One frequently comes across differing opinions about the speed at which organ music should be played. Bach is a case in point, with some players exceeding any reasonable speed limit in my humble opinion, whereas at the opposite pole are those who prefer the 'slow Bach' style. It struck me that perhaps one aspect of the matter concerns contemporary organ blowing practice at the time the composer put pen to paper. Prior to the 19th century when hydraulic, steam, town gas, oil and finally electric blowing entered the arena, everything depended on human muscle power and the relative awkwardness or otherwise of the organ blowers one happened to have. Frequently these would hang around in churchyards while waiting for an organist to appear, who would then toss them a few coins in the hope of having enough wind for the duration of her/his practice session. They would often be village boys or old men with few other employment opportunities (my late father was one such in his youth in the 1920s and he told some amusing tales about pompous and irascible organists), and Elvin's book on organ blowing has some similarly delightful anecdotes about the touchy relationship between the performer and the blower(s). There is also a popular (fictional?) song written apparently in a Somerset-like vernacular bemoaning the arrival of electric blowing at the singer's church and his consequential loss of employment. Then there is that wonderful photograph of the motley collection of blowers at Notre Dame in Paris who were not pensioned off until the 1920s when electric blowing arrived (paid for at least partly by public subscription here in the UK).
Against this background, would it be unreasonable to suggest that composer-organists in those days automatically bore in mind the problems they might face if they wrote music which would either be beyond the physical capabilities of their local blowing community, or at least might annoy them? And as part of this, would they (perhaps unconsciously) play at a speed and with relatively economical registrations (defined in terms of wind demand) intended not to arouse too many skirmishes or objections? A possible example of music which could have verged on the unacceptable from the blower's perspective might be Bach's Piece d'Orgue (BWV 572). Its extended allabreve section is usually played loudly today, and sometimes very slowly and ponderously. But I really do wonder whether the poor organ blowers would, or could, have put up with it very often if rendered in this manner! A recording exists of Gottfried Preller playing this piece on the restored 'Bach' organ at Arnstadt where, although played loudly, he takes it at a fair lick. Although today's Arnstadt organ has its manual blowing apparatus, it also has an electric blower, and on Preller's recording I suspect the latter was used as there is no audible vestige of the 'live' winding which one might have otherwise have expected to detect (even though he begins and ends the CD with the calcant bell to the blowers!).
The bottom line of these musings is this: might an appreciation of contemporary blowing practice shed some light on likely metronome speeds and perhaps registrations also?
How astonishing, both that the vicar declined to lead such an important occasion and that somebody should grumble about the odd few seconds here or there.
Regarding accurate timing though, it's possible to buy new Chinese analogue wrist or pocket watches very cheaply which almost invariably have a sweep seconds hand. Either quartz or mechanical versions are made, and they can be found online or even on market stalls at prices starting from around £20. They are usually identical to the much more expensive ones in retail jewellers' shops but tend to be the rejects from the factory's quality control system for one reason or another, often simply that the mechanical ones don't keep time to better than a few minutes per day. Presumably it would be more expensive to regulate them carefully than to sell them on. (Their movements are also identical to those often sold today under former 'posh' brand names such as Rotary). Like others here, I have found watches useful in church services generally but tend to carry a cheap one around in case of loss or damage. I also sometimes use one with a sweep seconds hand to time beats when tuning an unusual temperament by ear. One feels an empathetic connection to the tuners of yesteryear when doing this, rather than using an electronic tuning device or phone app!
Well, I can’t see any objection to Advent or Christmas, but I believe that in Germany the subject is a Christmas hymn, or even a carol as distinct from a chorale. As happens in other cases, the usual English translations of the words (19th century) do not correspond exactly to the 16th century German ones. There is an interesting take that In the original German title, “ein Ros” equals Old German “ein Reis” (der Spross = shoot, offshoot, sprig), not necessarily a rose (eine Rose), doubtless referring to a shoot from the stem of Jesse mentioned in the following line. I can’t offer any authoritative scholarship about this as I have seen both “Es ist ein Ros’ ” with a single apostrophe after ‘Ros’ and “Es ist ein’ Ros’ “ with the two apostrophes suggesting abbreviations of both eine and Rose. Doesn’t Brahms use the latter, clearly implying a rose? These variations may be due to later usage rather than the original author’s intention. The Speyer Hymnal 1599 shows “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” without apostrophes, but that in turn would require consideration of the contemporary German use of apostrophes!
Maybe one of our German members might be able to throw light on this.