The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming

Notes

For Christmas

Words:  Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, 15th Century German carol, 23 stanzas
Also: Es ist ein Roess entsprungen and Es ist ein Reis entsprugen

Music: Es Ist Ein Ros, Anonymous, 16th Century
(Arr. by Michael Praetorius, 1609)
(link opens at Cyberhymnal)
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF
(These links open at CCEH, the Christian Classic Ethereal Hymnary)
Meter: 76 76 676

Sheet music available at RoDeby Music Company

Sheet music also available from The Choral Public Domain Library:
Michael Praetorious Setting (1609)
Melchior Vulpius Setting (1615)

The German words were originally inspired by the Song of Solomon, 2:1:
"I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys."

Protestants tend to cite Isaiah 11:1, proclaiming a Messianic King:
"There shall come forth a shoot
from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots."

Notes:

Originally published in 1582 (or 1588) in Gebetbuchlein des Frater Conradus, this 19-stanza Catholic hymn's focus was Mary, who is compared to the mystical rose praised in the Song of Solomon 2:1: "I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys." The hymn is believed to have originated in Trier, and once source stated that on one Christmas Eve, a monk in Trier found a blooming rose while walking in the woods. He placed the rose in a vase, and placed it before the alter to the Virgin Mary. Some sources indicate the hymn might date back into the 14th Century.

By 1609, however, the Protestants had adopted the hymn, and changed its focus from Mary to Jesus (citing Isaiah 11:1). According to Keyte and Parrott, in medieval iconography, the tree of Jesse is often depicted as a rose plant. They also note that it's unclear whether Ros’ (rose) or Reis (branch) was the original reading of line 1. The revision first appeared in Michael Praetorius' Musae Sioniae in 1609. Praetorius is occasionally mistaken as the author.

The words and music appeared with 23 verses in the Alte Katholische Geistliche Kirchengesäng, Cologne, 1599, in the Speirschen Gesangbuch, Cologne, 1599 or 1600, and with six stanzas in Catholische Geistliche Gesange, 1608.

The Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) harmonization is still the version most heard, although other harmonizations have been written, including the one by Melchior Vulpius from 1615. The melody was adapted by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) as the basis for his 1896 chorale prelude: Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen (Op. 122, no. 8). Finally, there is the 1919 Herbert Howells' setting of "A Spotless Rose."

The same tune has been used for several other carols and hymns, including A Great and Mighty Wonder, John Mason Neale’s translation of St. Germanus' Greek hymn for Christmas day ("Mega kai paradoxon Thauma" by St. Germanus).

Among the many English adaptations, perhaps the best known is by Theodore Baker (1851-1934), Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming. It was heard as recently as in the 1971 Academy Award winning movie "Love Story."

And here are two poems from Christiana Rossetti celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Whereto shall we liken this Blessed Mary Virgin,
Faithful shoot from Jesse's root graciously emerging?
Lily we might call her, but Christ alone is white;
Rose delicious, but that Jesus is the one Delight;
Flower of women, but her Firstborn is mankind's one flower:
He the Sun lights up all moons thro' their radiant hour.
'Blessed among women, highly favoured,' thus
Glorious Gabriel hailed her, teaching words to us:
Whom devoutly copying we too cry 'All hail!'
Echoing on the music of glorious Gabriel.

(Before 1866)

Herself a rose, who bore the Rose,
She bore the Rose and felt its thorn.
All Loveliness new-born
Took on her bosom its repose,
And slept and woke there night and morn.

Lily herself, she bore the one
Fair Lily; sweeter, whiter, far
Than she or others are:
The Sun of Righteousness her Son,
She was His morning star.

She gracious, He essential Grace,
He was the Fountain, she the rill:
Her goodness to fulfil
And gladness, with proportioned pace
He led her steps thro' good and ill.

Christ's mirror she of grace and love,
Of beauty and of life and death:
By hope and love and faith
Transfigured to His Likeness, 'Dove,
Spouse, Sister, Mother,' Jesus saith.

(Circa 1877)

The Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated March 25 in the Latin rite. Source: The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, with a Memoir and Notes by William Michael Rossetti (1904), Page 173.

On Oct. 19, 2012, a friend of this site, Jene, wrote:

Ref for lyrics from Speierisches Gesangbuch Koln in 1599, which is the oldest reference according to Father Franz Wasner, Director of the Trapp family singers. They do a version with the Praetorius harmonization which is supremely beautiful and is easier to hear the words from than the equally beautiful rendition of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Ref: Decca DL 9553.

I am fortunate enough to have a copy of Es ist ein Ros entsprugen by the Trapp Family singers, and I agree with Jene that they do an excellent job on this song. Their voices are both clear and sharp. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of this hymn performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (although I've acquired a couple of copies of "Lo! How A Rose R'er Blooming"). I must confess that I often have a hard time picking out individual words when a large choir performs a hymn or carol, but I assume that my hearing loss is to blame. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, however, is a choir that employs very clear diction.

Translations of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen:

Another version was sent to me by a correspondent who represented this to be a Latin version of this carol: Flos de radice Jesse

With A Similar Theme:

Sources:

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