I dare say ‘In dulce jubilo’ is the best-known piece in Michael Praetorius’s oeuvre, at least in the English-speaking countries. After posting a bit of Praetorius yesterday, I went looking for a suitable version of this song as a follow-up. It was, I may say, a frustrating quest, and for a while it seemed that it would be a fruitless one.
For this is a song that has been interpreted to death. There are versions catering to every questionable taste from the soporific to the bombastic. I found an arrangement for a solo voice, but the soprano was drowned out by the brass band that accompanied her. Then there was an arrangement for (I think) fourteen voices, in which every line of the melody is drawn out into an endless hurdy-gurdy of contrapuntal variations before going on to the next, so that you never hear the structure of the tune. One version sported eight violas, none of which, it seemed, had been tuned first; and I may say that while the viola at best is not one of Man’s greatest inventions, an untuned viola is a genuine instrument of torture. The harmonics of those bottom strings, subtly beating against one another, seemed to produce a ninth voice – the buzzing of an infernal bluebottle against the windowpane of Hell.
Fortunately, the ever reliable choir of King’s College, Cambridge, came to my rescue with this superb performance.