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Composer Highlight: Herbert Howells

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

The Greeley Chorale is excited to present (in our opinion) one of the most beautiful chorale arrangements of popular carol, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” on our December 14th concert!

“Es ist ein’ Ros’ entsprungen”, most commonly translated to English as “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” or “A Spotless Rose”, is a Christmas carol and Marian hymn of German origin. The text is anonymous, and the words first appeared in print in the late 16th century. The hymn has been used by both Catholics and Protestants, with the focus of the song being Mary or Jesus, respectively. The original melody appeared in the Speyer Hymnal (printed in Cologne in 1599), and the familiar harmonization was written by German composer Michael Praetorius in 1609. This tune was used by Johannes Brahms as the basis for a chorale fantasy for organ. The English translation, which Howells chose for the setting to be performed this evening, was made by the English hymnwriter and translator Catherine Winkworth. A Spotless Rose was written, as the composer recalled, in a single sitting on 22 October 1919 “after idly watching some shunting trains from the window of a cottage in Gloucester which overlooked the Midland Railway”. Perhaps the sense of timelessness such an idle activity suggested can be heard in the easy flow of the music. The final bars impressed fellow composer Patrick Hadley so much that every Christmas he would copy them out and send them to Howells in a Christmas card with a simple message: “O Herbert! That Cadence!” (via

A spotless rose is blowing sprung from a tender root, Of ancient seers’ foreshowing of Jesse, promised fruit. Its fairest bud unfolds to light amid the cold, cold winter, And in the dark midnight. The rose which I am singing, whereof Isaiah said, Is from its sweet root springing in Mary, purest Maid. For though our God’s great love and might, The Blessed Babe she bare us, in a cold, cold winter’s night.
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