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Es ist ein Ros

Martin Cooke

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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. 

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Fascinating.  'Spross' is cognate with 'sprout' in English, and its primary meaning is now 'scion' according to linguee.       I wonder if Rowland knows anything about what happened to the 'Sp' on the beginning of the word?

The Luther Bible (I can only find the 1912 version online) give Isaiah 11:1 as "Und es wird eine Rute aufgehen von dem Stamm Isais und eine Zweig aus seiner Wurzel Frucht bringen".  'Rute' is rod or tail and 'Zweig' is branch (presumably cognate with 'twig' in English).

The Vulgate (with which Luther would presumably have been familiar) has "Et egredietur virga de radice Jesse, et flos de radice ejus ascendet".   'virga' is a twig or rod and 'flos' is a flower.

There are two early versions of the second verse of the carol, a Catholic one and a Protestant one.  The Catholic one is the earliest, from 1599 is in the Speyerer Gesangbuch as mentioned by Rowland), which can be inspected here on wikipedia - I've deliberately preserved the original spelling and capitalisation below.  There is no punctuation other than a slash between each line and a full stop at the end of each verse; no apostophes are used:

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
auß einer wurzel zart
Als uns die alten sungen
auß Jesse kam die art
und hat ein blümlein bracht
mitten in kaltem winter
wol zu der halben nacht

Das Röselein das ich meine
Darvon Isaias sagt
Ist Maria die reine
Die uns das blümlein hat bracht
Auß Gottes ewigem raht
hat sie ein Kindlein gboren
Und blieben ein reine Magd.

Speyer is in the south west of modern Germany, I think it would have been in an out-growth of Bavaria politically at the end of the 16th century but correct me if that's wrong.  It's not far from Strasbourg so I would expect these spellings to reflect Alsatian usage to some extent. The spelling is not very consistent here but it's tempting to attach significance to the 'e' in the middle of 'Röselein' in verse two.  That does suggest the intended meaning was a little rose, at least in the Speyer printer's mind, and the Catholic text here makes it very clear that the Röselein is Mary.  This fits in with the late mediaeval tradition of Mary being a rose on the tree of Jesse, but I don't know how widespread that tradition was in 16th century 'Germany'; certainly Mary was associated with roses more widely though (eg. distributing garlands of roses in Albrecht Durer the younger's Rosenkranzfest of 1506).  Of course roses don't flower in the winter so you don't see them associated with Christmas imagery much.

Christ is unambiguously referred to as a little flower ("blümlein").

Praetorius's 1609 part-books can be inspected on IMSLP - again no apostrophies or punctuation other than slashes between lines and a full stop at the end of the verse:

Es ist ein Roeß entsprungen
aus einer Wurzel zart
als uns die alten sungen
aus Jesse kam die art
und hat ein blümlein bracht
mitten im kalteb Winter
wol zu der halben Nacht.

Das Roeßlein das ich meine
darvon Esaias sagt
hat uns gebracht alleine
Marii die reine Magd
aus Gottes ewgen raht
hat sie ein Kind geboren
wol zu der halben Nacht.

These were printed in Wolfenbüttel in north-east Germany, politically in protestant Brunswick for whose ducal chapel Praetorius was Kapellmeister.  I don't quite know what to make of the spelling of 'Roeß' here (linguee hasn't even heard of it), but it's certainly further away from modern German "Rose" and the 'e' is missing from after the ß in Roeßlein so there isn't the same hint of roses to my mind.  Here, the Roeßlein isn't Mary, it just brings us Mary.  It seems to me that the tradition of seeing Mary as a rose is a more characteristically catholic one and I wouldn't be surprised that it was being de-emphasised here.

A lot hinges on those spellings though!  I checked them all on linguee.com and none of them is in any common use in modern german except as surnames and acronyms!

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PPPS The catholic version of verse 2 doesn't scan very well as given here.  Two lines are too long for the tune, not least on the word "Röselein" itself.   If it were going to use apostrophes, that's where we would have seen them.  This version abbreviates 'und' at the beginning of line 5 for space-on-the-page purposes, and uses a visual symbol to do so.

The protestant version misses out the 'i' in the middle of 'ewigem' without an apostrophe.  I'm not sure whether that's a matter of abbreviation or spelling variation. If its the former then the protestant version is using abbreviation without apostrophes for scansion purposes, and therefore it would be possible that an 'e' on the end of 'Roeß' and in the middle of 'Roeßlein' could have been dropped without leaving any trace, making those words closer to 'Rose'. 

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Thank-you SomeChap for your considerable erudition.  I am somewhat in awe!  I suspected that there would be alternative interpretations, but not, perhaps, as complex and perceptive as these!  

In relation to Jesse, there is equally “the rod of Jesse”.  I had assumed “Röselein” (or “Roeßlein”) to mean the Virgin Mary, but again, suspected that different spellings and inserted punctuation could be due to deliberate later editing, as you suggest.

We are told by tiratutti that Christmas is the answer to the original question.  I see no harm at all in playing the lovely Brahms CP in Advent when we are waiting and preparing for the Saviour’s coming.  I always think Brahms conveys a sense of anticipation and mystery, perhaps resolved in the final bars.

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22 hours ago, SomeChap said:

Speyer is in the south west of modern Germany, I think it would have been in an out-growth of Bavaria politically at the end of the 16th century but correct me if that's wrong.

Hello again,

Speyer was "Freie Reichsstadt" from 1294 until 1792. So Speyer was subordinate directly to the Kaiser.

Don't mix Ros (short for Rose (english rose) with today's Ross or Roß (Pferd, english horse). And keep in mind that  in 1599 there was no regulated spelling. In the context of this hymn the meaning is primary rose, no matter if written ros, ros', ross, roß, röslein (diminutive). The word Reis comes from Jesaja 11,1 and means Spross (english scion, but also sprout). One word, two meanings. I think, the meaning Reis is present in the background, when there is written Ros in the first line of the hymn.


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