Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Michael Praetorius

In spite of Martin Luther's desire to limit the role and worship of The Virgin Mary after the Reformation, a number of Marian Lieder, or hymns, continued to find their way into the Lutheran church, often with little or no alteration. The most famous of these was Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen (most popularly translated as "Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming"), which Michael Praetorius adapted and set in Book VI of his Musae Sioniae, from 1609.

Musae Sioniae (The Muses of Zion) was Praetorius' first published work, a massive undertaking of nine volumes incorporating more than 1,200 songs (composed between 1605 and 1610). Book VI consists of a cappella, four-voice settings of hymns and psalms, or cantionale, for feast days. Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, for the Christmas season, was curiously only set this once; in general, it was Praetorius' tendency to set other melodies half a dozen times.

The tune and text were likely originally written between 10 and 30 years before Praetorius made his adaptation. His table of contents for the sixth volume does acknowledge the hymn tune's "Catholic" origin. The earliest version of the text dates from 1582 and contains 19 verses. Praetorius' setting (in F major) is, in contrast, a marvel of simplicity. Just two verses of this seven-line hymn are included, and the composer's four-part writing is restrained. The result is an AABA phrase structure: the A, a musical period with two lines of text each; the B, a phrase half the length.

The first half of each A phrase is serenely and strictly homophonic ("Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen"); the second phrase, due to an irregular stress in the soprano line, is full of bittersweet suspensions ("aus einer Wurzel zart"). The identical repeat yields to the brief contrast of the B phrase, in which the contrary motion of soprano and bass results in closely spaced voices cadencing on the dominant. The return of the A phrase restores the open voicings, but with different harmonies, especially the colorful cadence on D major on the word "winter." Practically hidden within a larger volume of a huge work, this tranquilly simple hymn has enjoyed almost constant popularity since its publication; even in a popular twentieth century setting of Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, Hugo Distler pays homage to his Lutheran predecessor Praetorius.