Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern

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"Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern"
Hymn by Philipp Nicolai
Freudenspiegel deß ewigen Lebens 409.jpg
First publication in Nicolai's 1599 Frewdenspiegel deß ewigen Lebens
EnglishHow lovely shines the morning star
Textby Philipp Nicolai
Published1599 (1599)
About this soundTune 

"Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" (How lovely shines the morning star) is a hymn by Philipp Nicolai written in 1597 and first published in 1599. The hymn for Pentecost "O Heilger Geist, kehr bei uns ein" by Michael Schirmer [de] is sung to the same tune.

Words and tune[edit]

The words in seven stanzas[1] are based on Psalms 45, a mystical wedding song. Jesus is identified with the morning star, according to Revelation 22:16, and with the bridegroom of the psalm. Nicolai wrote the words in response to a pestilence in 1597.[2] He published the chorale first in 1599 in his book Frewdenspiegel deß ewigen Lebens ("Mirror of Joy of the Life Everlasting") in Frankfurt, together with "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme".[3] He introduced it: "Ein Geistlich Brautlied der Gläubigen Seelen / von Jesu Christo irem himlischen Bräutgam: Gestellt ober den 45. Psalm deß Propheten Dauids" (A spiritual bridal song of the believing soul / concerning Jesus Christ, her heavenly bridegroom, founded on the 45th Psalm of the prophet David).[2] This hymn is often referred to as "The Queen of Chorales".

The chorale theme "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" was codified then, but research by C. S. Terry has shown the tune to predate Nicolai's publication by at least 61 years.[4]


The chorale appeared as a hymn in German hymnals and in several translations in English hymnals, starting with How bright appears the Morning Star! by John Christian Jacobi, in his Psalmodica Germanica, 1722, p. 90.[2] Additional hymns were written on the same tune such as "O heilger Geist, kehr bei uns ein" by Michael Schirmer (1640).[3][5]

The first verse (in an anonymous English translation beginning "How splendid shines the morning star") appeared in the Southern Harmony, an 1835 shape-note tunebook compiled by William Walker, where it is set to a tune called Morning Star by composer J. C. Lowry. This arrangement is repeated in the current An American Christmas Harp, with the addition of two more stanzas in a translation by William Mercer (1811-1873).[6]

Musical settings[edit]

The words, speaking of süße musica (sweet music) in verse 6, and the melody have inspired composers to vocal and instrumental settings.

Vocal works[edit]

"Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" was seized upon by many of the composers of the period. Dieterich Buxtehude used it (BuxWV223), as did Johann Kuhnau. Michael Praetorius published a setting in Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica (1618–19, Wolfenbütte).[7]

Johann Sebastian Bach based his chorale cantata Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 1 on it and used single verses for other cantatas, verse 4 to close Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! BWV 172, verse 5 in Wer da gläubet und getauft wird, BWV 37, verse 6 in Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36, verse 7 to close Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen, BWV 49. The final lines of verse 7 form the closing chorale of Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61.

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach wrote a cantata Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (F 82). Christian Geist set the words for soprano, two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo.[3]

Peter Cornelius composed “Die Könige”, part of six Weihnachtslieder, Op. 8, a song for solo voice and piano with the “Wie schön” melody in the accompaniment; this was later reworked into an Epiphany anthem in English for solo voice and chorus in which the soloist sings the text "Three Kings from Persian lands afar..." (using Cornelius’s original tune) over the choir, which performs the chorale tune, taken from Cornelius’s original piano accompaniment, underneath. A version of "The Three Kings" is included in the first volume of the popular Willcocks and Jacques compilation Carols for Choirs.

Christus is the title given by the composer's brother Paul to fragments of an unfinished oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn, published posthumously as Op. 97.[8] The completed portions include a four-part setting of the chorale, under the title "There Shall a Star from Jacob Shine Forth".

Hugo Distler treated the tune both instrumentally as well as vocally, with an a cappella arrangement for four voices. Mauricio Kagel quoted the stanza "Zwingt die Saiten in Cythara" in his oratorio Sankt-Bach-Passion telling Bach's life, composed for the tricentenary of Bach's birth in 1985.

Instrumental works[edit]

Bach wrote several organ preludes on the chorale. Bach's student Johann Ludwig Krebs wrote a prelude for organ on the chorale tune. So did Pachelbel in his Erster Theil etlicher Choräle. Pachelbel's student Johann Heinrich Buttstett composed a chorale setting for organ as well. Dieterich Buxtehude also wrote a chorale fantasia Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (BuxWV 223).

In 1899 Max Reger composed an organ fantasy on "Wie schön leucht't uns der Morgenstern", the first of two, Zwei Choralphantasien, Op. 40. He also wrote in 1902 a chorale prelude, No. 49 in his collection of 52 Chorale Preludes, Op. 67. Ernst Pepping wrote in 1933 a partita, "Partita über den Choral 'Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern'".[9] In 1954 Jan Koetsier composed the "Partita for English Horn and Organ" Op. 41, No. 1, which includes the melody played by the English horn over an organ accompaniment in the final movement

Hugo Distler composed a prelude for organ entitled Vorspiel und Satz 'Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern', his Op. 8, no. 3. Howard Hanson used the choral tune as the basis for his orchestral work "Dies Natalis" (1967). In 1974 Gloria Coates composed Phantasie über 'Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern' for amplified viola and organ. Rolf Schweitzer wrote in 1983 a meditative work for organ, Orgelmeditation 'Morgenstern'.[3] Naji Hakim composed in 2008 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, variations for oboe (flute, violin) and organ.[10] Following the tradition of his musical forebears, organist and composer Paul Manz also created a chorale setting for organ called "How Lovely Shines the Morning Star."

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy used this theme as cantus firmus in one of his early fugues for string quartet (MWV R 12, composed in 1821 when he was 12), as a contrapuntal composition exercise when studying with Carl Friedrich Zelter.


  1. ^ ""Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern", text and translation". bach-cantatas.com. 2005. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Julian, John (1907). "Nicolai, Philipp, 1556–1608". hymnary.org. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d Fischer, Michael (2006). "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" (in German). Freiburger Anthologie Lied und Lyrik. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
  4. ^ C. Sanford Terry: "A Note on the Tune, 'Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern'", The Musical Times, Vol. 58, No. 893 (1 July 1917), pp. 302–303.
  5. ^ "O Heil'ger Geist! kehr bei uns ein, Und laß uns deine wohnung sein". hymnary.org. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  6. ^ Text authority page at Hymnary.org
  7. ^ Feature: Praetorius: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern ("How brightly shines the morning star") Saturday Chorale
  8. ^ Todd, R. Larry. Mendelssohn: a Life in Music (2003) pp. 554–6
  9. ^ "Partita über den Choral "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern"" (in German). Ernst Pepping Gesellschaft. 2004.
  10. ^ "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern". Schott Music. Retrieved 28 July 2010.

External links[edit]