Andrej Harinek

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Beautiful Christmas organ music

Christmas, the feast of the birth of Jesus Christ, is the most beautiful holiday of the year. Christmas music is part of the Christmas atmosphere. Besides Christmas carols, it is the specific organ music which is often called pastorale or pastoral, which forms this particular atmosphere. The pastorale (from Latin pastor, shepherd) is a genre of instrumental music mainly from the Baroque. These compositions are reminiscent of the music of the shepherds or the Christmas lullaby. The origin of this music probably lies in the old tradition of the Italian shepherds who came from the mountains to the cities at Christmas time in commemoration of the shepherds from Bethlehem and played improvised music in front of the pictures of the Madonna. Characteristic of this genre is the compositional model of the Siciliana with its sweet melody, 6/8 or 12/8-time, slow rocking rhythm, as well as pedal points and major keys. A typical example which best corresponds to the above characteristics is the Pastorale of the Italian composer Domenico Zipoli. In the multi-part Pastorale BWV 590 by Johann Sebastian Bach, this corresponds to the term in the strict sense especially the first part with its deep drone basses in the pedal and its 12/8-time. Similar compositional features can also be found in Toccata in F by Johann Pachelbel, which is sometimes referred to as “pastoral.” The Song Wie schön leuchtet uns der Morgenstern (How lovely shines the morning star) reminds us of the appearance of Jesus in the world, His word and His spirit, which have made the world a brighter place. The main image of the song is the bright morning star as the symbol of hope. Jesus Christ is identified with the morning star in the Holy Scriptures (for example, Revelation 22:16 or 2 Peter 1:19). The morning star announces the coming new day after the dark winter night and carries an orienting light into the winter darkness. As a hope-maker, the child in the crib was already anticipated by early Christianity as a morning star. It brings the light of salvation into the cold winter night. In the adaptation of Dieterich Buxtehude we find some typical features that remind us of a pastorale. At the end it appears like a bright light in the darkness, the Zimbelstern of the St. Martin organ. The Christmas Song Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her (From Heaven Above to Earth I Come) written by Martin Luther describes a part of the Christmas story according to the Holy Scriptures (Luke 2: 8-18). The first five verses echo the annunciation addressed to the shepherds and thus to all the faithful. The other verses consist of the invitation to follow the shepherds to the manger and celebrate the newborn baby.
In dulci jubilo (In sweet rejoicing) is a spiritual Christmas carol from the 15th century. The lyrics, a macaronian poem (that is, a mixture of German and Latin), are attributed to the Dominican friar and mystic Heinrich Seuse. The popularity of this song is testified by many arrangements. The work of Johann Michael Bach, which was originally attributed to his son-in-law Johann Sebastian Bach under BWV 751, contains characteristic features of the pastoral style. On the recording, the Glockenspiel of the St. Martin organ is played. The choral variation of Johann Sebastian Bach BWV 729 is conceived as a plenum piece, with the deepest stop Posaune 32´ also being used. The Pastorale in France followed a separate tradition, where the noël is traditional, and is a popular form of the Christmas carols. These originally popular Christmas songs were sung both at home and in the church in the Advent and Christmas season. From the 17th century, many arrangements for the organ were made. The melody was accompanied by chords or arranged contrapuntally. Often the variation form was used. Examples are the variations on Christmas songs Joseph est bien marié (Joseph is well married) and Où s'en vont ces gais bergers (Where are these happy shepherds going together) by Claude Balbastre. His improvisations on noëls were so popular that the archbishop of Paris forbade him to play the Midnight Mass to prevent crowds and tumult. Another feature in some of these compositions was the use of registration instructions as movement titles (e. g. Grand Jeu, Cromorne, etc.), as it is also the case in Noël Entranger. Sur les Jeux d'Anches sans Tremblant et du Duo by Louis-Claude Daquin. The newborn child in the crib brings light into the darkness of the world, as well as joy and peace to all. May this CD also contribute to a deeper experience of this mystery, and I send you all my heartfelt greetings. A. H.

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