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ClassicsOnline Home » CHRISTMAS Star Over Bethlehem: Choral Jewels for Christmas
A Star Over Bethlehem
Brich an, O schönes Morgenlicht, from the Christmas
Oratorio, BWV 248 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
This radiant chorale comes in the second section of
the Christmas Oratorio, as the angel appears to the shepherds.
Brirh an, o schönes Morgenlicht,
Und laß den
Du Hirtenvolk, erschrecke nicht,
weil dir die Engel sagen:
soll unser Trost und Freude sein
dazu den Satan zwillgen
und letztlich Frieden bringen.
Break forth, O beauteous heav'nly light,
and usher in the morning;
Ye shepherds, shrink not with affright,
but hear the Angel's warning:
This child, now weak in infancy,
our confidence and joy shall be,
the pow'r of Satan breaking,
our peace eternal making.
Chanticleer, by Richard Wayne Dirksen (born 1921)
Most of us are familiar with the superstition,
mentioned in the opening scene of Hamlet, that at Christmastide the
rooster crows all night long. In Hamlet the cock crows to insure that no evil
spirits walk in this season. The rooster in William Austin's poem (written
around 1600) crows rather to wake all the world to the wonderful news of
All this night shrill Chanticleer,
Day's proclaiming trumpeter,
Claps his wings and loudly cries,
Mortals, Mortals, wake and rise!
See a wonder Heav'n is under;
From the earth is ris'n a Sun,
Shines all night tho' day be done.
Hail, O Sun, O blessed Light!
Sent into the world by night!
Let thy rays and heavenly pow'rs,
Shine in these dark souls of ours.
For most duly Thou art truly
God and man we do confess:
Hail, O Sun of Righteousness!
Wake, O earth, wake ev'rything,
Wake and hear the joy I bring;
Wake and joy, for all this night,
Heav'n and ev'ry twinkling light,
All amazing still stand gazing,
Angels, Pow'rs, and all that be.
Wake and joy this Sun to see.
In dulci jubilo, arr. John Rutter (born 1945)
The old German macaronic carol (the term macaronic
referring to the mixing of two languages) in a spirited arrangement.
In dulci jubilo
Let us our homages show!
Our heartis joy reclineth,
And like a bright star shineth,
Matris in gremio,
Alpha es et 0!
0 Patris caritas!
0 Nati lenitas!
Deeply were we stained
per nostra crimina;
But Thou hast for us gained
0 that we were there!
O Jesu parvule,
I yearn for thee alway!
Hear me, I beseech thee,
O Puer optime;
My prayer then let it reach thee
O Princeps Gloriae,
trahe me post te!
trahe me post te !
Ubi sunt gaudia,
If they be not there?
There are angels singing
And there the bells are ringing
in Regis curia;
O that we were there!
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, by Elizabeth Poston
The text of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree comes
from a collection of texts made in New Hampshire in 1784. Poston's setting is
white-note music: in C major without accidentals. The sound suggests American
shape-note music to some members of the chorus, English folksong to others.
In Dir ist Freude (In Thee Is Joy), BWV 615, by
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
J. Reilly Lewis, organ
By far the most elaborate chorale prelude from
Bach's Orgelbüchlein, and among the most joyous. The pedal figure
which drives this movement gives an almost Beethovenian insistence to its
O Jesulein süss, BWV 493, by Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach wrote this quiet but profound carol for voice
and figured bass; the inner parts were realized for the Oxford Book of
Carols, probably by Martin Shaw.
O Jesulein süss, O Jesulein mild,
Des Vaters, Will'n hast du erfüllt,
Bist kommen aus dem Himmelreich,
Uns armen Menschen worden gleich,
O Jesulein süss, O Jesulein mild!
O sweet little Jesus, O gentle little Jesus,
You have fulfilled your father's wish;
You came down from heaven
To become like one of us poor people,
O sweet little Jesus, O gentle little Jesus.
O Jesulein süss, O
Des Vaters Zorn hast du gestillf,
Du zahlst für uns all
Und schaffst uns deines Vaters Huld,
O Jesulein süss, O
You have calmed your father's anger;
You bear all our guilt,
And you bring us your father¡¦s favour.
Du bist der Lieb'ein Ebenbild.
Zünd an in uns der Liebe Flamm,
Dass wir dich lieben allzusamm,
You are the personification of love;
ignite within us the flames of love,
So that we may all love you together.
Von himmel hoch (From Highest Heaven), by Johann
In Pachelbel's prelude two pastoral lines play above
the slow bass of the chorale tune appropriate for a chorale which paraphrases
the angel's message to the shepherds.
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (Cantata 1), BWV
1, final chorale, by Johann Sebastian Bach
Philipp Nicolai's noble chorale was customarily sung
in the streets of Leipzig to announce the beginning of Advent. Bach's Cantata
1 closes with a straightforward harmonization of the chorale: but the
second horn suggests the festiveness of the tune.
Wie bin ich doch so herzlich froh,
dass mein Schatz ist das A und O,
der Anfang und das Ende;
Er wird mich doch zu seinem Preis
auf nehmen in das Paradeis,
dess klopf¡¦ ich in die Hände!
Amen! Amen! Komm¡¦, du schöne
bleib' nicht lange,
deiner wart' ich mit Verlangen.
How happy I am,
for my love is Alpha and Omega,
the beginning and the end.
He will for his glory
bear me up to Paradise:
therefore I clap my hands.
Amen! Amen! Come, dear
cross of joy,
do not delay;
I await you with longing.
Wie schön leuchtetder Morgenstern (Cantata 1), BWV
1, opening chorus, by Johann Sebastian Bach
As elaborate as the preceding harmonization was
simple. If it sounds a little like a wedding procession, that's because the
text speaks of awaiting the bridegroom. Even for those of us who know Bach's
cantatas fairly well, this movement has a special significance: it opens the
monumental Bach-Gesellschaft edition of Bach's complete works. It is a worthy
opener for that grandest of Complete Works editions.
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
voll Gnad' und Wahrheit
von dem Herrn,
die süsse Wurzel Jesse!
Du Sohn David's aus Jakob's Stamm,
mein König und mein Bräutigam,
has mir mein Herz besessen.
How brightly shines the Morning Star,
filled with the truth and grace
sweet stem of Jesse!
Son of David from Jacob's line,
my King and Bridegroom,
you have taken possession of my heart.
schön und herrlich, gross
reich von Gaben,
hoch und sehr prächtig erhaben.
beauteous, noble, great,
rich with gifts,
exalted high and splendid.
He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, arr. Margaret
Janice Chandler, soprano, Joseph Holt, piano
One of the classic voice-and-piano spiritual
arrangements, by one of the great figures in spiritual arranging.
In dulci jubilo, by Marcel Dupré ( 1886-1971)
A quiet organ prelude on this joyful song, from his
1931 collection of 79 Chorales.
A Spotless Rose, by Herbert Howells (1892-1971 )
James Shaffran, baritone
The text of the carol Lo How a Rose E'er
Blooming, in a different translation from the original German, becomes
one of the great mystical motets of this century.
Mariä Wiegenlied (Mary's Cradle Song, from Schlichte
Weisen), by Max Reger (1873-1916)
Janice Chandler, soprano
Schlichte Weisen means 'simple
melodies'; Reger, the master of late-Romantic harmonic complexity, renounces
his usual style to produce a beautiful and calm meditation. This is Reger's
own orchestration of the original voice-and-piano version.
Maria sitzt am Rosenhag und wiegt ihr Jesuskind.
durch dieBlätter leise weht der warme Sommerwind.
Zu ihren Füssen singt ein buntes Vögelein:
Schlaf¡¦, Kindlein, süsses,
schlaf nun ein.
Amid the roses Mary sits and rocks her Jesus child,
While amid the treetops sighs the breeze so warm and
And soft and sweetly sings a bird upon the bough:
Ah, baby, dear one,
Hold ist dein Lächeln. holder deines Schlummers
leg dein mudes Kopfchen fest an deiner Mutter Bust!
Schlaf¡¦ Kindlein, süsses,
Happy is Thy laughter, holy is Thy silent rest,
Lay Thy head in slumber, fondly on Thy Mother's
There Shall a Star Come Out of Jacob (from
Christus), by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Mendelssohn never finished his oratorio Christus,
which was to be the middle section of a trilogy with his Elijah and
St. Paul. Among the completed movements is this radiant meditation on
Numbers 24:17, which closes in one more evocation of the chorale Wie schön
leuchtet der Morgenstern.
There shall a star come out of Jakob,
and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel,
with might destroying princes and cities!
As bright the star of morning gleams,
so Jesus sheddeth glorious beams
of light and consolation.
Thy Word. O Lord. Radiance darting,
Truth imparting, gives salvation;
Thine be praise and adoration!
Deck the Halls. arr. James McKelvy
The old carol appears here dressed up in modern 7/8
meter, as dancing and irresistible as the standard 4/4 version.
Babe of Bethlehem, by Edmund Walters
Walters' cheerily offhand tune (the words are by
Peter Kennerley) turns out on its third go-around to be a counterpoint to the
tune of Away in a Manger, hummed by the men. (Note to those who, like
the writer of these notes, learned Away in a Manger to the tune of Flow
Gently, Sweet Afton: this is the other tune.)
Pastorale, BWV 590 (second movement), by J.S. Bach
Bach's Pastorale for organ is a meditative
four-movement work of which only the first has a title: the work as a whole
takes its title from that movement. The second movement is a cheery Allemande
for manuals only.
Tu scendi dalle stelle, by Alphonsus Liguori
(1696-1787), arr. Walter Ehret
A carol for the women of the chorus directly from
the pages of Walter Erhet's admirable anthology The International Book of
Tu scendi dalle stelle
O Re del Cielo
E vieni in una grotta
AI freddo al gelo
O Bambino mio Divino
1o Ti vedo qui tremar!
O Dio beato! O quanto
Ti costo l'avermi amato!
A te, che sei del mondo
Mancano panni e fuoco,
O mio Signore.
Caro, eletto pargoletto,
Quanto questa povertà
Più m' innamora,
Giacche ti fece amor povero ancora
From starry skies Thou comest,
The King of Heav'n foretold,
Appearing in a manger,
Near frozen from the cold.
Jesus, dearest little Baby,
How I long to make Thee warm!
To shelter Thee from harm!
My heart is filled with pity for thy tiny form!
In Heav'n Thou wert Creator,
The True and Only Word,
Yet here on earth no fire, Lord,
To keep Thee from the cold.
Jesus, dearest little baby,
Come in direst poverty,
Would I had gifts for Thee!
How wonderful God's love that suffers here for me!
[Here We Come a-Wassailing, arr. John Rutter
We hear the wassailers approach, make their demands,
and go away in this jaunty arrangement of a traditional carol.
Kling, Glöckchen, Traditional German carol, arr.
Walter Ehret / Dotian Levalier
Dotian Levalier, harp
Another carol from Ehret's International Book of
Christmas Carols sung by the women of the chorus, who also supply some
Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling,
Kling, Glöckchen, kling!
Laßt mich ein, ihr Kinder,
Ist so kalt der Winter,
Öffnet mir die Türen,
Laßt mich nicht erfrieren.
Ring, bells, go tingalingaling,
Ring, little bells!
Maid and Infant tender,
Will you let Us enter?
To Us shelter giving,
And the Father praising'?
Mädchen hört und Bübchen,
Macht mir auf das Stübchen,
Bring euch viele Gaben,
Sollt euch dran erlaben.
O how cold the winter!
Will you let Me enter?
Do not bar the doorway
On my blessed birthday!
Hell erglühn die Kerzen,
Öffnet mir die Herzen!
Will drin wohnen fröhlich,
Frommes Kind, wie selig!
In our hearts now stealing,
mid the bells all pealing,
Joy and blessing holy
From the Child so lowly,
Wachet auf (Sleepers Awake), BWV 645, by J.S, Bach
Bach fashioned this organ chorale from the fourth
movement of his Cantata 140. The text of the cantata movement
announces that Zion has heard the voice of the watchman calling out that the
Bridegroom approaches: her heart leaps with joy and she arises to meet him.
Thus this chorale, like the opening movement of Wie schön Leuchtet der
Morgenstern, has the character of a joyful ceremonial procession.
Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, by John Gardner
This much-set traditional carol text (other
composers who have set it include Gustav Holst and Igor Stravinsky) dances
jazzily in Gardner's setting for chorus, piano, and percussion. The carol
text in its entirety tells the full story of Jesus's life; Gardner sets only
the Christmas portion.
Hodie Christus natus est, SWV 456, by Heinrich
Schütz divides the traditional text of the Antiphon
for Christmas Day into a series of short verses (each one different)
separated by a refrain of repeated Alleluias. The refrains suggest the
polychoral texture of Schütz¡¦s tellcher, Giovanni Gabrieli: the verses are
playful and contrapuntal save for the massive choral unison on 'Gloria': At
this word we hear the multitude of the heavenly host.
Hodie Chrislus natus est. Alleluja!
Hodie Salvalor apparuit. Alleluja!
Hodie in terra canunt angeli.
laelantur archangeli. Alleluja!
Hodie exultant justi
Gloria in excelsis Deo. et in terra pax hominibus
On this day Christ is born. Alleluia!
On this day the Savior appeareth. Alleluia!
On this day on earth the angel hosts
sing, rejoicing archangels sing. Alleluia!
On this day the righteous triumph
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to
men of good will.
Sweet Little Jesus Boy, by Robert MacGimsey
MacGimsey wrote this song in 1934 in homage to the
great tradition of the African-American spiritual. Since then it has been
absorbed into the tradition; Janice Chandler sings it in spiritual style,
Wayne D. Shirley
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