So now that we’ve prepared the highway, and made it nice and straight with the rough places plain and so forth, it it’s time to plant some flowers by the side of the road. Theme number three is all things roses and blossoms, and really, I could have devoted an entire Advent Calendar to this theme if I’d wanted to – it was super popular throughout the Medieval and Renaissance periods, had a resurgence with the Romantic composers of the 19th century, and got really big again in the 20th century.
Let’s start with one of the oldest and most famous of these texts – Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo how a rose up-springing). The original text appears to be from the Cologne Gesangbuch of 1599 and depicts Jesus as the rosebud blooming from Jesse’s branch, i.e., Mary. This hymn has been translated into a lot of other languages – there are at least three English translations that I know of, one of which has the oceans clapping their hands in verse three (something that I assure you the German text does not include).
The most famous arrangement is that of Michael Praetorius, a 16th-17th century German composer. The tune is older than that, but the Praetorius harmonies (sung here by the King’s Singers) are pretty wonderful, and I don’t think anyone has even tried to improve on them.
Having said that… I think I’ve sung this piece every Advent for at least the last decade, so when I came across this eerie, modern version by contemporary Swedish composer, Jan Sandström, I couldn’t resist it. If you listen closely, it still has all of Praetorius’s harmonies in it… there’s just a lot of strange, atmospheric stuff going on at the same time. And I do rather love the film they’ve chosen to put with it here. For a scene with very little actual snow in it, it does convey the feeling of winter and cold very effectively.