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Music for Christmas Day

He is a servant, I a lord: How great a mystery!   The HYMN OF THE DAY, “Let All Together Praise Our God” (389) captures the mystery of the incarnation of God by looking at the paradoxes the Christ child brings.  From the Father’s throne in heaven, he becomes poor and is laid alone in a manger (st. 2); He who made heaven and earth hides as a creature (st. 3); He who receives the praise of angels puts on human nature (st. 4); He becomes a servant that we might be lord (st. 5), and opens the kingdom of heaven for us (st. 6).

This marvelous Christmas text is from a collection of hymns for the Gospels of the church year Die Sonntags Euangelia uber das gantze Jar by Nikolaus Herman (1480-1561).

Nikolaus Herman   was kantor at the church and Latin school in Joachimsthal, Germany.  Working with the pastor, Johann Mathesius, Herman set many points of Christian doctrine in hymns.  Herman used his hymns to teach the children in the school and to keep their minds off profane songs sung in society. In addition to writing hymn texts, Herman also wrote music, including the tune for “Let All Together Praise Our God.”

In poverty He came to earth, Showing mercy by His birth;

                        He makes us rich in heavenly ways, And we, like angels, sing His praise. Alleluia!

    Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) hymn, “We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth” (382), today’s SEQUENCE HYMN, likewise highlights the mystery of God in the flesh.  The first stanza was a pre-Reformation German hymn from around 1370 sung in response to the Latin Sequence for Christmas, “Grates nunc omnes,” dating to around 1030.  This was a genre of hymn known as a Leisen hymn, because each stanza ended in “Kyrieleis,” a simplification of “Kyrie eleison,” (Greek: “Lord, have mercy”).  Luther added six stanzas to the original German text for Christmas 1523.

The PRELUDE is a partita by Georg Böhm (1661-1733).  Böhm was the organist at Johanniskirche in Lüneburg.  Among his organ compositions, he is known for his contributions to the development of the chorale partita, a series of variations on a hymn tune, of which today’s prelude is an example.

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