Magnificat quinti toni - Hieronymus Praetorius

Hieronymus Praetorius, no relation of the better-known and more prolific Michael Praetorius, was born in Hamburg in 1560.  After musical training in Hamburg and Cologne he became organist at Erfurt, in central Germany, in 1580 and then returned to Hamburg to succeed his father as the principal organist at the prestigious St Gertrud’s in 1586, a post he held until his death in 1629.  His music, mainly mass settings, motets and Magnificats, was published in Hamburg between 1616 and 1625, in five stages, as a five-volumed collected edition, the Cantiones Sacrae.  The latter two volumes were the first in Germany to contain written parts for a basso continuo, arguably rendering him the most influential composer in Northern Germany during the first three decades of the seventeenth century.  Praetorius wrote nine settings of the Magnificat, one in each of the eight tones, plus an additional one in the fifth tone (quinto tono). This latter one, to be performed tonight, was written for Christmas, and was published in 1622 along with settings of two macaronic carols (both using German and Latin text simultaneously), Joseph Lieber, Joseph Mein, and In Dulci Jubilo.  The Magnificat and the carols are scored for two choirs of four voices, with the first choir having predominantly the upper voices and the second choir having the lower ones – SSAT / ATBB. (Joseph Lieber, Joseph Mein has a slightly different scoring of SSAA / TTBB).  These choirs take the even verses of the Magnificat.  The odd verses are for a Cantus, with a choral response.  It has been suggested that the former, solo, voice represents the Blessed Virgin Mary herself and the latter, the response, a choir of angels.

The Quinti Toni, on which Praetorius based his Magnificat, is as follows:

Music fragment 1

Deryck Cook, in his book The Language of Music, notes that the melodic shape of the Quinti Toni, using, as it does, the first, third, fifth and sixth notes of the scale to give it its distinctive melodic shape, has been used by composers to represent “the innocence and purity of children and angels”, making it a natural choice on which to base a Christmas Magnificat.  The Quinti Toni is used for the odd verses of Praetorius’s Magnificat, but its melodic shape insistently pervades the eight-part polyphonic verses as well as the melody lines of the two carols.  

Music fragment 2

Music fragment 3

Praetorius himself provides a source for Cooke’s words over three hundred years earlier when writing in the introduction to his Cantiones Sacrae of 1622, where he states: “it is customary, when giving thanks for the birth of the Saviour, to mix ancient and holy psalms with verses on the fifth tone.”

The carols were deliberately written as Christmas interpolations to the verses of the Magnificat. Tonight’s performance will include the carols, interpolated within the verses of the Magnificat, as per Praetorius’s instructions in his Cantiones Sacrae 1622, as follows:


Magnificat (Quinti Toni)


In Dulci Jubilo (verse 2) (á 8)


Et Exultavit (á 8)


Deposuit (Quinti Toni)


Joseph Lieber, Joseph Mein (á 8)


Esurientes (á 8)


Quia Respexit (Quinti Toni)


In Dulci Jubilo (verse 3) (á 8)


Quia Fecit (á 8)


Suscepit Israel (Quinti Toni)


In Dulci Jubilo (verse 1) (á 8)


Sicut Locutus Est (á 8)


Et Misericordia (Quinti Toni)


In Dulci Jubilo (verse 4) (á 8)


Fecit Potentiam (á 8)


Gloria Patri et Filio (á 8)


Text of Joseph Lieber, Joseph Mein


English Translation


Joseph, lieber Joseph mein,
hilf mir wiegen mein Kindelein,
Gott, der will dein Löhner sein
im Himmelreich,
der Jungfrauen Kind Maria.
Eya, eya.

Virgo Deum genuit,
Quem divina voluit clementia.
Omnes nunc concinite,
Nato regi psallite,
Voce pia dicite:
Sit gloria Christo nostro infantulo.
Hodie apparuit in Israel,
Quem praedixit Gabriel,
Est natus Rex


Joseph, my dear Joseph,
Help me rock my little child,
God, who will recompense you
In heaven,
Is the Virgin Mary’s child.
Oh yes, yes!

The Virgin has given birth to God
Whom the divine mercy willed.
Now sing all together,
Sing to the newborn King,
Saying with devout voice,
“Glory be to Christ our Babe!”
Today the one whom Gabriel predicted
Has appeared in Israel,
Has been born King.


Text of In Dulci Jubilo


English Translation


In dulci jubilo,
Nun singet und seid froh!
Unsers Herzens Wonne
Leit in praesepio,
Und leuchtet als die Sonne
Matris in gremio,
Alpha es et O, Alpha es et O!


In sweet joy
Now sing with hearts aglow!
Our delight and pleasure
Lies in the manger,
And shines like the sun
In His Mother’s lap, 
He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending!


O Jesu parvule
Nach dir ist mir so weh!
Tröst mir mein Gemüte
O puer optime
Durch alle deine Güte
O princeps gloriae.
Trahe me post te, Trahe me post te!


O tiny Jesus
For Thee I long always!
Comfort my heart's blindness,
O best of boys
With all Thy loving kindness,
O Prince of Glory
Drag me after Thee, drag me after Thee!


O Patris caritas!
O Nati lenitas!
Wir wären all’ verloren
Per nostra crimina
So hat er uns erworben
Coelorum gaudia
Eia, wären wir da, Eia, wären wir da!


O love of the Father!
O gentleness of the Son!
Deeply were we stained
Through our sins
But Thou for us hast gained
The joy of Heaven
O that we were there, O that we were there!


Ubi sunt gaudia
Nirgend mehr denn da!
Da die Engel singen
Nova cantica,
Und die Schellen klingen
In regis curia.
Eia, wären wir da, Eia, wären wir da!


Where are these joys
Nowhere but there!
Where the angels are singing
New songs,
And there the bells are ringing
In the court of the King.  
O that we were there, O that we were there!

Praetorius’s music is characterised by vivid expressions of the text and overt word painting.  This is in response to the edict issued by the Council of Trent, a renaissance synod, convened in 1542 by Pope Paul III, to legislate for doctrinal and musical reform within the church, necessitated by the protestant reformation.  The principal musical reform, to which Praetorius is responding in this work, is known as the seconda prattica, or the second practice which, contrary to the prima prattica, evident in the works of Palestrina and the other great, papal, renaissance composers of the Italian sixteenth century, indicated to the composer that the meaningful delivery of the text to the people of the church, to whom it was directed, should take precedence over the compositional and academic complexity of the music.  This festive and exciting Magnificat does full honour to the ideals of the seconda prattica, being full of textural contrasts, highly imitative writing, and an exciting and vivid expression of the text.  Listen out especially for the way in which the words dispersit superbos (he hath scattered the proud) in verse 6, and dimisit in anes ([the rich he hath] sent empty away) in verse 8 are treated. Throughout the Magnificat impressive, bold and striking homophonic passages alternate with skilful antiphony and imitation, both of which exploit the extremes of the spectrum in terms of pitch and rhythm.

Notes by Peter Parfitt ©Aberdeen Bach Choir 2010