The Music Plays On — Praetorius Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen

Donato Cabrera
3 min readDec 11, 2020
Michael Praetorius

The German composer, Michael Praetorius, is an incredibly important figure in the understanding and development of 17th century music. Not only because of the voluminous amount of music that he composed over the course of his forty-nine years, but because of the three volume treatise, Syntagma Musicum, that he wrote about music and music-making between 1614–1620. In fact, these three books were one of the most important documents that helped scholars and musicians with the early music revival in the 20th century.

Praetorius was born Michael Schultze in 1571 in Creuzburg, which is smack dab in the middle of Germany, to a Lutheran pastor. He would eventually take the Latinate version of his name Schultze means magistrate and Praetorius is the Latin word for magistrate. He studied divinity and philosophy at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder (the ‘other’ Frankfurt near the Polish border). From 1592 until almost his in 1621, he served at the Brunswick-Lüneburg court in Wolfenbüttel, beginning as organist and eventually becoming Kapellmeister (music director).

Praetorius’ music, however, would be heavily influenced by the music that was being composed in Italy, particularly in Venice. The Venetian composer, Giovanni Gabrieli, was writing polychoral works that Praetorius emulated in his music. The term, polychoral, simply meant that the music was written in a way to have many small choirs placed throughout the church, which created a surround-sound effect for the listener. Here’s an example.

In 1609, Praetorius harmonized the already popular Christmas hymn, Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen, commonly translated into English, Lo, how a rose e’er blooming, but the literal translation is A rose has sprung up. The rose has always been a symbol for the Virgin Mary and the hymn also makes references to the prophecies of Isaiah. It is an anonymous text thought to have been written in the 15th century and Martin Luther is believed to have used it.

Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
Aus einer Wurzel zart,

Donato Cabrera

Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic