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An Old World Christmas: Knabenchor Hannover, Die Gruppe fur Alte Musik Munchen and Flautando Koln

C. Michael Bailey By

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My family is hosting a German Foreign Exchange student this year. Among the many questions he has been asked by his American peers is, "How do you celebrate Christmas in Germany?" Innocent enough, but considering that German culture is millenia old compared to that of the US, Germany might be expected to celebrate Christmas much like Americans do since both traditions derive from Western European ancestors, many of them German.

Consider the music of the season. The melody for "Hark, the Herald Sing" is taken from Felix Mendelssohn's cantata, Festgesang zur Eraffnung der am ersten Tage der vierten Sakularfeier der Erfindung der Buchdruckerkunst. "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" was first "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen," first appearing in 1599 in the the Speyer Hymnal, with the familiar harmonization composed by German composer Michael Praetorius in 1609. Praetorius also composed the music Americans associate with "Young Christian Men Rejoice (as "In Dulci Jublio"). "Silent Night" was first "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht" composed by a German priest, Father Josef Mohr with the melody by Austrian headmaster Franz Xaver Gruber. And let's not forget a certain Saxon named George Frideric Handel?

ARS Musici has recently reissued a grand spate of German Christmas music recorded in the late 1990s by German orchestras and choirs. These three releases are among the best of the bunch, demonstrating a proper Old World Christmas.

Knabenchor Hannover, Fiori Musicali Bremen, Harald Vogel, Orgel, Leitung: Heinz Hennig

Vom Himmel Hock: Weihnachtliche Kantaten und Motetten Norddeutscher Meister

ARS Musici


Johann Sebastian Bach may have transformed the Baroque period in music, but he was by no means the only composer to shape it. Earlier in the Baroque period several composers associated with Northern Germany were prominent in pre-Bach motets and cantatas. Vom Himmel Hoch presents Christmas settings by German masters all but forgotten today. The title derives from Martin Luther's treatment of Luke 2, the most famous of the Nativity stories, and is the first clause "Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her, Ich bring' euch gute neue Maehr..." ("From Heaven on high I come here, I bring you good news...").

Primary among the included composers is Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), who was instrumental in developing Protestant church music. Praetorius is credited with composing settings for "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen" and "In Dulci Jublio." Praetorius composed during the early Baroque, his music retaining vestiges of the German Renaissance. Extending forth across the middle Baroque was Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707), whom a 20-year-old JS Bach once walked 250 miles from Arnstadt to Buxtehude's home in Lubeck, to meet the composer, hear him play, and as Bach quaintly explained "to comprehend one thing and another about his art."

Knabenchor Hannover is a well-known boys choir with a history dating from 1950, when the group was formed and directed by Heinz Hennig. The group's vocal dynamics are exquisitely controlled with a precise sweetness and timbre. Under Hennig's direction, they breath 20th century life into these 16th century masterpieces. Instumentation is capably provided by Fiori Musicali on modern instruments with support of organist Harald Vogel.

Visit Knabenchor Hannover on the web.

Die Gruppe fur Alte Musik Munchen, Martin Zobeley
"Der Tag der ist so freundenriche" Munchner Weinachtsmusik des 16. Jahrhunderts

ARS Musici


The integrating element of pieces collected on "Der Tag der ist so freundenriche" Munchner Weinachtsmusik des 16. Jahrhunderts is its 16th century Munich origins. Composers of the time included the likes of Orlando di Lasso (1532- 1594), Ludwig Senfl (ca. 1486-1542/43) and Ludwig Daser (1525-1589). These are slightly less familiar names as those found on the other objects of this review, making them that much more interesting as an example of regional Baroque composition.

What these disparte composers have in common is that they were beckoned by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in the early 1520s to come to Munich to replace Emperor Maximilian's court ensemble which had been dispanded shortly after his death in 1519. Led by Ludwig Senfl, this group of composers created a golden age of Catholic liturgical music that only ended with the death of Lasso in 1594.

This music is post-plainchant simple polyphony. It is beautifully austere and pure in its delivery by Die Gruppe fur Alte Musik Munchen, who gracefully expose the rippling melodies of ancient music (Daser's "Et verbum caro factum est" illustrating this well). Lasso's setting of the same provides an interesting contrast with the Flemish composer's stark solo vocal with lute. The true novelty in this music is how rare it is. The market is clotted with seasonal offerings of the ancient sort and it remains nice to take the road less traveled and discover such superb music not composed by Bach, Vivaldi or Handel.

Visit Die Gruppe fur Alte Musik Munchen on the web.

Flautando Koln

Wie Schon Leuchtet Der Morgenstern: Musik sur Weihnactszeit

ARS Musici


Flautando Koln is a festive recorder quartet augmented with lute, organ, continuo and voices for its Christmas recording Wie Schon Leuchtet Der Morgenstern: Musik sur Weihnactszeit (As Early as the Morning Star Shines: Music for Christmas) originally released in 2002. The disc collects performances of late Renaissance and early Baroque compositions mostly from Germany, but with Britain (Henry Purcell), Flanders (Pierre Phalese) and Italy (Antonio Vivaldi) represented. As with Vom Himmel Hock: Weihnachtliche Kantaten und Motetten Norddeutscher Meister, this disc contains much Michael Praetorius with but a nod to JS Bach.

Save for the lute and chitarrone, all instruments are modern and the performances historically performed. The majority of pieces are Nativity related with Praetorius' setting for the title central. Also included are selections from Praetorius' collection of dances, Trepsichore (1612) expertly played by the instrumentalists. The release is structured with an introduction, selections for each Sunday of Advent, and selections for Christmas (Bach: "Kommst Du nun Jesu vom, Himmel herunter," second movement from Cantata 137 Choralbearbeitung, BWV 650 and the Epiphany (Praetorius's Morganstern).

This is old music that smells of church incense and cold holy water. It also smells of warm gluvine, pine and burning wax. Flautando Koln and supporting talent prove more than capable at presenting this music in a context necessary for modern understanding. the recording offers an interesting contrast to the boys choir of Vom Himmel Hoch and the mid-sized adult group of "Der Tag der ist so freundenriche".

Visit Flautando Koln on the web.

Tracks and Personnel

Vom Himmel Hock: Weihnachtliche Kantaten und Motetten Norddeutscher Meister

Tracks: Dietrich Buxtehude (1637—1707): Ihr Lieben Christen, Freut Euch Nun, Kantate Zwei Soprane, Alt, Tenor, Bass, Chor, Blaser, Streicher Und General, Wie Soll Ich Dich Empfangen, Kantate Far Zwei Soprane Und Bal, Zwei Violinen, Violoncello Und Generalbass (text: Paul Gerhardt); Michael Praetorius (1571—1621): Vom Himmel Hoch, Choralkonzert Fur Chor, Streicher Und Generalbass (text: Martin Luther, Weise: Wittenberg, 1539); M. Praetorius/Joh. Walter (Satze): In Dulci Jubilo, (Worte Und Weise: 14. Jahrhundert); Anonymou: (17. Jahrhundert) Resonet In Laudibus Far Orgel (Aberliefert In Der Laneburger Tabulatur); Michael Praetorius/Bartholomaus Gesius (Satze): Ein Kind Geboren Zu Bethlehem (Worte Und Weise: 15./16. Jahrhundert); Vincent Labeck (1654—1740): Willkommen, Sayer Brautigam Kantate Fur 2 Soprane, 2 Violinen Und Gerneral (text: Johann Rist); Georg Bahm (1661—1733): Gelobet Seist Du, Jesu Christ Partita (Orgel); Philipp Heinrich Erlebach (1657—1714): Siehe, Ich Verkandige Euch Groaye Freude, Kantate Fur Sopran, Alt, Tenor, Bay, Chor, Blaser, Streicher Und General, (Text: Aus Lukas 2, V. 10, 11, 14 Und Unbekannter Textdichter), Der Tag, Der Ist So Freudenreich (Worte Und Weise: Vorreformatorisch); Georg Bahm: Vom Himmel Hoch Choralbearbeitung Fur Orgel.

Personnel: Jens-Robby Muller, Tobias Wilhelm, Jan-Patrick O'Farrell, Michael Emmermann, Wolfram Fette: soprano; Matthias Gerchen, Mitglieder des Knabenchors Hannover David Cordier: bass; Marius van Altena: alto; Harry van der Kamp: tenor; Fiori Musicali, Thomas Albert: violin; Elfriede Stahmer: violin, viola; Volker Mahlberg: violine; Anne Weber: viola; Andreas Klingel: viola; Graham Nicholson, Juhani Listo: clarinet; William Dongoix, Patrick Lehmann and Jeremy West: zink; Richard Cheetham: altposaune; Charles Toet: tenorposaune; Wim Becu: baposaune; Katharina Maechler: basso continuo; Niklas Trastedt: cello; Bernhard Junghanel: violon; Stephen Stubbs: fagot; Klaus Eichhorn Archiliuto, orgelpositiv.

"Der Tag der ist so freundenriche" Munchner Weinachtsmusik des 16. Jahrhunderts

Tracks: Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594): Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich (2-5), Resonet in laudibus; Ludwig Daser (ca. 1525-1589): Et verbum caro factum est; Ludwig Senfl (ca. 1486-1542/43): Verbum caro factum est; Cipriano de Rore (1516-1565): Illuxit nunc sacra dies; Heinrich Isaak (ca. 1450-1517): Puer natus est nobis; Ludwig Senfl: Puer natus est nobis; Cipriano de Rore: Hodie Christus natus est; Ludwig Daser: Hodie Deus homo factus; Orlando di Lasso: Verbum caro factum est, Jubilemus singuli, Maria voll Genad, Der Tag, Der Ist So, Freudenreich (5).

Personnel: Mona Spagele, Birgit Schanberger: soprano; Elke Rutz: alto; Johannes Klagling, Andreas Hirtreiter: tenor; Christian M. Immler, Matthias Ettmayr: bass; Karl Ernst Schrader: lute.

Wie Schon Leuchtet Der Morgenstern: Musik sur Weihnactszeit

Tracks: Anonymus: Sei willekommen Herre Christ; Michael Praetorius (1571— 1621): Veni redemptor gentium; Samuel Scheidt (1587—1654): Veni redemptor gentium; Michael Praetorius: Terpsichore, Uns kompt ein Schiff gefahren; Henry Purcell (1659—1695): Chaconne in G, Mit Ernst, O Menschenkinder; Pierre Phala se (1510—1573): Almande Nonette; Eustache du Caurroy (1549—1609): Fantasies sur Une jeune Fillette, Vier Bahmische Hirtengesange, Maria durch ein Dornwald ging; Jacob Regnart (1540—1599): Canite tuba in Sion; Antonio Vivaldi (1675— 1741): Concerto Kommst Du nun Jesu vom, Himmel herunter; Johann Sebastian Bach (1685—1750): Choralbearbeitung Sechs Chorale von verschiedener Art, Ich steh an Deiner Krippen hier; Michael Praetorius: Wie schan leuchtet der Morgenstern.

Personnel: Katharina Hess, Susanne Hochscheid, Ursula Thelen, Kerstin de Witt: blockflaten; Franz Vitzthum: countertenor; Michael Dacker: laute, chitarrone; Stefan Horz: orgel, cembalo; Torsten Maller: schlagwerk.


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