I’m a bit of an explorer when it comes to Christmas music. It feels like I’ve blogged about everything from Sarah McLachlan and Stephen Colbert to David Crowder*Band and Yo-Yo Ma’s duet with Allison Krauss. This year, I’ve decided to give a bit more of a nod to my classical side and attempt to make my conservatory alma mater proud. So . . . choir nerds take heed! This is for you.
During my years in the Chicago area, my wife and I decided to see St. Olaf’s traveling choir (a very excellent program) as they stopped for a concert at Fourth Presbyterian in Water Tower Place. The sanctuary in the middle of that flourishing tourist haven was visually stunning, and had quite the impressive acoustics. This concert is actually where I first heard the first two “tracks,” of this playlist, the first of which is “A Spotless Rose” by Herbert Howells.
A spotless rose is blowing,
Sprung from a tender root,
Of ancient seers foreshowing,
Of Jesse promised fruit;
Its fairest bud unfolds to light
Amid the cold, cold winder,
And in the dark midnight.
The rose which I am singing,
Whereof Isaiah said,
Is from its sweet root springing
In Mary purest maid;
For through our God’s great love and might,
The Blessed Babe she bare us
In a cold, cold winter’s night.
The text (Winkworth’s English version of the original German) is arguably based on a combination of Isaiah 11 and 35, where the prophet, using agricultural metaphor, foretells a time of redemption from famine and injustice, and this time of peace and flourishing would come from a descendant of Jesse: Jesus Christ.
Herbert Howells was a likable English composer among myself and my conservatory colleagues for his borderline atonality. He wrote much in the arena of church music, including a few Magnificats and the longest Stabat Mater.