Veni redemptor gentium

veni-redemptor
Veni redemptor gentium is assigned to the Roman Catholic Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours for Advent from December 17 through December 24. It was translated into the German chorale “Nun komm der Heiden Heliand” by Martin Luther with the melodic adaptation to the German words made by either Martin Luther or Johannes Walter. More recently, Dom Paul Benoit, OSB adapted the chant into the hymn tune Christian Love, as a setting of Omer Westendorf’s text “Where Charity and Love Prevail,” a common meter translation of the Holy Thursday chant hymn Ubi caritas.

See a list of other hymn and chorale themes here.

Videos:
Maria Scharwieß – Improvisation on ‘Veni redemptor gentium’ – Nathanaelchurch in Berlin-Schöneberg

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
Often translated in to English as “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” the German chorale “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” first appeared in print in the late 16th century. The most familiar harmonization was written by German composer Michael Praetorius in 1609.

See a list of other hymn and chorale themes here.

Videos:
Eric Dalest – Improvisation on “Es ist ein Ros” – Virtual organ of ST MAXIMIN
Paul Damjakob – Kommet ihr Hirten und Es ist ein Ros – Würzburger Dom

Models and Anchors

Composers create music for many different reasons. Occasionally, they write pieces to demonstrate techniques for their students, either as examples of instrumental technique or compositional practices to master. The Orgelbüchlein of Johann Sebastian Bach is a fabulous place to look for simple chorale treatment ideas. L’Orgue Mystique by Charles Tournemire offers a wealth of ideas for how to work with chants. As improvisers (and composers) we need to spend some of our time studying the masters that came before us and learning to use the material (notes, harmonies, and sound colors) that we have available to us.

Paul Manz

One of the great American composers and hymn players of the twentieth century was Paul Manz. He produced countless volumes of pieces based upon familiar hymn tunes. Published with the title of Improvisations, many of these pieces could be models for us to follow, suggesting ideas and techniques for us to learn and apply to other melodies. One of his collections that I’ve had in my library for many years is his Improvisations for the Christmas Season, Set 1. It includes settings of the chorales Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland, Veni Emmanuel, and Wachet Auf along with a few others. Though the volume is labeled for the Christmas season, these are Advent chorales, so I typically will use them in the weeks leading up to Christmas. (That is, if I remember to take my score out of the file cabinet and bring it to church!)

Veni Emmanuel

One of the settings in the collection that fascinated me was a very simple setting of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. It is a short one page piece. The pedal part consists entirely of a single note, the tonic E. The melody is presented on a solo stop and the chordal accompaniment on a softer registration. I found a performance on YouTube that you may hear by following the link here. What fascinates me about this composition is how Manz begins and ends with cluster harmonies and triads from within the mode, but then ventures quite far afield in the middle, using chromaticism might otherwise be out of place in a modal piece.

When evaluating an improvisation (or composition), I like to fall back on the four C’s that I outlined in the first newsletter issues: competent, convincing, coherent, and colorful. The mixture of chromatic and modal harmonic language could make this Manz piece incoherent and perhaps not very competent either, yet our ears accept the chromaticism. Why?

Anchors

This improvisation gives our ears two anchors to hold on to: the pedal point and the melody. Being a familiar tune, the melody (as the loudest voice) clearly has the strongest pull for our ears. The pedal point also orients us just as the north pole orients a compass. Regardless of which way we may turn, the pedal will enable us to gain our bearings and return home again. The chromaticism also has a direction to it – the chords continue moving up – giving our ear an expected resolution to the dissonance as well. All these together combine to create the color of the piece, enabling it to be coherent, competent, and convincing, in spite of the rather simple and perhaps uninteresting ideas that are combined to make the composition.

Try it for yourself

How can this piece serve as a model for us? What can we practice following this example?

While normally, pedal points can be boring and would often be discouraged, they can be useful in times of very chromatic movement. What sort of harmonic tension can you create over a pedal point? How long can you keep a listener’s attention with only one note in the pedal? Explore chromatic harmonies by changing one note at a time in the accompaniment. Does this work better with the melody in the soprano or tenor range? What difference does it make if the theme is in a major mode? What if the chromatic lines move down instead of up? Here’s a technical challenge for you: play the pedal point with the left (or right!) hand and the melody in the pedal. Choose different themes and try out all the different combinations of pedal point, melody and accompaniment that you can imagine!

May all your improvisations be competent, convincing, coherent and colorful!

Glenn


 
Recent additions to organimprovisation.com:

Themes:


 
Newsletter Issue 30 – 2014 12 01
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Veni, Veni Emmanuel

VeniVeniEmmanuel

The tune ‘Veni, Veni Emmanuel’ was adapted by Thomas Helmore from a fifteenth century French Franciscan Processional. He first published it in The Hymnal Noted in 1854 with a translation by John Neale of the Latin hymn ‘Veni Emmanuel’. The text is a paraphrase of the O Antiphons sung at vespers during the seven days immediately before Christmas.

See a list of other hymn and chorale themes here.

Videos:
Timothy Howard – Postlude on ‘Veni Emmanuel’ – Pasadena Presbyterian Church
János Pálúr – Improvisation on ‘Veni Emmanuel’ – Óbuda Reformed Church

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland

NunKomm

The German chorale “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” is a translation of the Latin chant Veni redemptor gentium made by Martin Luther. The melody for the chorale was adapted from the same chant by either Martin Luther or Johann Walter. While the chant hymn is designated as part of the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for December 17 to 24, the Lutheran hymn has become closely associated to the First Sunday of Advent.

See a list of other hymn and chorale themes here.

Videos:
Ján Blahuta – Maestoso über den Choral ‘Nun komm der Heiden Heiland’
Ján Blahuta – Trio über den Choral ‘Nun komm der Heiden Heiland’
Ján Blahuta – Sarabande über den Choral ‘Nun komm der Heiden Heiland’
Ján Blahuta – Quasi Fughetta über den Choral ‘Nun komm der Heiden Heiland’
Wolfgang Seifen – Orgel-Improvisation ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’ – Charlottenburg

Judas Maccabeus

JudasMaccabeus
Originally written by George F. Handel in 1747, this melody was later added to the oratorio Judas Maccabaeus with the lyrics “See, the Conqu’ring hero comes.” In 1884, Edmond L. Bundry wrote new words in French “A Toi la gloire.” This hymn was first translated from French into English by Richard B. Hoyle in 1923, becoming “Thine be the glory.” Other texts for this melody include a wedding hymn in the Netherlands (“Praised Be the Father” and an Advent hymn in Germany (“Tochter Zion, freue dich”).

See a list of other hymn and chorale themes here.

Video:
Naji Hakim – Improvisation A Toi la gloire – Trinité, Paris

Conditor Alme Siderum

ConditorAlmeSiderum

Conditor alme siderum,
aeterna lux credentium,
Christe, redemptor omnium,
exaudi preces supplicum.


Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
and hear Thy servants when they call.

Conditor alme siderum is an anonymous text from the 7th century used at Vespers during Advent. It was translated from Latin to English by John M. Neale in the Hymnal Noted, published in 1852. The hymn follows the Long Meter poetic rhythm and is in Mode IV.

See a list of other popular chant themes here.

Videos:
Pierre Pincemaille – Conditor Alme Siderum – St. Denis