Monday, December 21, 2015

A Year's Music: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Continuing until Advent 2016, I plan to listen each week to at least one musical work with some sacred or spiritual dimension, as a kind of pleasurable spiritual discipline.

These past few days I've been listening to Bach's Weihnachts-Oratorium (BWV 248), but it's a piece I enjoy all year, at least sampling among the several numbers.

In December 2013 and January 2014 I wrote on this blog about Bach's Advent and Christmas cantatas. Wonderful as these are, we've even more Bach seasonal music in the oratorio, which was written for the 1734 season. The six sections are for each of the major feast days from Christmas to Epiphany: Jesus' birth, the annunciation to the shepherds, the shepherds' visit, Jesus' naming and circumcision, the Magis' journey, and the Magis' adoration.

I forget when I first listened to the piece, probably the Decca LP set with Karl Münchinger conducting (Peter Pears, tenor, Helen Watts, alto, Tom Krause, bass, Elly Ameling, soprano). I've always loved the sound of the opening words: so German!

Jauchzet, frohlocket! auf, preiset die Tage
(Shout for joy, exult, rise up, glorify the day!)

But I also particularly love the alto aria in Part II, "Schlafe, mein Liebster, geniesse der Ruh" (Sleep now, my dearest, enjoy now thy rest), as well as other numbers.

Here is the whole piece, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, who is such a master at Bach performance and scholarship:

The Bach Cantatas site has a lot more information about the pice, as does good ol' Wikipedia.

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