st. 1 = Rev. 22:16
st. 2 = John 1:14
This text is based on the famous Lutheran chorale 'Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern" by Philipp Nicolai, published in his Frewden-Spiegel dess ewigen Lebens (1599).
Philipp Nicolai (b. Mengeringhausen, Waldeck, Germany, 1556; d. Hamburg, Germany, 1608) described his text as "a Spiritual bridal song of the believing soul concerning her Heavenly Bridegroom, founded in the 45th Psalm of the Prophet David." He wrote the text in 1597, the year after the Black Plague had ravaged Germany. Even though this chorale arose out of sadness, it became popular for wed¬dings in Germany. The chorale is often called the "Queen of the Chorales"; his “Wake, Awake” (613) is named "King of the Chorales."
Nicolai lived an eventful life–he fled from the Spanish army, sparred with Roman Catholic and Calvinist opponents, and ministered to plague-stricken congregations. Educated at Wittenberg University, he was ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1583 in the city of Herdecke. However, he was soon at odds with the Roman Catholic town council, and when Spanish troops arrived to reestablish Roman dominance, Nicolai fled. In 1588 he became chief pastor at Altwildungen and court preacher to Countess Argaretha of Waldeck. During that time Nicolai battled with Calvinists, who disagreed with him about the theology of the real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper. These doctrinal controversies were renewed when he served the church in Unna, Westphalia. During his time as a pastor there, the plague struck twice, and Nicolai wrote both "How Bright Appears the Morning Star" and "Wake, Awake." Nicolai's last years were spent as Pastor of St. Katherine's Church in Hamburg.
The English text, only loosely translated from the original German, is mainly the work of William Mercer (b. Barnard Castle, Durham, England, 1811; d. Leavy Green, Sheffield, England, 1873). First published in Church Psalter and Hymn Book (1856) and revised substantially in 1859, Mercer's text incorporates some lines from a translation of Nicolai's chorale by John C. Jacobi published in Jacobi's Psalmodia Germanica (1722). Mercer's text includes certain Nicolai phrases, omits Nicolai's love-song imagery, and emphasizes objective praise and prayer.
Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, England, Mercer was ordained in the Church of England and served the parish of St. George's, Sheffield (1840-1873). Be translated and paraphrased several hymns from Latin and German, but his main contribution to church music was as compiler, with John Goss (PHH 164), of the most popular psalter and hymnal in the Church of England in the mid-nineteenth century. This collection had the imposing title The Church Psalter and Hymn Book, comprising the Psalter, or Psalms of David, together with the Canticles, Pointed for Chanting; Four Hundred Metrical Hymns and Six Responses to the Commandments; the whole united to appropriate Chan and Tunes, for the Use of Congregations and Families (1854, enlarged 1856, and published with an Appendix 1872).
Stanza 1 begins with the words "Morning Star" from Revelation 22: 16 and proceeds to give Old Testament names for the Messiah–"O Righteous Branch," "O Jesse's Rod." Stanza 2 relates how Christ left his glory to become human for our salvation. Both stanzas 1 and 2 end with a prayer of petition. Stanza 3, with a prayer of praise, rejoices in Christ's incarnation and exhorts the Incarnate God to "ride on, great Conqueror, till all know your salvation."
Epiphany; Christmas season; any worship service that focuses on Christ as Lord.
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook
Adapting a tune written for Psalm 100 found in Wolff Köphel's Psalter (1538), Nicolai composed WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET, which was published with the text in 1599. Although the tune was originally more varied rhythmically, the hymnal version here is isorhythmic (all equal rhythms) and set to the rich harmonization of Johann S. Bach (PHH 7). That setting will delight all choristers and challenge the organist's feet! Bach also used this tune in his cantatas 1, 36, 37, 61, and 172 and wrote a chorale prelude based on it (as have many other–especially Lutheran–composers).
A rounded bar form (AABA) tune, WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET is a noble melody that has lost some of its strength due to isorhythm but has regained new color and vigor through the Bach harmonization. Try having the congregation sing this hymn in unison with harmony sung by the choir or played by brass instruments.
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook