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Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

posted Dec 17, 2011, 10:45 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jul 2, 2015, 1:56 PM ]
The original German text, Er ist ein Ros’ entsprungen, traces back to a 1580’s manuscript from St. Alban’s Carthusian monastery in Trier, and the tune appears in a hymnal printed in Cologne in 1599.  It was originally a Catholic Advent hymn about Mary, with 19 verses embroidering the analogy between the Blessed Virgin and a spotless rose who remains immaculate, praised in the Song of Solomon 2:1:
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.

Quickly, however, German Protestant’s adopted it, and changed its focus from Mary to Jesus, citing Isaiah 11:1:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.

In late medieval iconography, the tree of Jesse was often depicted as a rose plant, and some controversy has arisen as to whether the original German word in this version was
ros (rose) or reis (branch).

The prolific composer Michael Praetorius, who wrote over 1,000 pieces of music based on Lutheran hymns, helped the tune’s popularity immensely by harmonizing it in his collection Musae Sioniae (Zion’s Music) in 1609.  Today, this still remains the version mainly heard and printed in the majority of hymnals.

Among the many English adaptations, the most commonly used one was written in 1894 by Theodore Baker, who was born here in New York and studied in Leipzig.  In 1896, Johannes Brahms composed a choral prelude based on this melody.

Linda Ronstadt covered it on A Merry Little Christmas, Sting on If On a Winter’s Night… and Tori Amos on Midwinter Graces as “Holly, Ivy and Rose.”  Indie songwriter Sufjan Stevens, who lives here in Kensington, put it on his Songs for Christmas.  It was also used in the Academy Award winning film Love Story, as well as The Time Traveler’s Wife.