(Traditional Anonymous German)
(Revisions and translations – Michael Praetorius/Melchior Vulpius/Friedrich Layriz/Harried Reynolds Kraugh/Theodore Baker/John C. Mattes)
This carol was written in Germany, possibly Trier, in the 15th Century, although the 14th Century has also been suggested, incorporating 23 stanzas and going by the name “Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen”. The story goes that a monk found a rose that was in bloom on Christmas Eve in Trier and he picked it and put it in a vase for the Virgin Mary, placing it in front of an altar. The original German words were written using the inspiration of the Song of Solomon, 2:1 -“I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys”. It was first published as a Catholic hymn in the 1580s with 19 stanzas in Gebetbuchlein des Frater Condradus but by 1609 it had been adopted by the Protestants where they concentrated the subject away from Mary and towards Jesus and changed the inspiration from Song of Solomon to Isaiah 11:1.
The stanzas changed many times over the next few years with 19 in 1582, 23 in 1599/1600 and a reduction to 6 in 1608. In 1609 Michael Praetorius revised the harmonisation and it was published in his Musae Sioniae. Since that time he has regularly been mistaken as the original composer of the carol as it his version that is still the one most often heard. Melchior Vulpius also revised the harmony in a version in 1615.
Often used in other pieces of music, the tune is heard for the John Mason Neale hymn “A Great and Mighty Wonder” and it was adapted by Johannes Brahms for his Es Ist Ein Ros’ Esprungen, Op. 122 No. 8, Leroy Anderson for his Suite of Carols for Brass Choir and Herbert Howells for his “A Spotless Rose”. Friedrich Layriz and Harried Reynolds Kraugh translated verses 3 and 4 in 1875; verses 1 and 2 were translated into English by the American hymnologist Theodore Baker in 1894, and John C. Mattes translated/wrote Verse 5 in 1914.
In the world of popular entertainment it was featured in the 1971 movie Love Story.
Leroy Anderson and His Orchestra recordings
Decca B0003552-02 (CD: A Leroy Anderson Christmas)