Advent Calendar Day 4: Rorate Caeli – Rheinberger

Our survey of Rorate Caeli settings now enters the swoonily romantic (not to say sentimental) territory of the 19th century, with this pensive and occasionally dramatic setting by Josef Rheinberger.  Rheinberger was born in Liechtenstein and spent most of his working life in Germany.  And it shows – you can see that he would have gotten along very well, musically speaking, with the likes of Brahms and Brückner.

To me, this particular setting has a pervasive sadness and wistfulness to it – there’s a real feeling of looking back toward a happier past, now irretrievably gone.  The sense of loss reminds me, on some emotional level, of the sort of music written by composers during and just after the Great War – in fact, I looked up Rheinberger’s biography to see if he had actually lived through to the war, but in fact he died in 1901.  I did learn, however, that Rheinberger wrote this piece in 1893, less than a year after the death of his wife, Fanny, a poet who had written the lyrics for many of his vocal compositions. A year later, ill health forced him to give up his post as Court Music Director due to poor health.

So perhaps the sadness isn’t just my imagination…


Advent Calendar Day 22 – Rorate Coeli

And here we are on the fourth Sunday of Advent, which, according to all the sources I’ve found, means that it is time for a bit of Rorate Coeli.  This is a very lovely and very old text, which started its musical life as Gregorian chant, before becoming super-trendy in the 16th century, when Palestrina, Handl, Byrd and Schütz all got into it.

(Those who have spent any time in the Australian intervarsity choral scene might also be entertained by this alleged arrangement by Christopher Tye, which bears a striking resemblance to the Australian intervarsity choral anthem, only with a bit less punching of the air when one’s part comes in.)

The text is lovely, and translates to ‘Let the heavens drop down dew, and let the clouds rain down justice. Let the earth open and bring forth the Saviour.  The word used for bring forth is ‘germinet’, which really means ‘grow’, in a similar sense to ‘germinate’ – I like the image of the rain of justice making the ground fertile for the germination of salvation.

Most years, I find myself sharing the Schütz yet again, because it is so gorgeous and lively and bouncy, but we have spent most of the last week in the middle ages and the Baroque era, musically speaking, and I think a little bit of 19th century German Romanticism would do us all some good.  So today, you are getting the very lush setting of Rorate Caeli by Josef Rheinberger, a composer born in Liechtenstein but who lived most of his life in Germany.  I know very little about Rheinberger, but Wikipedia went out of its way to tell me that he had a very happy marriage with his wife, Fanny, who was a poet and wrote a lot of his lyrics.  This is not really germane to the music, but I think it’s rather sweet, so I am mentioning it anyway.