (via Wikipedia.)

It’s nice. I’ve got a kind of rocking version by The Brian Seltzer Orchestra that I appreciate for novelty value, and also a version from some Celtic Christmas album, but the version I’m listening to right now, which I genuinely like is by Robert Goulet. Go figure.

Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence, “Angels We Have Heard On High” – from Treasury of Christmas Music

Windham Hill Artists, “Angels We Have Heard On High” – from A Winter’s Solstice V

And here’s a few more versions:

Christina Aguilera, “Angels We Have Heard On High”

Sixpence None the Richer, “Angels We Have Heard On High”

Sufjan Stevens, “Angels We Have Heard On High” (excerpt) – from Hark! Songs For Christmas Volume 2

Andrea Bocelli, “Angels We Have Heard On High”

Starland Vocal Band, “Angels We Have Heard On High” – this from the group that brought you “Afternoon Delight

Bing Crosby, Christmas Carol Medley: Good King Wenceslas / We Three Kings of Orient Are / Angels We Have Heard On High

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

2 Responses

  1. Julie says:

    hi, I would like to know where you found this picture and do you have any credits for it. Thanks

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows


is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

tweeting my mind



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