Music/Popular Culture

Today’s Christmas Songs–“Two Mysteries”

Well, the only real mystery is why these pieces, each a sheer delight, aren’t better known. Both works concern the mysteries surrounding the birth of Christ and his divinity, and both are astonishing works of compostion. The first, “Mirablile Mysterium,” was composed by the Slovenian composer Jacobus Gallus (1550-1591, also known as Jacobus Handl) as a five voice motet. Here’s the text and translation:

Mirabile mysterium declaratur hodie,
innovantur naturae; Deus homo factus est;
id quod fuit, permansit,
et quod non erat, assumpsit,
non commixtionem passus neque divisionem.

A wondrous mystery is declared today,
natures are renewed; God has become man;
that which he was, he remains,
and that which he was not, he has assumed,
suffering neither mixture nor division.

And here is a version from Vocaal Ensemble PANiek, Nijmegen:

I just love the way it builds. I also love the way this piece sound like nothing else.

Second, a piece so simple but so mysterious, “Christum Wir Sollen Loben Schon.” This originally was a hymn composed by Martin Luther and published in 1524, which later became a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach—but it has very deep roots. In its simpler form, the lyrics come from a German translation of a very old Latin chant (“A Solus Ortus Cardine”), dating from the fifth century. Luther’s version, here presented by Collegium Vocale, conveys some of the mystery surrounding Christ’s divine birth. Luther took this stuff seriously—he believed that music was the way to convey the inspiration of Christ, and he personally composed nearly 40 hymns, many of which are still used in Christian services.

Categories: Music/Popular Culture

5 replies »

  1. I hadn’t heard this before, and it’s gorgeous.

    It also makes me think. I’ve been watching the current season of The Sing-Off, and have written before about the upsurge in interest re: a capella, choirs, glee clubs, etc. I’d love it if The Sing-Off would completely free itself from the whole SONY recording contract mentality and simply open the doors to pure competition, with no preconceived notions about style and ultimate monetization. There are some fantastic acts on the show, and I’d LOVE to see Home Free and Ten squared off with chorales like this one. It would be eclectic and all over the map as hell, and for people like me who simply love a capella harmony it would be heaven.

    • When I was young I loved singing in the choir. I was actually in the adult choir at church by the time I was 14 and I had the range to sing both tenor and bass (natural baritone) and moved back and forth depending on what we were short of at a given time.

      It’s been so long since I sang, though. I’d probably sound like a goat if I tried it now…..

  2. It’s like riding a bicycle–it comes back. Seattle is a big singing town, I hear. Bound to be someone appropriate–in fact, I imagine there’s a website that lists all the choirs. Some will be semi-professional, but most will be purely amateur.