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Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

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Source: Johann Sebastian Bach, Bach’s Chorals. Part I: The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the “Passions” and Oratorios, by Charles Sanford Terry (Cambridge University Press, 1915-1921). 3 vols. Vol. 1. Chapter: THE CHRISTMAS ORATORIO (1734) Accessed from http://app.libraryofliberty.org/title/2055/149396 on 2007-12-05

THE CHRISTMAS ORATORIO (1734)

No. 5.

How shall I fitly meet thee1 (Wie soll ich dich empfangen)

For Hans Hassler’s melody, “Herzlich thut mich verlangen,” see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 21 supra.

The words of the Choral are the first stanza of Paul Gerhardt’s (see “St Matthew Passion,” No. 16) Advent Hymn, “Wie soll ich dich empfangen,” founded on St Matthew xxi. 1-9, and presumably written during the Thirty Years’ War. It was first printed in Christoph Runge’s D. M. Luthers Und anderer vornehmen geistreichen und gelehrten Manner Geistliche Lieder und Psalmen Berlin, 1653, to which Johann Cruger contributed a melody for Gerhardt’s Hymn:

  • Wie soll ich dich empfangen,
  • Und wie begegn’ ich dir?
  • O allei Welt Verlangen,
  • O meiner Seelen Zier!
  • O Jesu, Jesu! setze
  • Mir selbst die Fackel bei,
  • Damit, was dich ergotze,
  • Mir kund und wissend sei.
  • B.G. v. (2) 36.

English translations of the Hymn are noted in the Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 1280.

Form. Simple (1 Fl., 2 Ob., Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 7.

For us to earth he cometh poor (Er ist auf Erden kommen arm)

lf1393-01_figure_018.jpg

Melody:Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ

Anon. 1524

The melody, “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ,” a tune clearly derived from a pre-Reformation source, was published at Wittenberg in 1524 by Johann Walther in his collection of 32 hymns and 38 melodies, mostly in five parts, under the title Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn Johann Walther was born in Thuringia in 1496, and, after serving as Sangermeister at Torgau, was appointed (1548) Kapellmeister at Dresden by the Elector Maurice of Saxony. He held the post until 1554, and returning to Torgau died there in 1570. In 1524 he spent three weeks with Luther at Wittenberg, along with Conrad Rupff, fitting tunes, old and new, to Luther’s hymns for the Geystliche gesangkBuchleyn. “Gelobet seist du” probably is his handiwork.

Bach uses the melody elsewhere in No. 28 of the “Christmas Oratorio,” and in the Christmas Cantatas, “Sehet! welch’ eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget” (No. 64), and “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (No. 91). Another harmonisation of the tune is in the Choralgesange, No. 107.

The words of the Choral are the sixth stanza of Luther’s Christmas Hymn, “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ,” a version of the Latin sequence “Grates nunc omnes reddamus,” first published in broadsheet form at Wittenberg in 1524, and (to the melody) in Walther’s Buchleyn:

  • Er ist auf Erden kommen arm,
  • Dass er unser sich erbarm’,
  • Uns in1 dem Himmel mache reich,
  • Und seinen lieben Engeln gleich
  • Kyrieleis!
  • B.G. v. (2) 37.

English translations of the Hymn are noted in the Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 408.

Form Five unison (Soprano) phrases interrupted by Bass Recitativo (1 Ob., 1 Ob. d’amore, 1 Fagotto, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 9.

Ah! dearest Jesus, holy Child (Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein!)

lf1393-01_figure_019.jpg

Melody:Vom Himmel hoch

? Martin Luther 1539

The melody, “Vom Himmel hoch,” with probability attributed to Martin Luther, was first published (Leipzig, 1539) in the Geistliche lieder auffs new gebessert of the Leipzig bookseller, Valentin S. Schumann (d. 1545), with the Hymn.

The melody is used by Bach in the “Christmas Oratorio” three times (Nos. 9, 17, 23), and in two cases (Nos. 9 and 23) is ornamented by stately orchestral interludes. It will be noticed that Bach employs in No. 9 the same orchestral tone as in No. 1, while the brilliant trumpet and tympani interludes in both are similar in design. Thereby he imposes upon the First Part of the Oratorio a clear impression of unity. Bach wrote a four-part arrangement of the melody which was sung at Christmas (1723) after the Et exultavit spiritus meus in the five-part “Magnificat1 .”

The words of the Choral are the thirteenth stanza of Luther’s Christmas Hymn, “Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her,” which first appeared in the Wittenberg printer Joseph Klug’s Geistliche Lieder, published at Wittenberg in 1535, but to the melody of the riddle-song, “Aus fremden Landen komm ich her,” whose ribald associations compelled its abandonment for that of 1539:

  • Ach, mem herzliebes Jesulem!
  • Mach’ dir ein rein sanft Bettelein,
  • Zu ruh’n in meines Herzens Schrein,
  • Dass ich nimmer vergesse dein.
  • B.G. v. (2) 47.

English translations of the Hymn are noted in the Dictionary of Hymnology, pp. 1227, 1722.

Form. Extended (3 Trombe, Timpani, 2 Fl., 2 Ob., 1 Fagotto, Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 12.

Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light (Brich an, O schones Morgenlicht)

lf1393-01_figure_020.jpg

Melody:Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist

Johann Schop 1641

The melody, “Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist,” was composed by Johann Schop (see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 48), and appeared in Part 1. of Johann Rist’s Himlischer Lieder mit Melodeien, published at Luneburg in 1641. Bach follows Johann Cruger’s remodelling of the melody in the 1648 edition of his Praxis Pietatis Melica.

Bach uses the melody in two of the Cantatas, in both cases in ¾ measure: “Gott fahret auf mit Jauchzen” (No. 43), for Ascensiontide; and in the “Ascension Oratorio,” “Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen” (No. 11).

The words of the Choral are the ninth stanza of Johann Rist’s (see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 48) Christmas Hymn, “Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist,” founded on Isaiah ix. 2-7. It was first published, with the tune, in the first Part of Johann Rist’s Himlischer Lieder, at Luneburg in 1641:

  • Brich an, O1 schones Morgenlicht,
  • Und lass den Himmel tagen!
  • Du Hirtenvolk, erschrecke nicht,
  • Weil dir die Engel sagen:
  • Dass dieses schwache Knabelein
  • Soll unser Trost und Freude sein,
  • Dazu den Satan zwingen
  • Und letztlich Frieden bringen.
  • B.G. v. (2) 59.

Translations of the Hymn into English are noted in the Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 965.

Form. Simple (2 Fl., 2 Ob. d’amore, 2 Ob. da caccia, Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 17.

Within yon gloomy manger (Schaut hin! dort liegt)

For the melody, “Vom Himmel hoch,” see No. 9 supra.

The words of the Choral are the eighth stanza of Paul Gerhardt’s (see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 16) Christmas Hymn, “Schaut! schaut! was ist fur Wunder dar?” It was first published in the fifth “Dozen” of Johann G Ebeling’s (see No. 33 infra) edition of Gerhardt’s Geistliche Andachten, Berlin, 1667:

  • Schaut hin! dort liegt im finstern Stall,
  • Dess’ Herrschaft gehet überall
  • Da Speise vormals sucht’ ein Rind,
  • Da ruhet jetzt der Jungfrau’n Kind.
  • B.G. v (2) 66.

A translation of the Hymn is noted in the Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 411.

Form. Simple (2 Fl., 2 Ob. d’amore, 2 Ob. da caccia, Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 23.

With all thy hosts (Wir singen dir)

For the melody, “Vom Himmel hoch,” see No. 9 supra.

As in the First Part, Bach is at pains to link the concluding number of the Second Part (No. 23) with its opening one (No. 10) by weaving into it the rhythm and subject of the Pastoral Symphony (No. 10). The employment of the same tune for the concluding number of both Parts also, no doubt, was intentional; for their action is simultaneous—the birth of Christ in Part One and its announcement to the shepherds in Part Two.

The words of the Choral are the second stanza of Paul Gerhardt’s (see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 16) Christmas Hymn, “Wir singen dir, Immanuel,” which was first published in Johann Cruger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica, Berlin 1653:

  • Wir singen dir in deinem Heer
  • Aus aller Kraft. Lob, Preis und Ehr;
  • Dass du, O lang gewunschter Gast,
  • Dich nunmehr eingestellet hast.
  • B.G. v. (2) 90.

English translations of the Hymn are noted in the Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 1288.

Form. Extended (2 Fl., 2 Ob. d’amore, 2 Ob. da caccia, Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 28.

The Lord hath all these wonders wrought (Dies hat er Alles uns gethan)

For the melody, “Gelobet seist du,” see No. 7 supra.

The words of the Choral are the seventh and last stanza of Luther’s Hymn, “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (see No. 7):

  • Dies hat er Alles uns gethan,
  • Sein’ gross’ Lieb’ zu zeigen an;
  • Dess freu’ sich alle Christenheit,
  • Und dank’ ihm dess in Ewigkeit.
  • Kyrieleis!
  • B.G. v. (2) 110.

Form. Simple (2 Fl., 2 Ob., Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 33.

Thee with tender care I’ll cherish (Ich will dich mit Fleiss bewahren)

lf1393-01_figure_021.jpg

Melody:Warum sollt’ ich mich denn gramen

Johann Georg Ebeling 1666

The melody, “Warum sollt’ ich,” was composed by Johann Georg Ebeling and was first published in his Geistliche Andachten, Berlin, 1666, the first collection of Gerhardt’s Hymns, issued in 10 “Dozens” in 1666-67. Bach uses only the first half of the melody and, except in the second half of his fourth and first half of his fifth bars, follows Daniel Vetter’s reconstruction (Musicalische Kirch- und Hauss-Ergotzlichkeit, Leipzig, Pt ii., 1713) of Ebeling’s tune. Ebeling was born at Lüneburg in 1637. He became Director of the Music at the Church of St Nicolas, Berlin, in 1662, and in 1668 was appointed Professor of Music in the Caroline Gymnasium at Stettin. He died at Stettin in 1676.

Bach uses the melody in the Motett, “Furchte dich nicht.” See also the Choralgesange, No. 334.

The words of the Choral are the fifteenth and last stanza of Paul Gerhardt’s (see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 16) Christmas Hymn, “Frohlich soll mein Herze springen.” It was first published in Praxis Pietatis Melica (Berlin, 1653), to a melody by Johann Crüger:

  • Ich will dich mit Fleiss bewahren,
  • Ich will dir
  • Leben hier,
  • Dir will ich abfahren.
  • Mit dir will ich endlich schweben
  • Voller Freud’,
  • Ohne Zeit
  • Dort im andern Leben.
  • B.G. v. (2) 124.

English translations of the Hymn are noted in the Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 397.

Form. Simple (2 Fl., 2 Ob., Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 35.

Rejoice, and sing (Seid froh, dieweil)

lf1393-01_figure_022.jpg

Melody:Wir Christenleut’ ”

Caspar Fuger the younger 1593

The melody, “Wir Christenleut’,” was published in Martin Fritzsch’s Gesangbuch. Darinnen Christliche Psalmen unnd Kirchen Lieder D. Martini Lutheri und andrer frommen Christen, Dresden, 1593. It is one of seven new melodies in that collection, and may be attributed to the son of the author of the Hymn, “Wir Christenleut’,” Caspar Fuger, or Fuger, first published in the Drey schone Newe Geistliche Gesenge (1592). Tune and hymn are found together in MS. 1589. Two Lutheran pastors, apparently father and son, named Caspar Fuger, or Füger, lived at Dresden in the sixteenth century. The authorship of the words of “Wir Christenleut’ ” has been attributed to both of them. The elder was Court Preacher and died circ. 1592. The younger was co-Rector of the Kreuzschule and died in 1617. In his Christliche Verss und Gesenge (Dresden, 1580) the elder Fuger states that his son had composed (in five parts) the music for his Hymns.

Bach uses the melody elsewhere in the Christmas Cantatas “Dazu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes” (No. 40), “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens” (No. 110), and “Uns ist ein Kind geboren” (No. 142).

The words of the Choral are stated by the Choralgesange (No. 381), following Erk, to be the second stanza of “Wir Christenleut’ ” stark veranderte. This, however, is not the case. The second stanza of “Wir Christenleut’ ” is as follows:

  • Ein Wunder fremdt:
  • Gott selbst wird heut
  • Ein wahrer Mensch von Marie geboren.
  • Ein Jungfrau zart
  • Sein Mutter ward
  • Von Gott dem Herren selbst dazu erkoren

The words Bach uses here are these:

  • Seid froh, dieweil
  • Dass euer Heil
  • Ist hie1 ein Gott und auch ein Mensch geboren,
  • Der welcher ist
  • Der Herr und Christ
  • In Davids Stadt, von Vielen auserkoren.
  • B.G. v. (2) 126.

They are the fourth stanza of the Hymn “Lasst Furcht und Pein Fern von euch seyn,” by Christoph Runge, published in Johann Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica (Berlin, 1653). Runge was born at Berlin in 1619, was in business as a printer there, and died in 1681.

Bach’s choice of a stanza here was circumscribed. The text of No. 34 compelled him to treat Choral No. 35 as the utterance of the returning shepherds “praising and glorifying God for all the things which they had heard and seen.” Runge’s stanza, with its opening “Seid froh,” exactly fits the situation. So also, it may be observed, does the fifth stanza of Fuger’s Hymn, which begins, “Alleluja! gelobt sei Gott!”

Form. Simple (2 Fl., 2 Ob., Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

Nos. 38 & 40.

Jesus, thou that for me livest (Jesu du, mein liebstes Leben) Jesu, thou my joy and pleasure (Jesu, meine Freud’ und Wonne)

In both movements the Soprano Arioso is a quasi Choral tune, by Bach himself and, like No. 42 infra, obviously derived from No. 36 of this Oratorio. The words of the two movements together form the first stanza of Johann Rist’s (see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 48) Hymn, “Jesu, du mein liebstes Leben,” first published in 1642 in Part v. of his Himlischer Lieder (Lüneburg):

    • (38)

      Jesu du, mein liebstes Leben,
    • Meiner Seelen Brautigam,
    • Der du dich fur mich gegeben
    • An des bittern Kreuzes Stamm!
    • (40)

      Jesu, meine Freud’ und Wonne,
    • Meine1 Hoffnung, Schatz und Theil,
    • Mein Erloser, Schutz und Heil2 ,
    • Hirt und Konig, Licht und Sonne!
    • Ach, wie soll ich wurdiglich,
    • Mein Herr Jesu, preisen dich?
    • B.G. v. (2) 150, 158.

Form (both movements). A Soprano Arioso accompanying a Bass Recitativo (Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 42.

Jesus who didst ever guide me (Jesus richte mein Beginnen)

lf1393-01_figure_023.jpg

J. S. Bach 1734

As in Parts I, II, and III Bach rounds off Part IV by connecting its opening and closing movements (Nos. 36 and 42). He does so in this case by inventing a melody, an Aria rather than a hymn-tune (cf. the concluding Choral of the Motett “Komm, Jesu, komm”), clearly derived from the Chorus “Come and thank Him” (No. 36), and by repeating the orchestral colour of that number.

The words of the Choral are the fifteenth stanza of Johann Rist’s (see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 48) New Year Hymn, “Hilf, Herr Jesu, lass gelingen,” first published in the third Part of Rist’s Himlischer Lieder, Luneburg, 1642:

  • Jesus richte mein Beginnen,
  • Jesus bleibe stets bei mir;
  • Jesus zaume mir die Sinnen,
  • Jesus sei nur mein’ Begier.
  • Jesus sei mir in Gedanken,
  • Jesu, lasse mich nicht1 wanken!
  • B.G. v. (2) 166.

English translations of the Hymn are noted in the Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 523.

Form. Extended (2 Corni, 2 Ob., Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 46.

All darkness flies (Dein Glanz all’ Finsterniss verzehrt)

For Seth Calvisius’ melody, “In dich hab’ ich gehoffet, Herr,” see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 38.

The words of the Choral are the sixth and last stanza of Georg Weissel’s Hymn, “Nun liebe Seel’, nun ist es Zeit.” Weissel was born at Domnau in 1590, and in 1623 became pastor of the newly built Altrossgart Church at Konigsberg. He held the post until his death in 1635. He was one of the best of the early Prussian hymn-writers. His writings were published in the Preussischen Festlieder (Pt i., Elbing, 1642; Pt ii., Konigsberg, 1644). The Hymn, “Nun liebe Seel’,” appeared in Pt i. of the Festlieder:

  • Dein Glanz all’ Finsterniss verzehrt,
  • Die trube Nacht in Licht verkehrt.
  • Leit’ uns auf1 deinen Wegen,
  • Dass dein Gesicht
  • Und herrlich’s Licht
  • Wir ewig schauen mogen!
  • B.G. v. (2) 190.

Form. Simple (2 Ob. d’amore, Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 53.

This proud heart within us swelling (Zwar ist solche Herzensstube)

lf1393-01_figure_024.jpg

Melody:Gott des Himmels und der Erden

Heinrich Albert 1642

The melody, “Gott des Himmels und der Erden,” was composed by Heinrich Albert, or Alberti, for the Hymn, of whose words also he was the author. He was born at Lobenstein in 1604, and in 1631 became organist of Konigsberg Cathedral. He died at Konigsberg in 1651. He published in eight Parts his Arien oder Melodeyen Etlicher theils Geistlicher theils Weltlicher (Konigsberg, 1638-50). The Hymn “Gott des Himmels” was first published in Part v. of that collection in 1642. For all but the last two bars (which are closer to the Darmstadt Cantional of 1687) Bach gives the tune (with modifications necessitated by the rhythm of the words) as it appears in Daniel Vetter’s Leipzig Hymn-Book (1713).

Bach has not used the melody elsewhere.

The words of the Choral are the ninth stanza of Johann Franck’s Morning Hymn, “Ihr Gestirn, ihr hohlen Lufte.” Franck was born at Guben in 1618, educated at Konigsberg, became a lawyer, Burgomaster of Guben, and its representative in the Landtag of Lower Lusatia. He died in 1677. His hymns, 110 in number, were collected in his Geistliches Sion (Guben, 1674):

  • Zwai ist solche Herzensstube
  • Wohl kein schoner Furstensaal,
  • Sondern eine finstre Grube;
  • Doch, sobald dein Gnadenstrahl
  • In dieselbe nur wird blinken,
  • Wird sie voller Sonnen dunken.
  • B.G. v. (2) 208.

Form. Simple (2 Ob. d’amore, Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 59.

Beside thy cradle here I stand (Ich steh’ an deiner Krippen hier)

lf1393-01_figure_025.jpg

Melody:Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein

Anon. 1535

The melody bears the name of Luther’s first congregational Hymn, “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein,” and is said to have been written down by Luther after hearing a travelling artisan sing it. The tune was first published in the Wittenberg printer Joseph Klug’s Geistliche Lieder (Wittenberg, 1535), and is generally known as “Luther’s Hymn.” An earlier melody to which the Hymn was sung appeared in the so-called Achtliederbuch, the small collection of eight hymns (along with four melodies) entitled Etlich Christlich lider Lobgesang, und Psalm (Wittenberg, 1524). The tune is familiar as No. 293 of Hymns Ancient and Modern, and is No. 261 of the Choralgesange1 . Both melodies are improbably attributed to Luther.

Bach has not used either melody in the Cantatas. There is another harmonisation of the 1535 tune in the Choralgesange, No. 262, where it is set to a stanza of Bartholomaus Ringwaldt’s Advent Hymn, “Es ist gewisslich an der Zeit,” whose proper melody (1588) bears a close resemblance to it.

The words of the Choral are the first stanza of Paul Gerhardt’s (see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 16) Christmas Hymn, “Ich steh’ an deiner Krippen hier,” which was first published in Johann Cruger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica, Berlin, 1653:

  • Ich steh’ an deiner Krippen hier,
  • O Jesulein, mein Leben,
  • Ich komme, bring’ und schenke dir,
  • Was du mir hast gegeben.
  • Nimm hin, es ist mein Geist und Sinn,
  • Herz, Seel’ und Muth, nimm Alles hin,
  • Und lass dir’s wohl gefallen!
  • B.G. v. (2) 245.

English translations of the Hymn are noted in the Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 410.

Form. Simple (2 Ob., Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

No. 64.

Now vengeance hath been taken (Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen)

For Hans Hassler’s melody, “Herzlich thut mich verlangen,” see the “St Matthew Passion,” No. 21 supra.

The words of the Choral are the fourth stanza of Georg Werner’s Hymn, “Ihr Christen auserkoren.” Werner was born in 1589 at Preussisch-Holland, near Elbing. In 1614 he became master in a school at Konigsberg, and in 1621 was appointed deacon of the Lobenicht Church there. He died at Konigsberg in 1643. He edited the New Preussisches vollstandiges Gesangbuch (Konigsberg, 1650 [1643]), and contributed Hymns to Bernhard Derschau’s Ausserlesene Geistliche Lieder, Konigsberg, 1639. The Hymn “Ihr Christen auserkoren” was published in Johann Cruger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica (Berlin, 1647):

  • Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen
  • An eurer Feinde Schaar,
  • Denn Christus hat zerbrochen
  • Was euch zuwider war;
  • Tod, Teufel, Sund’ und Holle
  • Sind ganz und gar geschwacht,
  • Bei Gott hat seine Stelle
  • Das menschliche Geschlecht
  • B.G. v. (2) 256.

Form. Extended (3 Trombe, Timpani, 2 Ob., Strings, Organ, and Continuo).

[1 ]The English titles are from the Rev. J. Troutbeck’s version, published by Novello & Co.

[1 ]1524 Und nun.

[1 ]It is printed as No. 298 of Ludwig Erk’s Choralgesange und geistliche Arien (Peters), 2 vols., 1850-65.

[1 ]1641 du.

[1 ]1653 heut.

[1 ]1642 All mein.

[2 ]1642 Mein Erlosung, Schmuck und Heil.

[1 ]1642 nie mich.

[1 ]1642 in.

[1 ]Erk, op. cit., No. 272, prints the same version in A major.

Last modified April 10, 2014