Throughout Renaissance Europe, but especially in the Eastern areas, the great feast days of the Christian calendar -- Easter, Christmas, and (for Catholics) the Marian feasts -- inspired a wealth of simpler paraliturgical music, often called cantiones. A cantio could be in Latin or in the vernacular, or both (macaronic); it might have been sung in paraliturgical devotional services, in private devotions, with children in the Latin schools, or even perhaps in the streets (as with the carol). The most popular pieces, including cantiones such as In dulci jubilo and Resonet in laudibus, earned extra life as later composers latched on to them and provided ever-new polyphonic settings. As a cantio, Resonet in laudibus apparently began its life in a liturgical context. In Christmas Vespers, the singing of the Nunc dimittis at the end of the service was decorated by a Latin antiphon, Magnum nomen Domini, and a series of little songs beginning with the Resonet in laudibus text ("May Zion resound in praise"). It was in this form that Jacobus Handl encountered it as he traveled and worked in Eastern Europe. Among his numerous Masses and hundreds of liturgical works, he also left a charming four-voiced setting of Resonet in laudibus.
Handl sets all three sections of the text and music of this cantio, and presents the well-known melody in the uppermost voice. The melody (also known to this day with the text "Joseph lieber, Joseph mein") is clearly audible, though Handl frequently alters its specific pitches for local harmonic flair. In fact, his entire harmonic conception breathes energy and fresh sounds. Many cross-relations creep into each voice part, and even the final cadence gives some harmonic surprises. His rhythms, as well, exude a festive air. The conclusion of the first "song," which finally utters the blessed name of Mary, arrives ornamented by a cross-relation, and by quick bursts of melodic activity in the lower voices. The odd repetitions of "Eia, eia" actually derive from a dance "call," and the composer similarly infects them with rhythmic interest. Let the Christ-Mass be celebrated with joy!