Michael Praetorius

Biography

Born: February 15, 1571; Creuzburg an der Werra, Germany   Died: February 15, 1621; Wolfenbüttel, Germany  
Michael Praetorius was not only one of the most versatile and prolific German composers of the early seventeenth century (only the remarkable, slightly younger Heinrich Schütz is of comparable importance) but also the author of Syntagma musicum, a historically significant theoretical treatise on music. The exact year of Praetorius' birth remains unknown; February 15, 1571, is the generally accepted date, selected on the basis of two Read more contemporary sources which claim that Praetorius died on his 50th birthday. After schooling at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder and at the Lateinschule at Zerbst, Anhalt, during his teens, Praetorius was appointed organist of St. Marien Church in Frankfurt in 1587. Praetorius later wrote that he left the position after three years, and, while it remains unclear what his activities during the early 1590s might have been, by 1595 he reappears in the historical record as organist for Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. After 1604, Praetorius combined his duties as organist with the more demanding position of kapellmeister at the court, often traveling with the duke and his court musicians. The following several years were a very productive time during which most of the composer's published collections of music appeared.

After Duke Heinrich Julius' death in 1613 Praetorius, though officially still attached to the new Duke at Wolfenbüttel, was invited to serve for two years at the court of Elector John Georg of Saxony, and he maintained a close relationship with the Saxony court even after the appointment ended. Indeed, from 1615 on, Praetorius spent more time away from Wolfenbüttel than he did attending to his duties as kapellmeister, and by 1620 Praetorius' frequent absence and poor health had caused so drastic a decline in the quality of music at Wolfenbüttel that he was dismissed from the position. He died just one year later, leaving his sizeable fortune to charity.

Praetorius' father and grandfather were both Lutheran theologians, and the composer inherited their deep religious sentiment, composing over 1,000 sacred compositions based on Protestant hymns and the Latin liturgy used in the Lutheran service. By comparison, only one small collection of secular compositions -- a group of instrumental dances -- survives. While such early works as Megalynodia Sionia, a collection of parody madrigals based on the music of Orlando di Lassus, among others, fail to display a real individuality of musical style. By the time of the Polyhymnia caduceatrix of 1619, Praetorius had embraced a remarkably forward-looking musical aesthetic in which the highly ornamented Italian vocal style of the times, and a dense scoring employing as many as 16 voices are all expressive possibilities at his disposal. Praetorius' Syntagma musicum, while never completed (the final section, intended to provide instruction in actual composition, remains missing), is one of the most important systematic compilations of early seventeenth century musical thinking. Read less

Work: Musae Sioniae: Es ist ein' Ros' entsprungen

 

About This Work
In spite of Martin Luther's desire to limit the role and worship of The Virgin Mary after the Reformation, a number of Marian Lieder, or hymns, continued to find their way into the Lutheran church, often with little or no alteration. The most famous Read more of these was Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen (most popularly translated as "Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming"), which Michael Praetorius adapted and set in Book VI of his Musae Sioniae, from 1609.

Musae Sioniae (The Muses of Zion) was Praetorius' first published work, a massive undertaking of nine volumes incorporating more than 1,200 songs (composed between 1605 and 1610). Book VI consists of a cappella, four-voice settings of hymns and psalms, or cantionale, for feast days. Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, for the Christmas season, was curiously only set this once; in general, it was Praetorius' tendency to set other melodies half a dozen times.

The tune and text were likely originally written between 10 and 30 years before Praetorius made his adaptation. His table of contents for the sixth volume does acknowledge the hymn tune's "Catholic" origin. The earliest version of the text dates from 1582 and contains 19 verses. Praetorius' setting (in F major) is, in contrast, a marvel of simplicity. Just two verses of this seven-line hymn are included, and the composer's four-part writing is restrained. The result is an AABA phrase structure: the A, a musical period with two lines of text each; the B, a phrase half the length.

The first half of each A phrase is serenely and strictly homophonic ("Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen"); the second phrase, due to an irregular stress in the soprano line, is full of bittersweet suspensions ("aus einer Wurzel zart"). The identical repeat yields to the brief contrast of the B phrase, in which the contrary motion of soprano and bass results in closely spaced voices cadencing on the dominant. The return of the A phrase restores the open voicings, but with different harmonies, especially the colorful cadence on D major on the word "winter." Practically hidden within a larger volume of a huge work, this tranquilly simple hymn has enjoyed almost constant popularity since its publication; even in a popular twentieth century setting of Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, Hugo Distler pays homage to his Lutheran predecessor Praetorius. Read less

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