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Hugo Distler "The Christmas Story"


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#1 YouOverThere

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 09:34 PM

I had a rare chance to attend a performance (actually, 2 performances) of Hugo Distler's otherworldly setting of the nativity story from Luke's gospel, The Christmas Story, by Denver's sole professional a cappella chorus. Distler patterned the work after Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, with soloists singing the part of a narrator and key characters from the story. This puts a significant demand on the depth in the chorus, as there are solo parts for 2 sopranos (an angel and Elizabeth [mother of John the Baptist]), 1 alto (Mary), 1 tenor (the narrator), and 2 basses (Herod and Simeon). The chorus sings the parts of angels, shepherds, and scribes. As did Bach in St. Matthew's Passion, Distler embedded a common hymn in the work, in this case Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming. Unlike Bach, Distler wasn't content to let the chorus simply repeat the hymn a bunch of times, instead presenting a different arrangement for each occurrence of the hymn.

I hadn't been aware of this wonderful work due to the scarcity of performances. It was one of the many of Distler's works that were banned by the NAZI's as "decadent".

#2 dirac

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 02:39 PM

Thank you for telling us about the performance, YouOverThere. It's nice that you have even one professional a cappella chorus! How long was it, BTW?

#3 YouOverThere

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 08:38 AM

Thank you for telling us about the performance, YouOverThere. It's nice that you have even one professional a cappella chorus! How long was it, BTW?


I'd guess that it was about 40 minutes long. It and an audience sing-along of Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming comprised the post-intermission part of the performance. The first half of the concert consisted of rose-themed songs, most of which compared either Jesus or Mary to a rose.

#4 dirac

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 12:16 PM

Thanks. Wikipedia has an interesting and (I assume) accurate historyfor the hymn.

The tune was used by Johannes Brahms as the base for a chorale prelude for organ, later transcribed for orchestra by Erich Leinsdorf, and by Hugo Distler as the base for his 1933 oratorio Die Weihnachtsgeschichte (The Christmas Story). Jan Sandström wrote in 1990 Es ist ein Ros entsprungen for two choirs a cappella, which incorporates the setting of Praetorius in choir 1.




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