Sebastian Knüpfer (1633-1676): Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her

Thomaskirche Leipzig Ceiling Detail When we hear the word Thomaskantor we tend to think either of the current incumbent or of J.S. Bach the most famous musician to hold the office. While this is entirely understandable it’s also a mistake as to do so is to ignore the many fine musicians who have held the position in an unbroken line from Georg Rhau, to Bach to Biller. If you focus just on the incumbents from Seth Calvisius up to Johann Sebastian Bach you have such brilliant musicians as Johann Hermann Schein, Tobias Michael, Sebastian Knüpfer, Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau.  These were the men who shaped much of what we now know as ‘German Baroque’ and during their lifetimes their fame extended far beyond Leipzig’s boundaries. Today’s posting explores a Christmas concerto by one of these men –  Sebastian Knüpfer (1633-1676), who held the post of Thomaskantor for nineteen years between 1657 and 1676. More than anyone else it was Knüpfer who restored Leipzig’s status as a city of music to the pre-emininent status it had enjoyed before the ravages of the Thirty Years war. It was Knüpfer who set the standard against which Schelle, Kuhnau, and Bach were measured.

Sebastian Knüpfer (1633-1676)

A cantor’s son Knüpfer was born in Asch, Vogtland, in 1633, his father started his musical education but his talent must have been evident from a very early agae because aged thirteen he was accepted as a pupil at Regensburg’s celebrated Gymnasium Poeticum where he remained for eight years his activities in Regensburg laid the foundation for his lifelong fame as a poet and philologist. He left the Gymnasium aged twenty-one and moved to Leipzig wherer he continued his studies and also sang as a concertist under the then Thomaskantor Tobias Michael. Michael died in June 1657 and Knüpfer was appointed Thomaskantor aged all of twenty-four. It was an inspired appointment the new Thomaskantor dedicated his life to his church and its music and under his guidance Leipzig’s sacred music not only regained its status as primus inter pares but attained levels of splendour and magnificence heretofore unknown. He died aged forty-three on October 10th 1676 having achieved in nineteen years what it would take other men a lifetime to achieve.

His Christmas concerto Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her (‘From heaven on high I come here’) dates from 1673 and is found in the Grimma collection it’s based on a mix of chorale lines and Biblical verses arranged as a dialogue between the choir of the angels, (three sopranos and three violins) – there’s some wonderful canonical writing representing the other-worldliness of the Angels’ song  at ‘Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe’ (Glory to God on the highest), and the choir of the shepherds, (countertenor, tenor, and bass). The two choirs unite as the work reaches its coclusion combined chorus, praising God. Enjoy :-).


Text, Translation,  and Score: Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her

DeutschEnglish translation
Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her,
ich bring euch gute neue Mär;
davon ich singen und sagen will.
Ein Kindlein zart,
das liegt dort in der Krippe hart,
zu Bethlehem in Davids Stadt,
wie Micha das verkündiget hat.
Es ist der Herre Jesu Christ,
der euer aller Heiland ist.
Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe,
Friede auf Erden,
und den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen.
From heaven on high I come here,
I bring you good tidings;
of which I will sing and tell.
A tender child,
who lies in that hard crib,
in Bethlehem, David’s city,
as Micah foretold.
It is the Lord Jesus Christ,
saviour to you all.
Glory to God in the highest,
peace on earth,
goodwill to all men.

Kommt, lasst uns gehen in die Stadt,
zu sehen die Geschicht’
die Gott uns offenbaret hat,
auf, auf und säumt euch nicht.
Sei willkommen du edler Gast,
den Sünder nicht verschmähet hast
und kommst ins Elend her zu mir:
wie soll ich immer danken dir?

O Menschenkinder freuet euch,
dies nackte Kindlein macht euch reich,
erquicket eure Seelen,
hat euch bereit des Himmels Freud,
nun kann euch nichts mehr fehlen,
freuet euch.


Come, let us go to the city,
to see this spectacle
that God has revealed to us;
come, come and do not hesitate.
Be welcome, noble guest,
you who did not disdain the sinner
and who comes to my misery:
how shall I thank you?

O people, exalt,
this naked little child will make you rich,
revive your souls;
heavenly joy awaits you,
now you do not miss anything:

Score: I haven’t been able to find a score

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