BACH, J.S.: Christmas Oratorio

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Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750)

Christmas Oratorio,BWV 248 (Highlights)

The career of Johann Sebastian Bach, the most illustrious of a prolificmusical family, falls neatly into three unequal parts. Born in 1685 inEisenach, from the age of ten Bach lived and studied music with his elderbrother in Ohrdruf after the death of both his parents. After a series ofappointments as organist and briefly as a court musician, he became, in 1708,court organist and chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, the elderof the two brothers who jointly ruled the city. In 1714 he was promoted to theposition of Konzertmeister to the Duke, but in 1717, after a briefperiod of imprisonment for his temerity in seeking to leave the Duke's service,he abandoned Weimar to become Court Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold ofAnhalt-Cothen, a position he held until 1723. From then until his death in 1750he lived in Leipzig, where he was Thomaskantor, with responsibility forthe music of the five principal city churches, in 1729 assuming direction ofthe university collegium musicum, founded by Telemann in 1702. At Weimar Bachhad been principally employed as an organist, and his compositions of theperiod include a considerable amount written for the instrument on which he wasrecognised as a virtuoso performer. At Cothen, where Pietist traditionsdominated the court, he had no church duties, and was responsible rather forcourt music. The period brought the composition of a number of instrumentalworks. The final 27 years of Bach's life brought a variety of preoccupations,and while his official employment necessitated the provision of church music hewas able, among other things, to provide music for the university collegiummusicum and to write or re-arrange a number of important works for thekeyboard.

Bach's Christmas Oratorio consists of six cantatas, the first ofwhich was first performed at Christmas in 1734 at the town church of Leipzig,the Nikolaikirche, in the morning, with an afternoon performance at theTomaskirche. The second part was performed on 26th December, in the morning atthe Tomaskirche and in the afternoon at the Nikolaikirche, while the third wasperformed only at the Nikolaikirche on 27th December. The fourth part wasperformed first on 1st January 1735, the Feast of the Circumcision, at theTomaskirche and in the afternoon at the Nikolaikirche, while the fifth for thefirst Sunday of the New Year, 2nd January, was only performed in the morning atthe Nikolaikirche. The sixth part was given two performances on 6th January,the Feast of the Epiphany, first at the Tomaskirche and then at the largerNikolaikirche. Although the work makes considerable use of music originallycomposed for other purposes, the cycle was clearly conceived as a unified work,to which the elaboration of the first chorale at the end of the sixth partbears witness. The impression is enforced by choice of keys and formalstructure, in spite of the original intention of performance of each part on adifferent day during the twelve days of Christmas. The first three parts dealwith Christmas itself, the birth of Christ and the message to the shepherds atBethlehem. The Evangelist intervenes only once in the fourth part to mentionthe circumcision and naming of Jesus. In the fifth are the reactions of theWise Men to Bethlehem, their departure ending the Evangelist's account. Theinstruments used in the Christmas Oratorio include the ubiquitous fourpart string orchestra, with a keyboard continuo part for organ, the bass linedoubled by cello and bassoon. Transverse flutes, rather than recorders, areused in some movements while the oboes used include pairs of ordinary oboes aswell as pairs of the alto and tenor of the family, the oboe d'amore andthe oboe da caccia. Brass instruments include three natural trumpets,their melodic parts restricted by their nature to the brilliant upper clarinoregister. Timpani make their due appearance with the trumpets. Two naturalhorns, corni da caccia, make a brief appearance in two numbers in thefourth part. There are four vocal soloists, soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

The oratorio opens with a joyful chorus, Jauchzet, frohlocket ('Christians,be joyful') from an earlier secular cantata. The alto aria Bereite dich, Zion ('MakeReady, Zion') is accompanied by violin and oboe d'amore and is alsotaken from an earlier secular work. It is followed by the chorale Wie sollich dich empfangen ('How should I receive you'), using a melody by Hassler.

The bass aria Gro?ƒer Herr und starker Konig ('Great Lord, mighty King,beloved Saviour') is accompanied by trumpet, flute and strings and also has asecular origin. The first part ends with the chorale Ach mein herzliebesJesulein ('Ah, my heart's beloved, little Jesus'), to the well knownChristmas melody Vom Himmel hoch ('From Heaven above').

The pastoral Sinfonia that opens the second part depicts theshepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. The chorale Brich an, o schonesMorgenlicht ('Break now, O beautiful light of morning') is here followed bythe alto aria Schlafe, mein Liebster ('Sleep, my beloved'),contemplating the sleeping child and a final chorale, Wir singen dir indeinem Heer ('We sing to you in your hast').

From the third part of the oratorio comes the rousing chorus Herrscherdes Himmels ('Ruler of Heaven') and the duet for soprano and bass Herr,dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen ('Lord, your compassion, your mercy') is ameditation drawn from a secular cantata and accompanied by two oboi d'amore.

The fourth part, to beperformed on the Feast of the Circumcision, includes the soprano echo aria Flo?ƒtmein Heiland, flo?ƒt dein Namen ('Does your name, my Saviour'), with solooboe and continuo. This follows convention in allowing a second soprano tooffer monosyllabic agreement with the propositions of the first. The last aria,for tenor, is Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben ('I will now live only foryour honour'). This too is from a secular cantata.

Intended for the firstSunday of the New Year, the fifth part includes the chorale Dein Glanz all'

Finsternis verzehrt ('Your splendour banishes all darkness'), as thewise men make their way to Bethlehem. Later follows the terzetto forsoprano, alto and tenor, Ach wann wird die Zeit erscheinen? ('Ah whenwill the time come?'), with solo violin obbligato.

The chorales Ichsteh' an deiner Krippen hier ('I stand here by your crib') and the final Nunseid ihr wohl gerochen an eurer Feinde Schar ('Now are you avenged on thehost of your enemies') are taken from the sixth part, for performance on theFeast of the Epiphany.

Keith Anderson

Erster Teil

Item number 8554508
Barcode 636943450826
Release date 12/01/2000
Category Baroque
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Kertesi, Ingrid
Toth, Janos
Mukk, Jozsef
Nemeth, Judit
Kertesi, Ingrid
Toth, Janos
Mukk, Jozsef
Nemeth, Judit
Conductors Oberfrank, Geza
Oberfrank, Geza
Orchestras Failoni Chamber Orchestra
Hungarian Radio Choir
Failoni Chamber Orchestra
Hungarian Radio Choir
Disc: 1
Christmas Oratorio: Part VI, BWV 248
1 Jauchzet, frohlocket
2 Part I: Bereite dich, Zion
3 Part I: Wie soll ich dich empfangen
4 Part I: Grosser Herr und starker Konig
5 Part I: Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein!
6 Part II: Sinfonia
7 Part II: Brich an, o schones Morgenlicht
8 Part II: Schlafe, mein Liebster
9 Part II: Wir singen dir in deinem Heer
10 Part III: Herrscher des Himmels
11 Part III: Herr, dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen
12 Part IV: Flosst, mein Heiland
13 Part IV: Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben
14 Part V: Dein Glanz all' Finsternis verzehrt
15 Part V: Ach, wann wird die Zeit erscheinen?
16 Part VI: Ich steh' an deiner Krippen hier
17 Part VI: Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen
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