Advent Calendar Day 11: Det är en ros utsprungen – Praetorius / Sandström

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.


Advent Calendar Day 12: Det är en ros utsprungen (Sandström)

I was looking for a good recording of the beautiful old German carol, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, when I found this.

It’s sort of the same carol, if you slowed it right down and made it strange and reflective and echoey and much more haunting and wistful.

Looking at Jan Sandström’s biography, he is apparently a contemporary composer – born in 1954, in fact – from Sweden, and his compositions include the Motorbike Concerto for trombone and orchestra.  Already, that sounds promising.  In fact, that sounds so promising, I had to go and find a recording of it, and because I love you, I am going to share it.  Here you go.  Don’t you feel better for listening to it?  It really does sound very motorbikish.  I’m not sure how much it sounds like a concerto, but I am 100% sure that Andrew, at least, is going to love this.

Anyway, it’s pretty clear that Sandström’s specialty is writing music that sounds like a picture of what he is writing.  (I keep on wanting to call it music that is like a soundtrack, or sound effect, because to me that’s what it reminds me of, but this sounds as though I’m being dismissive, which really isn’t my intention)

Back to the carol, what you probably really want to know is that this composition was based on the version by Praetorius, written in the late 16th or early 17th century.  If you want to know how the carol usually sounds, here’s a rather lovely recording by the Cambridge Singers, directed by John Rutter, no less, which should give you the idea…