Christmas Oratorio


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) composed six cantatas for the Christmas holidays in 1734, one to be performed on each of the individual feast days during the services in Leipzig’s main churches, Saint Thomas and Saint Nicolai. The running narrative of the Gospel, as well as the keys in which the framing musical statements were composed, give the cantatas the character of a self-contained cycle. For most of the arias and choruses, Bach added new text to music derived from his earlier compositions, most notably from two congratulatory cantatas written for the Saxon court in 1733. In parts of the opening chorus, “Jauchzet, frohlocket,” Bach also at first transferred the text from the original “Tönet, ihr Pauken” but later crossed this out and substituted the religious text. Of the oratorio’s six sections, part one, which celebrates the birth of Christ, begins with the cantata “Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage”; part two, which describes the annunciation to the shepherds, has as its opening recitative the cantata “Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend auf dem Felde”; part three, which relates the adoration of the shepherds, starts with “Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen”; part four, celebrating the circumcision and naming of Jesus, begins with “Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben”; part five, which recounts the journey of the Magi, starts with “Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen”; and part six, which describes the adoration of the Magi, opens with “Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben.” Instruments used include: trumpets, timpani, transverse flutes, oboes, oboes d'amore, violins, viola, continuo group, oboes da caccia, flutes, and horns. There are four vocal parts (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass). Shown here is Bach’s autograph copy of the score.

Last updated: July 9, 2015