A Blue Hill Bach Christmas with Zenith Ensemble
in a concert of carols and chorales

Recorded on December 10, 2020 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Newcastle, Maine

Nacole Palmer  soprano
Michele Kennedy  soprano
Melissa Attebury  alto
Eric Christopher Perry  tenor
Charles Wesley Evans  baritone
John David Adams  bass-baritone

For translations, click on CC in the lower right hand corner.

Program & Notes

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen  –  Michael Praetorius  (1571-1621) 
The text of this German hymn, by an anonymous author, dates from the 15th century. Usually translated, “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,” the text refers to the prophecies of Isaiah, which Christians believe foretell the coming of Jesus. The rose is a symbolic reference to the Virgin Mary, “die reine Magd” (a “pure maiden”) who gave birth to a child represented as “das Blümelein” (a small flower).

In dulci jubilo – Praetorius
Praetorius set this text numerous times, for a variety of ensemble configurations. The original song text, which alternates Latin and German, is thought to have been written by the German mystic Heinrich Seuse in around 1328.

The Holly and the Ivy – Traditional, arr. H. Walford Davies (1869-1941)
Little is known about the origin of this traditional British carol, but it is thought to date to medieval times. The first known transcription, by the folk music collector Cecil Sharp, dates from 1909. Sir Henry Walford Davies was an English composer, conductor, organist, and teacher, well known for his radio lectures on music. In 1934 he succeeded Sir Edward Elgar as Master of King’s Music, a title he held until his death.

Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)/Michael Praetorius
In the text of this traditional Lutheran hymn, written by Phillip Nicola in 1597 and based on Psalm 45, the morning star is a metaphor for Jesus. The text and the hymn-tune have been incorporated in both vocal and instrumental works by numerous composers. Praetorius’s lively setting was published in one of several collections of his music, Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica (1618-19). Bach used all seven verses of the hymn in his chorale cantata, BWV 1, first performed in 1725.

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree – Elizabeth Poston (1905-1987)
Written in the mid-18th Century by an unknown author, the text of this carol has been interpreted as a reference to the apple tree in the Song of Solomon, or to the “tree of life” in the New Testament. The poem is also said to have arisen from “orchard-visiting wassailing,” an old English tradition of reciting incantations and singing to apple trees to promote a good harvest.

Coventry Carol – Thomas Mawdyke  (composed 1591)
Dating from the 16th Century, the Coventry Carol was included in a nativity play that was one of the Coventry mystery plays. It depicts the sorrow of mothers contemplating the doom of their sons during the Massacre of the Innocents, when Herod ordered all male infants to be slaughtered.

Psallite unigenito – Michael Praetorius
The text of Psallite unigenito is “macaronic,” meaning in two languages, Latin and German. This practice was consistent with a principal tenet of the Lutheran Reformation: allowing the scriptural message to be accessible to the people. Praetorius, one of the most prolific Protestant composers of the era, produced a large body of works in German, many for Advent and Christmas.

Silent NightFranz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863)
Declared an “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO in 2011, “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht) was composed on Christmas Eve in 1818 on text by Joseph Mohr, a priest in the Austrian town of Oberndorf. It was originally written for guitar and chorus, because the organ in Father Mohr’s church had been damaged by flooding. The church was later replaced by the “Silent Night Chapel.”

Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier – J.S. Bach
    C minor – BWV 469
    G Major – BWV 248/59
The lyrics of this German Christmas hymn were written by Lutheran theologian Paul Gerhardt, and first published in 1653. Bach’s C minor setting, composed for private devotion and solo singing, was published in the Musicalisches Gesang-Buch of 1736. His G Major version appears in the Epiphany section of the Christmas Oratorio, composed for the 1734-35 Christmas season.