Hugo Distler (June 24, 1908, in Nuremberg – November 1, 1942, in Berlin) was a German organist, choral conductor, teacher and composer. He attended the Leipzig Conservatory from 1927 to 1931, first as a conducting student with piano as his secondary subject, but changing later, on the advice of his teacher, to composition and organ. He studied there with Martienssen (piano), Ramin (organ) and Grabner (harmony).
He became organist at St. Jacobi in Lübeck in 1931. In 1933 he married Waltraut Thienhaus. That same year he joined the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers' Party), reluctantly, as his continued employment depended on his doing so. In October 1933 Distler was appointed head of the chamber music department at the Lübeck Conservatory, and at about the same time he began teaching at the Spandauer Kirchenmusikschule (Spandau school of church music).
In 1937 Distler was appointed as a lecturer at the Württemberg Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart, where he also directed its two choirs. In 1940 he moved to Berlin to teach and conduct at the Hochschule für Musik there, and in 1942 he was named the conductor of the State and Cathedral Choir.
He became increasingly depressed from the deaths of friends, aerial attacks, job pressures, and the constant threat of conscription into the German Army, causing him to commit suicide in Berlin at the age of 34. However, his suicide was probably not a direct result of antagonistic government pressure; "rather, it appears that he saw the futility of attempting to serve both God and Nazis, and came to terms with his own conscience unequivocally."
Today, January 6th, is the Feast of the Epiphany. This highly individualistic piece comes from his Short Chorale Arrangements, Opus 8/3. The "prelude" part is distinctive and intimate, with a sense of the Star's shimmering light - brilliant, but warm. There is a hint of "Stille nacht" if you listen! ;-) The Chorale itself is grand - modern & ancient.
Score & photos attached.