"Weihnachten! A German Christmas" was recorded at St. James Cathedral, Seattle, Washington, June 17-23, 2002.
"Resonet in laudibus" has long been one of the most popular of all Christmas songs in Germany, where it is sung to two different texts: Resonet in laudibus, dating from the 14th century, and Joseph, lieber Joseph mein, which is even older. Resonet in laudibus was associated with the medieval custom of cradle-rocking which flourished in Rhineland nunneries, where cradles were placed before the altar and rocked to the singing of Wiegenlied (cradle-song) carols at Christmas vespers and matins. In the later Middle Ages, Resonet in laudibus was also associated with dancing . there are descriptions of large cribs which depicted the town of Bethlehem being erected in churches, around which young boys would leap and clap their hands while singing Resonet in laudibus. Dramatic presentations of Resonet in laudibus were also popular in Catholic and Lutheran churches until the early 18th century. Costumed characters representing Mary and Joseph were surrounded by singers and instrumentalists who performed Resonet in laudibus, Joseph, lieber Joseph mein and other appropriate music.
Puer natus in Bethlehem is a Christmas song which has retained its popularity for centuries, surviving in harmonizations by J.S. Bach, Michael Praetorius and countless others. On this CD we hear the original single-line melody, followed by a two-part and finally a three-part setting by Praetorius.
"Wie Schon leuchtet der Morgenstern" and "Wachet auf" are chorale tunes by Phillipp Nicolai, famous in his day not as a composer of hymns, but as an eloquent preacher. He published only four chorales, two of which (Wie Schon leuchtet der Morgenstern and Wachet auf) became classics of the Lutheran chorale tradition. Michael Praetorius composed numerous settings of these beloved chorale melodies. His version of Wachet auf on this recording is an intricate setting for two unequal choirs . one a three-voice choir and the other a four-voice choir.
"In dulci jubilo" is believed to be the oldest of all German macaronic (mixed-language -- in this case German and Latin) hymns. Tradition says that it was taught to the mystic Heinrich Seuse (Suso) by angels. Suso (c. 1295-1366) was a German Dominican monk who, at the age of 18, assumed the role of "Servant of the Eternal Wisdom." He studied with the mystic Meister Eckhart and achieved fame as a spiritual director of women's convents and for his Little Book of the Eternal Wisdom. This CD includes both a two-part version from the 15th century and an intricate version for double choir by Praetorius.
Michael Praetorius was widely recognized by his contemporaries as the leading Protestant composer of his generation, publishing an extraordinary quantity of sacred choral music, instrumental music and an influential treatise on music. The majority of his compositional output consists of sacred Lutheran choral music, organized in systematic hymn and motet collections based on traditional chorales. These collections cover a wide range of styles and techniques, ranging from simple two-part and three-part settings to elaborate versions for divided choirs. In many cases Praetorius composed several arrangements of the standard Lutheran hymns for different configurations of voices, the intent being not only to provide alternative arrangements with diverse color and dramatic effect, but also to create a compendium of arrangements for use in churches which had varying forces available.
Heinrich Schütz is celebrated as the greatest German composer of the 17th century, devoting himself to providing music for the Lutheran liturgy, as did his contemporary, Praetorius. His extensive compositional output consists almost entirely of sacred choral and vocal music. Although hundreds of his works are extant, we know that many of his compositions were lost, as he complained in his writings that he was unable to publish many of them due to the deprivations of the Thirty Years War. As a young man he studied with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice, and he returned for a second visit in 1628, meeting Monteverdi and becoming familiar with recent developments in the Venetian style of cori spezzati (divided choirs). The Deutsches Magnificat (German Magnificat) is one of Schütz's final works, written only three years before his death in 1669. It exemplifies the Venetian cori spezzati style, with two spatially-separated choirs that trade phrases antiphonally.
Johannes Brahms described his Marienlieder as being, "in the style of old German church music and folk song". While the story-telling. nature of the texts and the simple melodic language are indeed folk-inspired idioms, the choral treatment owes much to the classic polyphony of Lassus and other high Renaissance composers, and is anything but predictable. True to the folk tradition, Brahms sets the texts in a mostly strophic fashion but he also breaks from the strophic mold and provides dramatic contrasting sections to illuminate the stories.
Anton Bruckner, though known to most concert-goers as a composer of symphonies, also ranks as one of the 19th century's most significant composers of liturgical music. His motets are small-scale gems which span nearly the entirety of his compositional career, and combine his unique chromatic harmonies with Renaissance-influenced contrapuntal technique. The seven-part Ave Maria premiered in 1861 and marked his professional concert debut in the joint role of composer and conductor.
Felix Mendelssohn produced a prodigious oeuvre of symphonic, chamber, vocal and choral music. From an early age he was caught up in the spirit of revival of older styles of choral music and had a keen interest in the music of Palestrina, Schütz and Bach. This interest found its greatest expression in Mendelssohn's famous first revival of Bach.s St. Matthew Passion in 1829. The influence of Bach and Schütz is certainly evident in much of his sacred choral music. Weihnachten (Christmas), Am Neujahrstage (New Year.s Day) and Im Advent are from a collection of six cathedral anthems, short works commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm IV for high feast days in the Berlin Cathedral.
Franz Biebl was one of the most respected figures in German choral music in the later part of the 20th century. He worked in church music and choir schools, and later for the Bavarian Radio Broadcasting Company (Bayerischen Rundfunk) as their first head of choral music programming. In that capacity, he had a large influence on choral music in Germany. Biebl is chiefly known in America through his Ave Maria, written in 1964 but made hugely popular by the Chanticleer recording 30 years later. It exhibits Biebl's characteristic tenderness, clarity and simplicity of form. Ave Maria was originally written for a Munich firemen's choir for a performance at a choral festival at the request of a fireman who sang in Biebl's church choir at Furstenfeldsbruch Kirche.
Hugo Distler is regarded as the most significant composer involved in the revival of church music in Germany in the early 20th century. The basis of his work was the rediscovery and incorporation of Renaissance and Baroque forms and genres in contemporary composition. He drew heavily upon Baroque compositional techniques, with a particular concentration on the works of Heinrich Schütz. The influence of Schütz is seen most strongly in the predominance of linear composition and in the highly-effective word painting in Distler's choral music. In his development of linear texture, Distler created a style in which each choral voice functions in complete rhythmic independence and in different meters . the technique is handled with such subtlety, however, that the listener is rarely aware of the metrical complexities in the score. The Chorale Motets from Die Weihnachtsgeschichte are a set of seven motets, all variations on the 16th century German carol, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo, how a rose), excerpted from his "oratorio with chamber music character", Die Weihnachtsgeschichte (The Christmas Story). The text-painting in these variations is of special interest: in the fourth variation, the basses create a gentle rocking background as the choir sings about the new-born Christ child; in variation five, the choir divides into two groups which sing in imitative overlapping phrases, representing the story of the birth being spread afar by successive groups of shepherds. Liner notes by Karen P. Thomas
Seattle Pro Musica, winner of the Margaret Hillis Achievement Award for Choral Excellence and the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, is a critically acclaimed choral ensemble, performing under the direction of conductor and artistic director Karen P. Thomas. Seattle Pro Musica is widely considered to be one of the finest ensembles in the Pacific Northwest - American Record Guide ranks it "among America's very best choirs." Seattle Pro Musica has received international recognition and acclaim for its CD recordings and live performances. Choir and Organ magazine (Great Britain) writes: "...there is great depth and purity in this performance... Seattle Pro Musica presents a cappella singing at its best..." Fanfare Record Magazine writes: "The Seattle Pro Musica's intonation is razor sharp..." and "the tone and blend are exquisite."
Recording, editing & mastering: Sarah Holberg, Roger Sherman & Bill Levey at E-power Productions, www.epowerproductions.com
CD cover design: Magrit Baurecht CD booklet design & layout: Amy Ragsdale & Sarah McAlinn CD booklet editing: Carolyn MacGregor, Kathleen Schoene & Dina Trageser
Michael Evans, Board President, Seattle Pro Musica Karen P. Thomas, Conductor & Producer Leigh Falconer, Assistant Conductor & Assistant Producer Dina Trageser, German Language Coach
St. James Cathedral: The Most Reverend Alexander J. Brunett, Archbishop of Seattle The Very Reverend Michael G. Ryan, Pastor of St. James Cathedral Dr. James Savage, Director of Music Joseph Adam, Cathedral Organist Clint Kraus, Associate Organist & Concert Manager Dorlene Agenbroad, Secretary of Music Office Larry Brouse, Parish Administration Maria Laughlin, Corinna Laughlin & Gerald Macheso, Cathedral Sacristans
Special thanks to the supporters who made this recording possible:
Lizbeth Adams & Brian Nordwall, Glenda Ahn, Tom & Sue Alexander, Keith & Lois Axelsen, Shirley Beresford, Steve Chapman, Carey Christensen, Doug & Mary Conrad, Elizabeth Crouch, Geoff & Adrian Cunard, Jacque Deerr-Lord, Marjean Denby, Beverly & Robert Dockstader, Sam & Mona Dworkin, Joel Ferrell, Karen Finkenhofer, Jennie Flath, Paul Freeman, Polly Freeman, Dan French, Helen Clemens & Stephen Gehrke, Sherry Girard, Jan Gleason, Sue Glueck, Ed Grant, Kathy Green, Elly Hale & Brad Rodgers, Ron Hand, Verna Harms, Elizabeth Hayes, Joyce Hedlund, Peter Hemmen & Jan Strand, Werner & Carol Henn, Alex & Lynn Hinrichs, Shane & Alysia Holdaway, Chris Holt, Candace & Michael Johnson, Hedy Joyce, Susan Kane, David Kerlick, Roger & Joyce Kirk, Conley Lacey, Liz Langeland, Terri Lords, Glenn Lux, Karen Maneman, Molly McGee & Sylvia Pollack, Ed Mencke, Lyn Miletich, Martha Minier, Linda Morris, Royce Morrison & Glenda Williams, John Mostrom, Don & Norma Motley, Peter & Mary Mueller, Jennifer Newland, Peter & Elizabeth Newland, Mike Ogden, Kristin & Phil Olbrechts, Jon & Ann Palmason, Laura Patton & Jim Ballard, Tamara & Don Philip, Alex Popov & Sandra Safran, Suellen Lacey & Michael Powers, Jennifer & Johnny Ray Price, Jim Reeves & Donna Sauer, Teena Reichgott, Julia & Russ Reid, Karen & Rodger Riggers, Todd Rohs, Ana & Harrison Ryker, Rose & Russell Schwartz, Drew Smith, Josh & Laura Smith, Bonnie Steele, Glenn Strand, Jean Strand, Janet Syferd, Lynn Taylor & Doug Hurley, Karen P. Thomas, John & Wendy Thomas, Thor & Caroline Thompson, John Van Bronkhorst & Judy Callahan, Michael Von Korff, Dale & Valeria Whitehead, Fred & Judy Williams, Peggy Wolff, Cathy Woods, Janet Young and Robin & Joseph Zimmer.
Manufactured and printed in the USA.
© 2002. All rights reserved. Recorded in digital stereo.