Thursday, December 8, 2011

Heavenly Music with CONCORA's “Christmas Through the Ages”

This week, CONCORA has its final rehearsals for its holiday concert, “Christmas Through the Ages,” which we will present in Hartford this weekend (December 11), Hampton (December 16), and Norfolk, Connecticut (December 22). (Details on times and venues, and the complete program listing, are at the end of this post.)

One of the many beautiful works that Mr. Coffey has chosen for this program is an extraordinary setting of an old favorite, “Lo How a Rose e’er Blooming” (“Es ist ein Ros’ Entsprungen”). Here’s an image of the chorale as it appeared in its first printed version, the Speyer Hymnal (Cologne, 1599):

As you can see, it is a simple melody. German composer Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) composed the tenderly beautiful harmonization that we love so well and which appears in almost every Christian hymnbook.

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
aus einer Wurzel zart,
als uns die Alten sungen:
von Jesse kam die Art.
Und hat ein Blümlein bracht
Mitten im kalten Winter
Wohl zu der halben Nacht.

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming
As men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
Amid the cold of winter
When half spent was the night

In his unearthly setting (1988) of “Es ist ein Ros’ Entsprungen,” Swedish composer Jan Sandström (b. 1954) brings time to a standstill, so that we may contemplate Mary’s sacred motherhood and the mystery of Christ’s birth. A semi-chorus sings the familiar 14th-century German text in the beloved four-part setting by Praetorius, while the full choir spins out a wordless, wintry backdrop. Sandström uses a form of harmonization known as spectralism, in which clusters of pitches sung by the larger choir can generate overtones which shimmer over the ensemble. One can imagine standing under the bright stars, “amid the cold of winter / when half spent was the night.”

Sandström’s arrangement encloses the Praetorius harmonization in a shimmering setting, as a jewel is set into a silver or gold filigree.

When CONCORA rehearsed this music the other night, it was extraordinary and strangely eerie to hear the overtones emerge over me. I wonder how many of the other singers heard them.

How interesting that just a week after some of us CONCORA singers sang about the “music of the spheres” with The Hartford Chorale (read about it here ), we are now generating the very same celestial harmonies.


Do come to the concert to hear this, and other songs of “Christmas Through the Ages.”

You can read all my posts about CONCORA’s Christmas programs, including lots more information about this upcoming concert, here:

CONCORA presents “Christmas Through the Ages”
Richard Coffey, Artistic Director and Conductor

Sunday, December 11, 2011, 4:00 p.m.
Center Church, 60 Gold Street, Hartford, Connecticut
Snow date: Monday, December 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Information: or 860-293-0567

Friday, December 16, 8:00 p.m.
Hampton Congregational Church, 163 Main Street, Hampton, Connecticut
Information: or 860-293-0567

Thursday, December 22, 8:00 p.m.
Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, Route 44, Norfolk, Connecticut
Information, Tickets, and Directions: or 866-666-6306


A Choral Prologue from the 18th century
Johann Sebastian Bach “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light” (from Christmas Oratorio)

A Choral Procession
“Masters in This Hall” Traditional French carol, arr. Mack Wilberg

From the 19th century
“A Tender Shoot” Otto Goldschmidt (1829-1907)
“In Dulci Jubilo” Robert Lucas Pearsall (1795-1856)

From the 20th century
“Alleluia! A New Work Is Come on Hand” (1953) Peter Wishart
“Hymne à la Vierge” (1967) Pierre Villette
“Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming” (1995) Michael Praetorius, arr. Jan Sandström

From the 21st century
“There Is No Rose” (2007) Colin Britt
“Sleep, Little Baby, Sleep” (2010) Robert Cohen
“Glory to the Christ Child” (2005) Alan Bullard

Your Turn! – An Audience Sing-Along
“See Amid the Winter Snow” John Goss, arr. David Willcocks
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” Traditional, arr. David Willcocks
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” Traditional, arr. John Rutter


Solo for Organ: a setting of the German chorale "Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern" by American composer Mark Sedio, performed by Jason Charneski

Music from the Gallery
“Oculi Omnium” Hieronymous Praetorius (1560-1629)
“While by My Sheep” (echo carol) 17th century German carol, arr. Hugo Jüngst
“In the Bleak Midwinter” (1911) Harold Darke
“Ave Maria” (2006)John Rutter
“Sir Christemas” (from Ave Rex) (1970)William Mathias

For Fun!
The Pie Carols (2010) Words and Music: Daniel Gawthrop
Pumpkin Pie • Cherry Pie • Apple Pie • Lemon Meringue Pie • Pecan Pie • Rhubarb

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