Christmas with the Chorale

Time and Place

Join the Chorale for an eclectic musical celebration at Holy Cross Church. The centerpiece of the concert will be Dietrich Buxtehude’s Magnificat for choir and instruments, presented alongside Arvo Pärt’s a cappella Magnificat which he composed especially for Christian Grube and his Berlin boys’ choir. A special treat in the program is the world premiere of a lovely little piece by Estonian Pärt Uusberg, dedicated to Christian and the Santa Cruz Chorale. Conductor Christian Grube has also selected a variety of pieces that express the many meanings of Christmas, from composers such as Kodaly, Vaughan Williams, Tavener, and Paminger. The Christmas program will close with carols from around the world. As in previous years, the Santa Cruz Chorale will be joined by the Monterey Bay Sinfonietta.

 By popular demand, we're including below the Program Notes, written by Karen Gordon!
Enjoy!

 

CHRISTMAS WITH THE CHORALE, 2019:  PROGRAM NOTES

 

Adventi ének

Zoltan Kodály (1882-1967)

Based on the 15th Gregorian melody “Veni, veni Emmanuel;” Latin text first documented in Germany, 1710.

            Our program opens with Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodály’s setting of the well-known Advent prayer, “Veni, veni Emmanuel” (“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”). The first verse introduces the Gregorian theme that runs as a cantus firmus from beginning to end of the composition, whereby the theme is sometimes hidden in variations as it moves through the voices. For the final repetition of “gaude, gaude!…” the setting for the first time expands to four-parts, and the dynamics swell to a full fortissimo of praise. Then, in keeping with the flow of the melodic line, the piece becomes gradually slower and softer, and the composition comes to a thoughtful and meditative close.

 

From Christus” (the name given to fragments of an unfinished,

posthumously published oratorio), Part one, op. 97.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Words: based on Matthew 2:1-2, Numbers 24:17

           

            Mendelssohn’s 1829 arrangement and performance of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion—the first performance since the latter’s death in 1750—played a large role in the revival of Bach’s music in Germany and, eventually, throughout the world. Much has been written about the influence of Bach’s compositional style on Mendelssohn’s music, so it is not surprising that “(From) Christus” opens with a recitative (“When Jesus our Lord was born in Bethlehem...”) that could have been composed by Bach himself. However, with the following arioso Mendelssohn shows himself to be a composer of the Romantic period. The three-part harmony of the men’s voices, representing the three Magi, asks “Where is He born, the King of Judaea?  For we have seen His star....”  Warm, mellow harmonies express their love, and their desire to adore Him, while the melody itself longingly searches for Him, whose star they have seen. The arioso ends as the Magi sing “see-een” on a high, drawn-out note that insists they have seen truly His star.

            Then comes the moment when the star actually appears. The strings play twinkling little triplets that quietly point to the “coming forth” of the star, and as the full choir enters the heavens seem gradually filled with radiance. The choir’s gloriously ascending melodic line bears the words:  “There shall a star from Jacob come forth....”  The organ accompanies in octaves as the choir sings this melodic line—referred to in the following as the “star theme.”  (Throughout this composition the strings play twinkling triplets that, though not always clearly discernable, document the presence of the star.)

            The atmosphere up to this point is utterly peaceful, and a short organ interlude serves as a sort of meditative pause in which the singers realize the dramatic implication of their words. The tone suddenly changes, as the choir enters with an explosive battle cry proclaiming that the “scepter” will destroy His enemies—will “dash in pieces princes and nations.”  Sung in a dramatic unisono, the words “and–dash–in” prepare to deliver a blow of such devastating force, that when it lands on “pieces,” the word “pieces” is shattered into dissonances. The choir strikes the enemy three times in this fashion, each time ending on a higher note that makes the dissonant blows on the words “pieces” and “nations” even more forceful. The bellicose words are repeated again and again as all voices jump into the fray. But in the midst of this, the basses assure victory, for they begin singing the peaceful “star theme” (“There shall a star... come forth”). The battle takes a positive turn as tenors and sopranos—each within his or her own line—begin shifting back and forth between the words of battle and the “star theme.”

            Ultimate victory is at hand as the choir sings with the homophonic strength of their initial proclamation (“and dash in pieces princes and nations”); however, in this repetition, dissonant lines now descend in all voices. Thus His enemies are beaten to the ground as the words are sung on ever lower notes that become ever quieter: the defeated “princes” and “nations” become motionless in a long, low, dissonant chord. In this static calm, almost hidden beneath the destruction, the organ twice plays the first three notes of the “star theme.”  These notes seem somewhat tentative, as if the organ is unsure that the battle is truly over; but the choir then enthusiastically and affirmatively takes up the “star theme” in a short (Bach-like) fugue. 

            The fugue ends in a peaceful diminuendo, and the Christmas portion of Mendelssohn’s unfinished oratorio Christus draws to a close, à la Bach, with a chorale. (It is striking that Mendelssohn concluded his star-dominated setting with the chorale on which Bach himself based his cantata “How Brightly Beams the Morning Star.”)  The moment this chorale begins, the character of the music changes completely, for, freed from the foregoing strife, utter peace has come—as the peace brought by redemption. The organ’s final notes again play the “star theme,” and the strings play four little triplets as the star’s last twinkles. What a shame that Mendelssohn wasn’t able to complete his oratorio!

 

Ave Maria gratia plena

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

Text: traditional Catholic prayer

 

            Bruckner’s well-known “Ave Maria” begins as a prayer of adoration to the Virgin Mary, but when the name “Jesus” is spoken, the character of the music changes—for it is He, who makes His mother deserving of praise. Three times, and with increasing excitement, “Jesus” is sung—first pianissimo, then piano, then fortissimo. Simultaneously, the range becomes ever higher, so that when His name is sung for the third time—and in a triumphant fortissimo by all—the sopranos have reached a high “A” of sheer ecstasy. Now the need of help from Mary is expressed with repeated calls of  “Sancta Maria,” and drawn-out dissonances convey an ever greater desperation. The composition ends in a tone of reverence, and the words “ora pro nobis...” are sung with the certitude that she will indeed “pray for us, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

 

“Unser lieben Frauen Traum” (number 4 from Acht geistliche Gesänge, op. 138)

Max Reger (1873-1916)

Text: anonymous

Melody: derived from a religious folk song first printed in 1602.

           

            The “tree” in Mary’s dream is an apparent allusion to the cross; the shadow it casts “over all the land” reminds one of the Biblical “shadow of things to come”—imagery that points to the redemption of humanity through His martyrdom.

           

Ave Virgo sanctissima

Francisco Guerrero (c. 1528-1599)

 

            Guerrero was a Spanish Catholic priest and composer of the Renaissance. At a young age he accepted a position at Seville Cathedral, where he was much in demand as a singer and composer. When he was about 61 years old he fulfilled a life-long dream of visiting the Holy Land (he went to Damascus, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem) but on the return voyage his ship was attacked twice by pirates. He was robbed, held for ransom, and he returned to Spain without means. After spending some time in debtor’s prison, he was finally helped by his former employer at Seville Cathedral and was able to resume his work there. (He also found time to write a book about his journey to the Holy Land, which became quite popular.)  Despite the misadventures of his first pilgrimage, he wished to make a second trip, but he died of the plague before he was able. (Wikipedia.)

            Guerrero’s desire to come closer to God by undertaking a pilgrimage to the place where Christ was born is mirrored in the closeness to Him that he sought when composing music as sublime as “Ave Virgo sanctissima.”

            From beginning to end of this composition, always precisely two measures after the first sopranos have begun a new phrase, the second sopranos begin a verbatim repetition that perfectly echoes the first. All the while, the lower voices accompany with ecstatic polyphonic variations of the soprano lines, and the result is one of the most glorious pieces of polyphony imaginable. One is transported to a different time and place, and the singers literally never want the composition to end.

 

Magnificat (dedicated to Chrisian Grube and his State and Cathedral boys’ choir)

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)

Words: Luke 1:46-55

 

            Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer of classical and religious music. In 1981 he moved to Berlin, when, after a prolonged struggle with Soviet officials, he was allowed to emigrate with his wife and two sons. Around the turn of the century he returned to Estonia. In 2011 Pärt was deemed “the most performed living composer in the world,” and in 2014 The Daily Telegraph described him as “possibly the world’s greatest living composer.”  Pärt is known for a minimalist style that employs his self-invented compositional technique that he calls “tintinnabuli”—a style that was “influenced by his mystical experiences with chant music.”  As he himself explains, “tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers—in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises—and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. . . . The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”  (The above information was taken from Wikipedia.)

            One day in the early 80’s, when Christian was still director of his boys’ choir in Berlin (the State and Cathedral Choir), a soft-spoken gentleman brought his young son to the office to audition for the choir. The boy passed with flying colors, and Christian and the father began discussing the rehearsal schedule and time commitment required of choir members. Christian explained that, in addition to rehearsals three times a week, there were occasional weekend retreats, several concerts and a concert tour each year, as well as services once a month at the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, when the bishop held services there. (Since the Berlin Wall was still standing, the choir was not able to sing in its historical church home, the Berlin Dom, in what was still East Berlin). But when the father realized how rigorous the schedule would be, he said he was afraid it might be too much for his boy—and Arvo Pärt and his son rather dejectedly left Christian’s office. The next meetings with Arvo Pärt were the result of Christian’s choir’s having won first place in the 1985 German National Choral Competition. The prize was a work that would be commissioned from Arvo Pärt, dedicated to Christian and his choir, and premiered in 1989, at the next Choral Competition. While Pärt was composing his now-famous “Magnificat,” he asked if he and his wife could attend some of Christian’s rehearsals to see how things were progressing. He was always quite pleased with what he heard, but he did several times suggest that the piece be sung “just a little bit slower,” or “perhaps a bit softer.” Christian and Pärt experimented with having different parts sung by a soloist or a solo group, etc., and in this way Christian fine-tuned the choir until the sound was as Pärt imagined it. The Chorale presents Pärt’s “Magnificat,” dedicated to Christian Grube and the Staats- und Domchor, Berlin.

            The words of the “Magnificat” are those spoken by the Virgin Mary, telling her cousin Elizabeth that she is to bear the Son of God, and Pärt’s interpretation takes the listener to a mystical, ethereal realm. The rhythm moves back and forth between a 5/4, 3/2, 2/2, 3/2, 3/4, 7/4, 4/2, 2/2 beat, so that the whole is ungraspable, floating, and cannot be put into any temporal category. This is one of the ways in which Pärt expresses the timeless truth of the event.

 

Magnificat

(Attributed to) Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)

 

            Buxtehude was one of the most famous and versatile church musicians of his time. Students including Bach, Handel and Telemann traveled from far and wide to Lübeck to learn from him, and to this day Buxtehude’s organ works are standard repertoire for organists all over the world. (When Buxtehude retired, both Bach and Handel were interested in becoming his successor at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, but neither was willing to fulfill one of the requirements:  the successor was obligated to marry Buxtehude’s daughter. This arrangement was common practice, and Buxtehude himself had married the daughter of his predecessor.)

            In contrast to Pärt’s interpretation of the “Magnificat,” Buxtehude expresses the sheer joy of the event. The full choir takes turns with a solo ensemble singing Mary’s words of praise, while instruments add to the jubilant character of the setting.

 

INTERMISSION

 

Llévame a ver a Jesús

Noel Estrada (1918-1979)

Arr. Angel M. Mattos, Jr. (b. Puerto Rico)

 

              Underlying the lively and capricious character of  “Llévame a ver a Jesús” is the earnest request of a poor barefoot pilgrim trying to hitch a ride on the long hard road to Bethlehem. Singing his jolly little dance-like song, he tries to sweet-talk Melchior, one of the three kings, into taking him along on his camel to see the Christ child. The only “treasure” the pilgrim brings to the child is his own soul, which is wrapped in a Christmas carol that expresses love and faith.

 

¡Llega la Navidad!

Ramón Díaz (1901-1976)

Arr. Juan Tony Guzmán (b. Dominican Republic, 1959)

 

            Christmas in the Dominican Republic is a time of great happiness, partying, and family get-togethers, and one can imagine this spirited piece being sung at such a gathering.

 

A la Nanita Nana

José Ramón Gomis (1856-1939)

Arr. Norman Luboff ( 1917-1987)

 

            This lullaby sung for the infant Jesus is a popular Christmas carol in the Hispanic world. The melody is sung in a rocking rhythm, and as it moves between a gentle minor key and a cheerful major, it reflects the combination of sorrow (sorrow for His suffering that is to come) and good cheer (for the redemption of humanity) that are linked in the birth of Christ. These conflicting emotions are specifically voiced in the text, with the reference to the “nightingale that in the forest weeps as it sings.”

 

Niño Lindo

Melody: traditional Venezuelan tune

Arr. Alberto Grau (Catalan-Venezuelan composer, b. 1937)

 

            The tender devotion of this lullaby is coupled with the plea that Jesus will accept the singer as one of His own (“with your pretty eyes, Jesus look at me, and only with that, I will be consoled”).

 

 

“Sentimental Sarabande,” movement III from Simple Symphony, Op. 4

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), performed by Monterey Bay Sinfonietta

 

            Britten completed the Simple Symphony when he was just 20 years old, and he conducted an amateur orchestra for its first performance the same year. He composed it using bits of score he wrote between about the ages of about 10 and 13, and for which he had a particular fondness. He dedicated the piece to Audrey Alston (Mrs Lincolne Sutton), his childhood viola teacher.

 

Exultate Deo

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)

Based on Psalm 81:1

 

            The Psalm exhorts “Exultate Deo” (“sing aloud unto God our strength),” and Scarlatti has the choir do just that:  singing in a festive forte, the choir repeats those words again and again. But this is apparently not enough praise for Scarlatti, so, leaving the Psalm text, the choir bursts forth with exuberant calls of “alleluia,” which are sung in a frolicking rhythm. The choir continues with the Psalm text, as it rather sedately sings “Jubilate Deo Jacob” (“make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob”). Scarlatti again leaves the Psalm text, but he takes its words literally:  the choir ends the composition with the truly “joyful noise” of “alleluia,” “alleluia,” alleluia.

 

           

The Lamb

John Tavener (1944-2013); poem by William Blake (1757-1827)

 

            Blake’s poem draws a parallel between an innocent lamb in the field (“little Lamb…dost thou know who made thee?”) and Christ who “calls himself a Lamb” and “became a little child.”  The Bible refers to Christ as “the Lamb of God” who takes away the sins of the world, and Blake meditates that, just as the Father gives life and loving care to the earthly lamb, He allowed His Son to be born as a human child, and He groomed Him on Earth to fulfill His role as the sacrificial Lamb.

            Blake uses the image of a Lamb to illustrate the inseparable union of humanity and divinity in Christ—a bond which is expressed in concrete personal terms when the poet likens himself and all of humanity to lambs:  “I, a child, and thou a lamb, we are called by his name.”  (Christ said in John 10:14, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep.”)

            As befits the dual nature of Blake’s Lamb image, Tavener created a musical Lamb motif that consists of two parts, and his entire composition is based on this motif. As the motif is continuously repeated, it is sometimes also sung as an inversion (in “retrograde motion”), meaning that the notes and intervals move in reverse order back to the note with which the motif began. This forward/backward movement is a sort of musical palindrome. But Tavener also employs a form of inversion that is an upside down mirroring; in this case the notes and intervals that go up or down in the original motif do so in the opposite direction in the inversion. When both forms of inversion are combined in two voices singing together, the notes of the two lines are in an upside down and backward relationship to each other (called “retrograde inversion”)—while of course the music continues moving forward. The musical lines thus visually complement each other on the page, as two mirrored halves of a whole, and Tavener used this compositional device (for which J.S. Bach is well known) to express the coming together of the “lower” and “higher” realms through the “Lamb.”  The inversions themselves obscure the original motif for the listener; however, the back and forth/up and down movement brings the divine and earthly aspects of the Lamb/lamb together as ONE—just as does Blake’s poem. Thus music and word express the never-ending relationship between humanity and God, as well as His intangible omnipresence. It is remarkable that despite the rational structuring, Tavener’s composition does not seem contrived, and that it touches the emotions with an intense immediacy. Tavener instructs that the piece be performed “with extreme tenderness…always guided by the words,” and the gentle lines are indeed composed with such tenderness that, as they are sung, they seem to lovingly caress the “little Lamb.”  [Did Tavener use his motif only to illustrate Christ’s dual nature in an abstract way? or was his intention more profound?  In Christian iconography religious symbols are thought by some to contain a true essence of that for which they stand, and according to this school of thought, contemplation of the religious “Lamb” symbol would channel some of His essence. Perhaps Tavener thought of his Lamb motif as a sort of musical religious symbol, and that hearing it repeated again and again in his composition would have the same effect as the contemplation of a visual religious symbol. If this interpretation is correct, Tavener has fulfilled his declared intentions as a composer. In a tribute to Tavener on his passing (in 2013), The Guardian said that he strove “to be a channel through which the music flows….”  In his own words: “I wanted to produce music that was the sound of God. That’s what I have always tried to do.”]

           

The Blessed Son of God

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

 

            This Christmas lullaby is from Vaughan Williams’ cantata Hodie, “This Day.”  The melody reverently bows down to Him, as the interspersed calls of “Kyrie Eleison” pray for His mercy.

 

Seven Joys of Christmas:  “I. The Joy of Love, This is the Truth”

Kirke Mechem (born 1925; lives in San Francisco)

Words and melody: traditional English. Soprano soloist: Suzanne Duval

 

            The soloist sings in the character of a “cantor,” making statements to which the choir responds. The archaic melody seems to reach back to the beginning of time, as the words relate God’s plan for humanity:  He created Man, He created Woman to live with Man, humankind suffered “endless woes,” and He promised to “redeem us by His Son.”  All the while the melody remains in a minor key. But when the words refer to Christmas—to when “our blest Redeemer did appear”—Mechem changes to a major key. The change occurs specifically with the words “and at that season of the year...,” and Mechem sets these words with notes and harmonies that are identical to a short motif in Johannes Brahms Marian Songs (Marienlieder, op. 22). Brahms used this motif for the angel’s announcement to Mary that She is to conceive (“der Engel blies sein Hörnlein...”); and the motif is repeated several times in Brahms’ composition for the angel’s “hail Mary” (“gegrüßt seist du, Maria”), “blessed art thou among women” greeting.

 

Ma tulen taevast ülevelt

Estonian sacred folksong; Words: Estonian translation of the German Christmas carol “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her”

Arr. Pärt Uusberg (b. 1986)

World premiere, “Dedicated to Christian Grube and Santa Cruz Chorale.”

 

            Pärt Uusberg is one of the best-known young Estonian composers and choral conductors. He has conducted his own music at the famous Estonian Festival Grounds, and among his many honors, he won the 2019 VII Competition for Youth Choir Conductors. Christian met Pärt in 2004, while holding a week-long choral workshop at a meeting of international youth chamber choirs in Usedom, Germany. Christian’s group was made up of young choirs from countries including Estonia, and the conductor of the Estonian choir was Urve Uusberg, Pärt’s mother; eighteen year old Pärt was a member of her choir. During the rehearsals Christian noticed how attentively Pärt was observing and absorbing everything, from the smallest movement of the hand to every nuance of musical interpretation, and whenever possible after rehearsals he asked Christian all manner of questions. Such an insatiable desire to learn and understand made it obvious to Christian that Pärt had a very special musical gift and that he would go far. Several years later, when the Estonian Choir Association invited Christian to hold a conducting workshop at a seminar in Vigala, Estonia, Urve Uusberg attended with her choir—again including her son Pärt, whose thirst for knowledge was unabated.

The two Pärts

In September of this year, the “ARVO PÄRT DAYS 2019 IN TALLINN” celebrated that composer’s birthday and the conductor of the two concerts in his honor was Pärt Uusberg. The actual birthday concert was announced in English as follows:

“A young Estonian composer and conductor, Pärt Uusberg, leads the evening filled with Arvo Pärt’s music in the renowned composer’s birth town of Rapla, and on Arvo Pärt’s [actual] birthday in Tallinn. The two composers are not [only] connected by the common part of their names, but also by the aspiration to the consonant and self-reflective music language as well as by their closeness to spiritual texts. Together with Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and “Head Ööd, Vend Chamber Choir,” created by the young composer, Uusberg conducts the Arvo Pärt pieces that inspired him most of all. The new music piece, written especially for the Arvo Pärt Days concerts, is a bow to his senior colleague’s work.”

            Early this year, after hearing Pärt Uusberg’s famous composition “Muusika” performed at the American Choral Directors Association meeting in Kansas City, Christian wrote and asked him whether, despite the fact he is now so well-known, he might “for old time’s sake” consider writing a small Christmas piece for the Santa Cruz Chorale. With his typical graciousness and modesty, Pärt immediately answered, “Dear Christian, ...As you have inspired me a lot and given me belief of becoming a musician by myself, it would be an honour to write something for you and your choir! It’s true, that I have rather busy schedule nowadays as a composer, but a little Christmas song would be possible to write, I think.”  Christian incidentally learned that Pärt had not been named for Arvo Pärt (Pärt is a traditional Estonian first name), but, referring to the (above mentioned) “Arvo Pärt Days” concerts, Pärt (the younger) added:  “Dear Christian, Last week there were actually 2 concerts in Estonia, where the program was by Arvo Pärt and me; so 2 times in a week I went to bow after the concert together with him.... So our name ‘issue’ was very active in Estonia last week....”

            Since Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat was one of the pieces Pärt (the younger) conducted in the second of those concerts, and since Christian had worked on this piece with his class in Usedom, Christian asked Urve if Pärt had conducted it well. She answered, “Christian, he did very well and just as you taught us :), it was very nice ... and you are somehow with us, we know (the) Magnificat (was) composed for you, Christian. I told Arvo (Pärt) that we were with you in Usedom...and he really ...he was very sincere about how you are doing...”

            Our Santa Cruz audience will hear the world premiere of the “little Christmas song” that Pärt Uusberg kindly dedicated to Christian Grube and the Santa Cruz Chorale.

 

In dulci jubilo

Arr. Dale Wood (1934-2003)

Vlada Volkova-Moran, organ

 

            Dale wood was a composer, organist, and choral director. For many years he was organist at San Francisco's Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, as well as director of the Grace Cathedral Boys’ Chorus. He also served in Lutheran churches in Hollywood and Riverside, California. His composition is based on the 14th century hymn “In dulci jubilo” (as is the following piece).

 

In dulci jubilo

Leonhard Paminger (1495-1567; born in Austria)

Melody c. 1305; text Heinrich Seuse (c. 1295-1366)

 

            “In dulci jubilo” is one of the oldest hymns composed in the macaronic style (which combines one language—usually Latin—and a vernacular language, such as English or German). The original text is attributed to the German mystic Heinrich Seuse and was composed around 1328. According to folklore, Seuse heard angels singing these joyous words about the infant Jesus, and he joined them in a dance of worship. [Wikipedia]  In our “In dulci jubilo” setting by Lutheran theologian and composer Leonhard Paminger, the actual melody never appears as the straight-forward cantus firmus. Instead it jumps about through the voices in a dancing fashion—surely meant by Paminger to express the “joyous dance” of Seuse’s vision. 

 

Omnis mundus iocundetur/Resonet in laudibus/In dulci jubilo

Leonhard Paminger

 

            Paminger here uses the quodlibet technique (Latin for “whatever you wish,” from quod, “what” and libet, “pleases”), which weaves several different melodies (or cantus firmi) and texts into a single composition. Paminger has chosen three hymns, two of which are 14th century Latin (“Omnis mundus iocundetur” and “Resonet in laudibus”), and one which combines Latin and German (“In dulci jubilo,” discussed above).

            The Trinity itself becomes manifest in the birth of Christ, and perhaps Paminger wishes to emphasize this fact by using three hymns for his Christmas quodlibet composition. It was perhaps for the same reason that the words actually proclaiming His birth, “Omnis mundus iocundetur”  (“All the world rejoices at the birth of the Savior”), are sung by three voices; and as the lower three voices sing these words (whereby the actual cantus firmus is in the middle voice) they proclaim the foundation of the Christmas joy expressed by the hymns of the upper two voices:  “Resonet in laudibus” (“Let praises resound”) and “In dulci jubilo, nun singet und seid froh” (“In sweet rejoicing, now sing and be glad”).

 

“Vom Himmel hoch” (from Magnificat, BWV 243.1)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Text and melody: verse one of hymn by Martin Luther, published in 1539.

(When Bach’s Magnificat was performed at Christmas, he inserted this setting.)

 

            The melody of this beloved Christmas carol soars with long notes of celestial clarity in the upper line, as the text tells of the joy He brings to earth. All the while, with exuberantly dancing variations of the melody, the lower voices demonstrate the effect of that joy on earth.

 

Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen

Arr. Melchior Vulpius (c. 1570-1615); Arr. Michael Praetorius (1571-1621)

 

            “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen” first appeared in a Cologne hymnal in 1599, but it was with Michael Praetorius’ 1609 four-part setting that it became a Christmas favorite the world over. As an introduction to Praetorius’ setting, we will sing a short round composed by his contemporary, Melchior Vulpius. (This round is a variation of the hymn melody, and it uses only the first sentence of the text.)

 

Stille Nacht

Franz Gruber (1787-1863)

Arr. Hermann Ebenhoech (1932-2011)

 

            “Stille Nacht” was composed in 1818 by the Austrian composer Franz Gruber, and our arrangement was also written by an Austrian, Hermann Ebenhoech. Hermann was a conducting student of Christian Grube, and a friend of the Chorale. For his setting, Hermann imagined the carol being sung by a group of friends improvising a harmonization.

 

See Amid the Winter’s Snow

John Goss (1800-1880).

Text: E. Caswall

Arr. David Willcocks

 

Program notes by Karen Gordon ©2019