Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hump Day Christmas: Bach's Cantatas for Christmas Day

from United Methodist Memes
I found this meme on Facebook. The recent Geico insurance commercials (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWBhP0EQ1lA) have newly popularized that old expression "hump day," meaning that Wednesday is middle of the typical world week.

This year, Christmas is additionally a high point of the week by happening midweek!


Continuing my "journey" through Bach's sacred cantatas, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner…. today I'm listening to CD 1 in the 56-CD set, the cantatas for Christmas Day. The cover photograph is of a child in Hardiwar, India.

The first CD is “Christen, ätzet diesen Tag” (BWV 63), “Christians, etch this day in metal and marble.” Gardiner’s notes that this was first concert of the year-long pilgrimage (see my December 1st post). This concert happened in Weimar, a city of notable cultural history. But eight kilometers away, lies the notorious place Buchenwald. For Gardiner, this contrast reminds us, among other things, that “Bach’s music is overwhelming testimony to the strength and resilience of the human spirit,” with its need to find meaning and its endurance through life's horrors.

It makes me think, too, of the sometimes jarring contrast each Christmas when we sing "peace on earth" in a world that has never known lasting peace. And yet the day is etched permanently in human experience. One thinks of the famous, unofficial "Christmas truces" that happened along the Western Front in 1914, mocking the supposed need for nations to go to war.

This BWV 63 cantata has a symetrical form and contrasting moods, for instance Bach’s transition from E minor to A major when moving to Jesus’ birth. Among the several numbers, the singers declare, “O blessed day! O wondrous day on which the Saviour of the world, the Shiloh promised by God in paradise to the human race.”  “Call and implore heaven, come, ye Christians, come to the dance, you should rejoice at God’s deeds today!”

The other cantata is “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (BWV 191), the words and song of the angels which, in Bach's hands becomes (as Gardiner puts it) "a celebration of dance as well as song.”

Are we dancing with joy at the Good News of Christ? On Christmas Day the three of us will open presents, have lunch, and see part 2 of "The Hobbit," plus I'll go to our church's half-hour morning worship. It's a happy day, for sure. I don't want to become chiding about our Christian experience----as if we all "should" be dancing with joy at the Savior, and if we're not we're substandard Christians. But sometimes we do feel so positive about the Good News that, even if we don't dance, we can't sit still. If we think deeply about the Gospel promises, we can feel an even greater excitement than "hump day"!

No comments:

Post a Comment