This Advent season, we sang the English version of the great German carol, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, more commonly known to English speakers as Lo! How A Rose E’er Blooming.
No one knows who originally wrote it, though it appeared in a German hymnal in Cologne in 1599. The familiar tune was written by Michael Praetorius in 1609. Many hands have been involved in the development of this carol over the years. Having up to 23 stanzas at one point, an American, Theodore Baker, originally translated the first two stanzas into English in 1894. Several other verses in English were added by others later to give us this:
Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.
Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.
The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.
This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.
O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!
And who is this “Rose”, you might ask? You could rightly say “Jesus”, but in the original German version, the “Rose” was understood to be “Mary”. Some medieval interpreters of the Bible understood the “Rose of Sharon” in Song of Solomon 2:1 to be an allegorical representation of Mary. But presumably through the influence of Michael Praetorius, a moderate Lutheran who had an interest in improving relations between Protestants and Catholics, and others like him, the carol gradually shifted its focus to center on Christ. As is made explicit in verse 2 above, the prophet Isaiah in chapter 11 speaks to Jesus as being the fruit derived from the stump of Jesse. Mary’s role is clear as the Christ-Bearer.
As with many carols, they often take on different expressions. I have included three below: The first version is our church band’s rather avante-garde bluegrass interpretation, loosely based on the second brilliant version by Sufjan Stevens. Our band here includes my friends: Doug Deberry on acoustic guitar, Peter Budnikas on banjo and singing, and our fearless leader, Glenn Lavender, on portable upright bass and singing. Glenn is the worship leader for our church, formerly the bass player with the internationally popular band, Downhere. The mandolin player is some guy they found in between writing blog posts on something called “Veracity” 😉 . If you are looking for a more traditional rendering, have a listen at the majestic, classical version at the bottom by opera legend Ren´ee Fleming singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
[vimeo 81331569 w=500&h=281]
HT: Steven Wedgeworth’s blog on the carol. Steven has some great reflections on some other carols, too.
What do you think?