Metaphors abound for the miracle of incarnation, and early hymn writers frequently rely on imagery that might seem unusual to our modern ears, to convey the message. Lo, How A Rose ‘ere Blooming is one of these texts. The poem relies on the image in Isaiah 11:1 – a branch shall grow from the root of Jesse – but draws our attention to the beauty and surprise of new life in unexpected places. This hymn’s first appearance in print is found in the 1599 German Speyer Hymnal. The tune is attributed to Michael Praetorius, one of the most important hymn writers of the early-reformation Lutheran church. Praetorius (1571?-1621), the son of a Lutheran pastor, held prominent musical roles in the courts in Germany. He was influenced by the emerging Italian choral school and produced a significant number of choral works, often utilizing the multi-phonic practice of placing small choral groups in different parts of the concert hall.
The tune and the harmonization of this hymn is so well known, that I had hoped to find a wider variety of arrangements. However, most recordings present it almost exactly as we know it. I could not find any recordings of the full five verses (Spaeth’s translation, which differs slightly in the main three verses from the better-know translation by Baker), but I did find you a trombone quartet!
May the lovely fragrance of Jesus continue to dispel the darkness everywhere.
Behold, a Branch is growing Of loveliest form and grace, as prophets sung, foreknowing; It springs from Jesse’s race And bears one little Flow’r In midst of coldest winter, At deepest midnight hour.
Isaiah hath foretold it In words of promise sure, And Mary’s arms enfold it, A virgin meek and pure. Thro’ God’s eternal will This Child to her is given At midnight calm and still.
The shepherds heard the story, Proclaimed by angels bright, How Christ, the Lord of Glory, Was born on earth this night. To Bethlehem they sped And in a manger found him, As angel heralds said.
This Flow’r whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendor The darkness ev’rywhere. True Man, yet very God; From sin and death He saves us And lightens ev’ry load.
O Saviour, Child of Mary, Who felt our human woe; O Saviour, King of Glory, Who dost our weakness know, Bring us at length we pray, To the bright courts of Heaven And to the endless day.