Today I’m inspired to share with you one rose and three pieces of music.
Why share? There’s a lot of pain and fear in the world these days. To contribute to peace we need to support each other keeping our hearts open and our spirits up. This is even more important if you happen to be highly sensitive.
On a more mundane level, I’m sure I’m not the only one who could use a dose of uncomplicated beauty amid the deluge of year-end donation requests!
I chose these three pieces because they touch me so deeply. They move me to tears. When I cry, I know my heart is open, and I can access my compassion, my creativity, my intuition and my best energy.
But first, the rose
This rosebush arrived here last May from Oregon, crammed into a box smaller than a bottle of wine. It took up residence in the corner of the garden, marshalled its resources for two months, then shot up from a puny eight inches to over five feet in height and width. We were impressed, but we were downright astonished when this bloom came out two days ago—on December 3! This is Rochester, mind you: we’ve had two snowstorms already.
This outpouring of life energy, perseverance and beauty touches and inspires me. So does the synchronicity at work here: two of the three pieces I’ll share with you today feature the rose as a central image in the text.
I hope this music moves you— or inspires you to go listen to something that does. If you have time, it’s worth your full focused attention…but if you are busy, by all means listen to it in the background while you do other things (though I wouldn’t count on that with the last one—it is so arrestingly beautiful, it stops me in my tracks.)
One other note: these pieces all happen to have Christian texts, as do a number of great classical works. If that aspect enhances their beauty for you, by all means enjoy it; if it doesn’t, I invite you to put that part aside and enjoy the transcendent quality of the music itself.
Lo, how a rose ere blooming
Michael Praetorius harmonized this simple, beautiful Christmas carol, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, in Dresden in 1609. The text, translated here from the German, can refer to the coming of Mary, or of Jesus. To me it also speaks on a more universal level of the unexpected, even miraculous arrival of hope and beauty when things appear dark, cold, and bleak:
Lo, how a rose ere blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow’ret bright
Amid the cold of winter
When half spent was the night.
I chose two very different recordings of this for you. Each lasts less then four minutes:
Rene Fleming with the Mormon Tabernacle choir: If you prefer a solo voice and a modern English language version, it’s hard to find a more beautiful voice than Fleming’s.
Ensemble Amarcord: this is a beautiful rendition sung in German with English subtitles by a small a capella men’s chorus in a cathedral setting, much as it might have sounded in Praetorious’s day.
Cantata 140, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” by J.S. Bach
To say this piece moves me is an understatement: it is the reason I took up the oboe. My father had a recording of it, one of the very early original-instrument recordings, featuring an Austrian oboist named Jurg Schaeftlein, and I fell in love with the sound of the oboe. When I became a professional oboist many years later, I was fortunate to perform this piece several times.
The cantata in its entirety lasts about 29 minutes, and it is all beautiful. However, if you just want to hear the movement with oboe obbligato, skip to “VI Aria/duet.” In this text translation of that movement, our rose appears again. I had no idea as a kid that it was a duet between the soul and Christ:
[Soul]: Thy love is mine
[Jesus]: And I am thine!
[Both]: True lovers ne’er are parted!
[Soul]: Now I with thee, and thou with me
[Jesus]: Will graze among Heaven’s roses
[Both]: In rapture united forever.
This is a more recent recording, and a superb one…there’s a good reason it has over a million YouTube views:
Concentus musicus Wien, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt: Cantata 140, BWV 140, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (“Wake, sleepers, wake”) by Johann Sebastian Bach
O Magnum Mysterium
Last but certainly not least, is Morten Lauridsen’s setting of O Magnum Mysterium, a chant from the Matins service at Christmas, translated here from the Latin:
Oh great mystery,
And wonderful sacrament,
That animals should see the new-born Lord,
Lying in a manger!
Blessed is the virgin whose womb
Was worthy to bear Christ the Lord.
I know this piece because every other year for the past 25 years I’ve played in the orchestra for the Boar’s Head Festival at a Presbyterian church here in Rochester, a colorful and elaborate pageant celebrating the arrival of the three wise men to see the new born Christ child. I love that gig. In addition to a very good orchestra, music director, and choir, they always have a reception afterwards featuring so many home-baked sweets that I have to skip dinner afterwards.
My favorite moment happens right after the wise men arrive. The lights go down except for a single spotlight, it gets very quiet, the choir sings this piece, and I sit there and weep.This is a transcendent recording of a transcendent piece (take a look at the comments below and note how this kind of beauty affects people):
The Nordic Chamber Choir, O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen
Now it’s your turn
Let me know how these pieces strike you. And then I’d love to hear what music is moving you these days. Email me or post here on the blog.