Twelve Days of Christmas Music II

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:


  1. BIG Chanticleer fan here. I’ve sung the Biebl arrangement of Ave Maria that they do and it’s no easy sing. Good to see they have a Christmas album now. Up ’til now I’ve had to settle for a CD I created by horking the music off their Christmas DVD.

  2. They have a half-dozen Christmas albums, Chad. Good stuff. I love the Biebl, too–I used to hide in the back of the music building to listen to the Glee Club rehearsing it when I was in college.

  3. Sorry, I misplaced my modifiers. Let me try again. To get the Biebl, I had to hork… etc. Of course now I see you can get the Biebl as a $0.99 download from their website.

  4. Amen to the Chanticleer love. “Sing We Christmas” is my favorite album of theirs (and one that I listen to year-round)
    and “Es ist ein Ros” is one of my favorite songs from it.

  5. L, I think that’s the Praetorius “Es ist ein Ros.” Also great, but not as cool as the Distler :)

  6. Thanks for posting that-it is one of my all time favorite Christmas songs!

  7. Thanks, Kristine! I hadn’t heard this arrangement before. And I’m excited to see the rest of your Christmas music posts, since I’m sure they will include more good stuff I haven’t heard yet.

  8. Another fantastic Chanticleer Christmas album (certainly near the top of my favorites list) is “Psalite: A Renaissance Christmas”. Lots of great stuff on that one, but my favorite is a double chorus version of “Joseph lieber Joseph mein” Thanks Kristine. Distler is outside my realm of experience but now I know to get myself educated. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  9. I love Distler, too. Such a tragic life; I wonder what he would have written had he lived. His arrangement of “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” is so fun to sing.