Martin Luther based the German chorale text for “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” in 1524 upon the second verse of an Ambrosian Advent Latin text. The melody is first documented as a Roman Catholic Latin hymn based upon Gregorian chant in manuscript form around 1120. This chorale melody is used no less than six times in the Advent cantatas of Bach, as well as five organ preludes.
In the first part of his Opella nova, geistlicher Concerten of 1618, Schein employs the same chorale using the bold harmonic vocabulary of the Italian style. In Schein’s setting of Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, for two sopranos, tenor and continuo, each line of the chorale is presented as a cantus firmus in the tenor with the two sopranos manipulating short motifs of the chorale in alternation and imitation.
© Ryan Turner