Johann Sebastian Bach-Weihnachtsoratorium
Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio occupies a special place in the series of the master's great choral works.
On the one hand, Bach himself calls the work an oratorio, as is shown on the original manuscript, which has come down to us, as well as on the word-book intended for the congregation.
On the other hand, in form it consists of six cantatas, each complete in itself, performances of which were shared between the Thomaskirche and Nicolaikirche in Leipzig on six days of the Christmas festival, to be precise the first three days of Christmas, the Feast of the Circumcision (New Year's Day), the Sunday after New Year and Epiphany.
If Bach nevertheless chose the designation 'oratorio', this indicated an inner cohesion of the six cantatas or parts.
This was brought about primarily by the Evangelist's continuing narration as we know it from the Passions, and which has been put together here from the Gospels of St.
Luke and St. Matthew. We are informed of the date of origin by notes in the manuscript and the printed word-book.
Bach may have written the first performed of the cantatas at the turn of the year 1734, during Advent 1734.
Since no cantatas were performed in the church service on Advent Sundays, he had time to complete this Christmas music.
If, nevertheless, he borrowed the greater part of the choral movements and all the arias, with one exception, from earlier secular cantatas, and for Part 6 re-used a church cantata, now lost, in its entirety, this came about far less from lack of time than from the attempt to "rescue" for the liturgy music that had originally been written only for a single ceremonial occasion.
In using these models for the Christmas music, transpositions into other keys and partial rescoring became necessary.
A parody procedure of this kind was not uncommon in Bach's time. The expressive role of any music was determined by the "affect".
This affect - of jubilation, for example - could serve for an earthly or a divine ruler in the same way, absolutely nothing in the music's expressive role being changed.
Not to mention that in the art of that time the sacred and the profane were not so strictly separated as was later to be the case.
After all, in the 15th and 16th centuries secular chansons had already served as thematic scaffolding for an entire Mass.
The author of the texts of the arias and choruses is unknown. If it is assumed that Christian Friedrich Henrici, who under the pseudonym of Picander had written, among other things, the text of Bach's St.
Matthew Passion, was also enlisted for the Christmas Oratorio, it is above all because it was necessary to adapt the syllables and sentiments of the new text to already existing music, which was possible only in close collaboration with the composer.
Ruth Ziesak,Monika Groop,Christoph Pregardien,Klaus Mertens, Vokalensemble Frankfurt,Concerto Köln,Ralf Otto