Something short and sweet for today: Hugo Distler’s arrangement (theme and variations, really) of “Es ist ein Ros Entsprungen.”
Distler was born in Nuremberg in 1908, and studied composition at the Leipzig Conservatory. His work was classified as “entartete Kunst” (degenerate art) by the Nazis, which added to the usual stresses of supporting a family as a musician. Depressed after his wife and children were evacuated from Berlin in 1942 to avoid air raids, and (perhaps) fearing conscription into the Wehrmacht, he committed suicide at the age of 34. Here is an interesting meditation on his life and work, and here (for German readers) are a couple of paragraphs of Distler’s commentary on his compositional intentions and aspirations.
The church music compositions he left behind are notable for their playfulness and freedom within recognizable (and accessible) forms and harmonization–”Es ist ein Ros” is a wonderful example, stretching the well-known tune to its limits without losing the essential character of the 16th-century hymn, or making the piece unsuitable for worship.
Only the first two verses are usually performed (and only those are in the linked video clip). But Distler set all 7 verses, each a stunning miniature, making an affecting whole. The only recording of the whole piece I know is by Chanticleer, with Dawn Upshaw singing the soprano solo in the 3rd verse (an overlay of the Magnificat text from Luke I). If you’re unfamiliar with Chanticleer, you’re missing out on some wonderful stuff, and this album is a good taste.
And here’s more Distler: