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Musical Musings: Christmas Page 2

A Five-pointed Star (cont.)

  1. How Brightly Shines the Morning Star
    Text:  Wie schön leuchtet die Morgenstern
    Author/Source:  Philipp Nicolai (1566-1608) and Johann Adolf Schlegel (1721-1793)
    Translator:  Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)
    Tune names:  Wie schön leuchtet (also called Frankfort) []
    Composer/Source:  Philipp Nicolai (1566-1608)

    This hymn is sometimes called the "Queen of Chorales," with "Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying," as "King." Both were written by Lutheran pastor, Philipp Nicolai. This chorale was titled: A Spiritual bridal song of the believing soul, concerning her Heavenly Bridegroom, founded in the 45th Psalm of the Prophet David, and became a common hymn at weddings in Germany.

    Catherine Winkworth herself made several translations of the German original, which itself had several forms. Most modern versions are composites of these stanzas, thus there is limited uniformity among hymnals (even among titles: see How Brightly Beams the Morning Star; O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright; How Bright Appears the Morning Star).

    The chorale melody, also by Nicolai, comes from the appendix to his Freuden-Spiegel des ewigen Lebens (1599), published during a devastating plague afflicting his own parish. The harmony most often used comes from J.S. Bach's Cantata No.1 (1740) for the Feast of the Annunciation.

  2. We Three Kings
    Text:  We three kings of Orient are
    Author/Source:  John Henry Hopkins, Jr (1820-1891)
    Tune name:  Kings of Orient [88.44.6 with refrain]
    Composer/Source:  John Henry Hopkins, Jr (1820-1891)

    Dr. John Henry Hopkins, Jr, a grandson of the second Episcopal bishop of Vermont, was in turn a reporter, law student, teacher, editor and Episocpal priest. He was rector of churches in Plattsburg, New York, and Williamsport, Pennsylvania. This dramatic Epiphany carol comes from his Carols, Hymns and Songs of 1863; often the first and fifth stanza are sung by large groups, with the three intervening stanzas sung by the three Magi in turn.

    Although undeniably of American origin, this carol (text and tune) were known in England, occurring in Christmas Carols New and Old (1871), where a few melody rhythms were altered by the editor, Sir John Stainer.

  3. What Star Is This?
    Text:  Quæ stella sole pulchrior
    Author/Source:  Charles Coffin (1676-1749)
    Translator:  John Chandler (1806-1876), altered
    Tune name:  Puer nobis nascitur [LM]
    Composer/Source:  15th century Trier manuscript, adapted by Michael Praetorius (1609)

    The Latin text appeared in Charles Coffin's Hymni sacri and the Paris Breviary in 1736. French poet and churchman, Coffin was also an eminent Latin scholar and rector of the University of Paris. He wrote over 100 hymns, many published in the Catholic liturgical manual, the Paris Breviary, which contained psalms, prayers, scripture readings, hymns and other devotional material for the Divine Office.

    John Chandler was an Anglican clergyman and gifted translator of early Latin hymns. "What Star Is This?" can be found in his Hymns of the Primitive Church (1837).

    The tune is found in an important volume, Piæ cantiones (1582) by a young Finnish student, Didrik Pederssn (Theodoric Petri). Michael Praetorius was an important organist, composer and theorist of his time in Germany. His Musæ Sioniæ, published in nine volumes between 1605 and 1610, contains over 1200 compositions. Praetorius undoubtedly adapted the earlier tune, Puer nobis nascitur (Unto us a boy is born), into the lilting, triple-time melody we know today.

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