"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 words in seven stanzas 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.
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".
"Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" was seized upon by many of the composers of the period. Dieterich Buxtehude used it, as did Johann Kuhnau. Michael Praetorius published a setting in Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica
Wie schön sets one of the most popular Lutheran chorales of the Epiphany season.
The subject of the chorale is the star that guided the three wise men to find Jesus, the main event celebrated during Epiphany.
Buxtehude's setting of the chorale is a nice long chorale fantasy.
He begins with the chorale tune in the bass, and by the 30th measure of the piece the melody migrates to the soprano.
Starting at the 77th measure of the piece, Buxtehude begins to play with descending sequences with suspensions, which have their basis in the long descending line from the last phrase of the chorale; however, at this point, the chorale melody isn't really tied to any particular voice any more.
At measure 136 Buxtehude initiates a gigue-like fugue, with each point of imitation in the fugue derived from the chorale melody.
This fugal imitative texture continues through the end of the work.
Only the last few measures of the piece require pedals, which makes the conclusion sound all the bolder relative to the rest of the work.