Christmas Oratorio

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First page of the first part of the Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 Autograph.jpg
First page of the first part of the Christmas Oratorio

The Christmas Oratorio (German : Weihnachts-Oratorium), BWV 248, is an oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach intended for performance in church during the Christmas season. It was written for the Christmas season of 1734 and incorporates music from earlier compositions, including three secular cantatas written during 1733 and 1734 and a largely lost church cantata, BWV 248a. The date is confirmed in Bach's autograph manuscript. The next performance was not until 17 December 1857 by the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin under Eduard Grell. The Christmas Oratorio is a particularly sophisticated example of parody music. The author of the text is unknown, although a likely collaborator was Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander).

Contents

The work belongs to a group of three oratorios written in 1734 and 1735 for major feasts, the other two works being the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) and the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249). All three of these oratorios to some degree parody earlier compositions. The Christmas Oratorio is by far the longest and most complex work of the three. [1]

The Christmas Oratorio is in six parts, each part being intended for performance on one of the major feast days of the Christmas period. The piece is often presented as a whole or split into two equal parts. The total running time for the entire work is nearly three hours.

The first part (for Christmas Day) describes the Birth of Jesus, the second (for December 26) the annunciation to the shepherds, the third (for December 27) the adoration of the shepherds, the fourth (for New Year's Day) the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the fifth (for the first Sunday after New Year) the journey of the Magi, and the sixth (for Epiphany) the adoration of the Magi.

History

First two pages of the libretto of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, as printed in 1734. BWV 248 Libretto.JPG
First two pages of the libretto of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, as printed in 1734.
St. Nicholas Church Leipzig Nikolaikirche.jpg
St. Nicholas Church
St. Thomas Church Leipzig - Thomaskirche.jpg
St. Thomas Church

In the liturgical calendar of the German reformation era in Saxony, the Christmas season started on 25 December (Christmas Day) and ended on 6 January (Epiphany). It was preceded by Advent, and followed by the period of the Sundays after Epiphany. It included at least three feast days that called for festive music during religious services: apart from Christmas (Nativity of Christ) and Epiphany (Visit of the Magi) the period also included New Year's Day (1 January), in Bach's time still often referred to as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. Also 26 and 27 December (second and third day of Christmas) were commonly considered feast days, with festive music in church. If a Sunday fell between 27 December and 1 January, also on this first Sunday after Christmas a church service with music was held, and similar for a Sunday between 1 and 6 January (second Sunday after Christmas, or: first Sunday after New Year).

1714–1729

Before Bach composed his Christmas Oratorio for the 1734–35 Christmas season in Leipzig, he had already composed Christmas cantatas and other church music for all seven occasions of the Christmas season:

Four of these third cycle cantatas for the Christmas season, BWV 110, 57, 151 and 16, were on a text from Georg Christian Lehms's Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Opffer cantata libretto cycle, which had been published in 1711. [24] [25] In the second half of the 1720s Bach often collaborated with Picander as a librettist for his cantatas. The Shepherd Cantata , BWV 249a, first performed on 23 February 1725, one of Bach's secular cantatas, is an early example of such cantata. [26] Bach reused the music of this cantata in the 1725 first version of his Easter Oratorio . [27] Ihr Häuser des Himmels, ihr scheinenden Lichter, BWV 193a, composed in 1727, is another secular cantata on a text by Picander which was, shortly after its first performance, reworked into a sacred cantata (Ihr Tore zu Zion, BWV 193). [28] In 1728–29 Picander published a cantata libretto cycle, leading to at least two further Christmas season cantatas by Bach:

A Christmas oratorio presented as a cycle of six cantatas, to be performed on several days during the Christmas period, was not uncommon in Bach's day: Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, whose church music was not unknown to Bach and Leipzig churchgoers, [31] had composed such Christmas oratorios in 1719 and 1728. [32] [33] [34]

1730s

Models from earlier compositions

In the early 1730s, Bach composed a number of secular cantatas, including:

Movements from the BWV 213, 214 and 215 cantatas form the basis of several movements of the Christmas Oratorio. [36] [37] [38] In addition to these sources, the sixth cantata is based on a largely lost church cantata, BWV 248a, of which at least the opening chorus is based on the lost secular cantata BWV 1160. [35] [39] The trio aria in Part V "Ach, wenn wird die Zeit erscheinen?" is believed to be from a similarly lost source, and the chorus from the same section "Wo ist der neugeborne König" is from the 1731 St Mark Passion, BWV 247. [40]

Cantata movements reused in Christmas Oratorio [41] [42]
CantataMovementTypeBWV 248Movement
BWV 213/1Lasst uns sorgen, lasst uns wachenChorus (SATB)36 (IV/1)Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben
BWV 213/3Schlafe, mein Liebster, und pflege der RuhAria (s→a)19 (II/10)Schlafe, mein Liebster, genieße der Ruh
BWV 213/5Treues Echo dieser OrtenAria (a→s)39 (IV/4)Flößt, mein Heiland, flößt dein Namen
BWV 213/7Auf meinen Flügeln sollst du schwebenAria (t)41 (IV/6)Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben
BWV 213/9Ich will dich nicht hörenAria (a)4 (I/4)Bereite, dich, Zion
BWV 213/11Ich bin deine, du bist meineDuet (at→sb)29 (III/6)Herr, dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen
BWV 214/1Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, TrompetenChorus (SATB)1 (I/1)Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage
BWV 214/5Fromme Musen! meine GliederAria (a→t)15 (II/6)Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet
BWV 214/7Kron und Preis gekrönter DamenAria (b)8 (I/8)Großer Herr, o starker König
BWV 214/9Blühet, ihr Linden in Sachsen, wie ZedernChorus (SATB)24 (III/1&13)Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen
BWV 215/7Durch die von Eifer entflammten WaffenAria (s→b)47 (V/5)Erleucht auch meine finstre Sinnen
BWV 247/43Pfui dich, wie fein zerbrichst du den TempelChorus (SATB)45 (V/3)Wo ist der neugeborne König der Juden
BWV 248a/1Chorus (SATB)54 (VI/1)Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben
BWV 248a/2Recitative (→s)56 (VI/3)Du Falscher, suche nur den Herrn zu fällen
BWV 248a/3Aria (→s)57 (VI/4)Nur ein Wink von seinen Händen
BWV 248a/4Recitative (→t)61 (VI/8)So geht! Genug, mein Schatz geht nicht von hier
BWV 248a/5Aria (→t)62 (VI/9)Nun mögt ihr stolzen Feinde schrecken
BWV 248a/6Recitative (→satb)63 (VI/10)Was will der Höllen Schrecken nun
BWV 248a/7Chorus (SATB)64 (VI/11)Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen
 ?Trio (→sat)51 (V/9)Ach! wann wird die Zeit erscheinen?

Chorales

Like for most of his German-language church music, Bach used Lutheran hymns, and their Lutheran chorale tunes, in his Christmas Oratorio. [43] [44] [45] The first chorale tune appears in the 5th movement of Part I: it is the tune known as Herzlich tut mich verlangen, that is, the same hymn tune which Bach used in his St Matthew Passion for setting several stanzas of Paul Gerhardt's "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" ("O Sacred Head, Now Wounded"). The same melody reappears in the last movement of the oratorio (No. 64, closing chorale of Part VI). In the oratorio there is, however, no association with the pain and suffering evoked in the Passion. [46]

Martin Luther's 1539 "Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her" melody appears in three chorales: twice on a text by Paul Gerhardt in Part II of the oratorio, and the first time, in the closing chorale of Part I, with the 13th stanza of Luther's hymn as text. A well-known English version of that stanza is "Oh, my dear heart, young Jesus sweet", the first stanza of "Balulalow", as, for instance, sung by Sting: [47] [48]

Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein,
Mach dir ein rein sanft Bettelein,
Zu ruhn in meines Herzens Schrein,
Dass ich nimmer vergesse dein!

Oh, my deir hert, young Jesus sweit,
Prepare thy creddil in my spreit,
And I sall rock thee in my hert,
And never mair from thee depart.

lyrics of Christmas Oratorio, Part I Popular rhymes of Scotland, p. 13

The Christmas Oratorio is exceptional in that it contains a few hymn settings, or versions of hymn tunes, for which there is no known earlier source than Bach's composition: [49] [50]

There are very few known hymn tunes by Bach (he used Lutheran hymn tunes in the large majority of his sacred compositions, but rarely one of his own invention): apart from what can be found in the Christmas Oratorio, there appears to be one, partly inspired by a pre-existing melody, in the motet Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV 229 (composed before 1731–32), [56] and at least one entirely by Bach, "Vergiss mein nicht, vergiss mein nicht", BWV 505, in Schemellis Gesangbuch (published in 1736). [57]

Chorales in Christmas Oratorio [54]
AuthorDateHymn; StanzaStanza incipitMelodyComposerDateZahnBWV 248
Gerhardt 1653 Wie soll ich dich empfangen 1Wie soll ich dich empfangen Herzlich tut mich verlangen Hassler 1601 5385a [58] 5 (I/5)
Luther 1524 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ 6Er ist auf Erden kommen arm Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ Luther 1524 1947 7 (I/7)
Luther 1535 Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her 13Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her Luther 1539 346 [59] 9 (I/9)
Rist 1641 Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist 9Brich an, o schönes Morgenlicht Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist Schop/Crüger 1648 5741b [60] 12 (II/3)
Gerhardt 1667 Schaut, schaut, was ist für Wunder dar 8Schaut hin! dort liegt im finstern Stall Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her Luther 1539 346 [61] 17 (II/8)
Gerhardt 1656 Wir singen dir, Immanuel 2Wir singen dir in deinem Heer Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her Luther 1539 346 [62] 23 (II/14)
Luther 1524 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ 7Dies hat er alles uns getan Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ Luther 1524 1947 [63] 28 (III/5)
Gerhardt 1653 Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen 15Ich will dich mit Fleiß bewahren Warum sollt ich mich denn grämen Ebeling/Bach 1734 6462 [53] 33 (III/10)
Runge  [ s:de ]1653 Laßt Furcht und Pein 4Seid froh, dieweil Wir Christenleut habn jetzund Freud Füger 1593 2072 [64] 35 (III/12)
Rist 1642 Jesu, du mein liebstes Leben 1aJesu, du mein liebstes Leben Bach 173438 (IV/3)
Rist 1642 Jesu, du mein liebstes Leben 1bJesu, meine Freud und Wonne Bach 173440 (IV/5)
Rist 1642 Hilf, Herr Jesu, laß gelingen 15Jesus richte mein Beginnen Hilf, Herr Jesu, laß gelingen Bach 1734Vol. VI p. 566 [55] 42 (IV/7)
Weissel 1642 Nun, liebe Seel, nun ist es Zeit 5Dein Glanz all' Finsternis verzehrt In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr (Nürnberg)1581 2461c [65] 46 (V/4)
Franck 1655 Ihr Gestirn, ihr hohlen Lüfte 9Zwar ist solche Herzensstube Gott des Himmels und der Erden Albert/(Darmstadt)1687 3614b [66] 53 (V/11)
Gerhardt 1656 Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier 1Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein (Wittenberg)1529 4429a [67] 59 (VI/6)
Werner 1648 Ihr Christen auserkoren 4Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen Herzlich tut mich verlangen Hassler 1601 5385a [68] 64 (VI/11)

Gospel narrative

Like for his other oratorios, and his Passion settings, Bach employed a narrative based on the Gospel in his Christmas Oratorio. The Gospel narrative of this oratorio followed, to a certain extent, the respective Gospel readings of the church services where the six cantatas of the Christmas Oratorio were to be performed for the first time. The six services of the Christmas season 1734–35 where the oratorio's cantatas were to be performed had these Gospel readings:

  1. Christmas Day: Luke2:1–14 (theme: Nativity, Annunciation to the shepherds and the angels' song).
  2. Second Day of Christmas: Luke2:15–20 (theme: Adoration of the Shepherds).
  3. Third Day of Christmas: John1:1–14 – prologue of the Gospel of John, also known as Hymn to the Word.
  4. New Year's Day: Luke2:21 (theme: Circumcision of Jesus)
  5. Sunday after New Year: Matthew2:13–23 (theme: the Flight into Egypt)
  6. Epiphany: Matthew2:1–12 (theme: Wise Men From the East)

As usual in most of his oratorios, and all of his Passions, the Evangelist character enunciated the Gospel text in sung recitatives, except the passages in direct speech, which were sung by soloists or choral groups representing the characters who spoke these texts according to the Gospel narrative. The Gospel text included by Bach in his six Christmas Oratorio cantatas consists of:

  1. Luke2:1, 3–7, i.e. part of the Christmas Day reading.
  2. Luke2:8–14, i.e. second half of the Christmas Day reading.
  3. Luke2:15–20, i.e. text of the Second Day of Christmas Gospel reading.
  4. Luke2:21, i.e. the New Year's Day Gospel reading
  5. Matthew2:1–6, i.e. part of the Gospel reading for the Epiphany feast
  6. Matthew2:7–12, i.e. second half of the Gospel reading for Epiphany

The Gospel readings for the Third Day of Christmas (Prologue of the Gospel of John), and for the Sunday after New Year (the Flight to Egypt) are not directly used in the Christmas Oratorio. In detail:

Gospel readings in Christmas Oratorio
DayReadingBWV 248OccasionMovement
Christmas 1 Luke2:1 2 (I/2a)Christmas 1Es begab sich aber zu der Zeit
Luke2:2
Luke2:3–6 2 (I/2b)Christmas 1Und jedermann ging
Luke2:7 6 (I/6)Und sie gebar ihren ersten Sohn
Luke2:8–9 11 (II/2)Christmas 2Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend
Luke2:10–11 13 (II/4)Und der Engel sprach zu ihnen
Luke2:12 16 (II/7)Und das habt zum Zeichen
Luke2:13 20 (II/11)Und alsobald war da bei dem Engel
Luke2:14 21 (II/12)Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe
Christmas 2 Luke2:15a 25 (III/2)Christmas 3Und da die Engel von ihnen gen Himmel fuhren
Luke2:15b 26 (III/3)Lasset uns nun gehen gen Bethlehem
Luke2:16–19 30 (III/7)Und sie kamen eilend
Luke2:20 34 (III/11)Und die Hirten kehrten wieder um
Christmas 3 John1:1–14
New Year Luke2:21 37 (IV/2)New YearUnd da acht Tage um waren
New Year I Matthew2:13–23
Epiphany Matthew2:1 44 (V/2)New Year IDa Jesus geboren war zu Bethlehem
Matthew2:2 45 (V/3)Wo ist der neugeborne König der Juden
Matthew2:3 48 (V/6)Da das der König Herodes hörte
Matthew2:4–6 50 (V/8)Und ließ versammeln alle Hohenpriester
Matthew2:7–8 55 (VI/2)EpiphanyDa berief Herodes die Weisen heimlich
Matthew2:9–11 58 (VI/5)Als sie nun den König gehöret hatten
Matthew2:12 60 (VI/7)Und Gott befahl ihnen im Traum

First performance

The oratorio was written for performance on six feast days of Christmas during the winter of 1734 and 1735. The original score also contains details of when each part was performed. It was incorporated within services of the two most important churches in Leipzig, St. Thomas and St. Nicholas. As can be seen below, the work was only performed in its entirety at the St. Nicholas Church.

First performances:

  • 25 December 1734: Part I – 'early in the morning' at St. Nicholas; 'in the afternoon' at St. Thomas
  • 26 December 1734: Part II – morning at St. Thomas; afternoon at St. Nicholas
  • 27 December 1734: Part III – morning at St. Nicholas
  • 1 January 1735: Part IV – morning at St. Thomas; afternoon at St. Nicholas
  • 2 January 1735: Part V – morning at St Nicholas
  • 6 January 1735: Part VI – morning at St. Thomas; afternoon at St. Nicholas

Text

Conrad von Soest: Birth of Christ (1404) Soest-Geburt-Christi.jpg
Conrad von Soest: Birth of Christ (1404)
Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the Shepherds (1644) Georges de La Tour 001.jpg
Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the Shepherds (1644)
Giotto: Angels at the Nativity (c. 1300) Giotto - Scrovegni - -17- - Nativity, Birth of Jesus.jpg
Giotto: Angels at the Nativity (c. 1300)
Rembrandt: Circumcision of Christ (1661) Rembrandt The Circumcision in the Stable.jpg
Rembrandt: Circumcision of Christ (1661)
Magi before Herod; France, early 15th century Magi Herod MNMA Cl23532.jpg
Magi before Herod; France, early 15th century
Rogier van der Weyden: Adoration of the Magi (c. 1430-60) Rogier van der Weyden 009.jpg
Rogier van der Weyden: Adoration of the Magi (c. 1430–60)
Rembrandt: Flight into Egypt (1627) Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 052.jpg
Rembrandt: Flight into Egypt (1627)

The ease with which the new text fits the existing music is one of the indications of how successful a parody the Christmas Oratorio is of its sources. Musicologist Alfred Dürr [69] and others, such as Christoph Wolff [70] have suggested that Bach's sometime collaborator Picander (the pen name of Christian Friedrich Henrici) wrote the new text, working closely with Bach to ensure a perfect fit with the re-used music. It may have even been the case that the Christmas Oratorio was already planned when Bach wrote the secular cantatas BWV 213, 214 and 215, given that the original works were written fairly close to the oratorio and the seamless way with which the new words fit the existing music. [70]

Nevertheless, on two occasions Bach abandoned the original plan and was compelled to write new music for the Christmas Oratorio. The alto aria in Part III, "Schließe, mein Herze" was originally to have been set to the music for the aria "Durch die von Eifer entflammten Waffen" from BWV 215. On this occasion, however, the parody technique proved to be unsuccessful and Bach composed the aria afresh. Instead, he used the model from BWV 215 for the bass aria "Erleucht' auch meine finstre Sinnen" in Part V. Similarly, the opening chorus to Part V, "Ehre sei dir Gott!" was almost certainly intended to be set to the music of the chorus "Lust der Völker, Lust der Deinen" from BWV 213, given the close correspondence between the texts of the two pieces. The third major new piece of writing (with the notable exception of the recitatives), the sublime pastoral Sinfonia which opens Part II, was composed from scratch for the new work.

In addition to the new compositions listed above, special mention must go to the recitatives, which knit together the oratorio into a coherent whole. In particular, Bach made particularly effective use of recitative when combining it with chorales in no. 7 of part I ("Er ist auf Erden kommen arm") and even more ingeniously in the recitatives nos. 38 and 40 which frame the "Echo Aria" ("Flößt, mein Heiland"), no. 39 in part IV.

Until 1999 the only complete English version of the Christmas Oratorio was that prepared in 1874 by John Troutbeck for the music publisher Novello. [71] A new edition has been worked up by Neil Jenkins.

Narrative structure

The structure of the story is defined to a large extent by the particular requirements of the church calendar for Christmas 1734/35. Bach abandoned his usual practice when writing church cantatas of basing the content upon the Gospel reading for that day in order to achieve a coherent narrative structure. Were he to have followed the calendar, the story would have unfolded as follows:

  1. Birth and Annunciation to the Shepherds
  2. The Adoration of the Shepherds
  3. Prologue to the Gospel of John
  4. Circumcision and Naming of Jesus
  5. The Flight into Egypt
  6. The Coming and Adoration of the Magi

This would have resulted in the Holy Family fleeing before the Magi had arrived, which was unsuitable for an oratorio evidently planned as a coherent whole. Bach removed the content for the Third Day of Christmas (December 27), John's Gospel, and split the story of the two groups of visitors—Shepherds and Magi—into two. This resulted in a more understandable exposition of the Christmas story:

  1. The Birth
  2. The Annunciation to the Shepherds
  3. The Adoration of the Shepherds
  4. The Circumcision and Naming of Jesus
  5. The Journey of the Magi
  6. The Adoration of the Magi

The Flight into Egypt takes place after the end of the sixth part.

That Bach saw the six parts as comprising a greater, unified whole is evident both from the surviving printed text and from the structure of the music itself. The edition has not only a title—Weihnachts-Oratorium—connecting together the six sections, but these sections are also numbered consecutively. As John Butt has mentioned, [72] this points, as in the Mass in B minor, to a unity beyond the performance constraints of the church year.

Music

Bach expresses the unity of the whole work within the music itself, in part through his use of key signatures. Parts I and III are written in the keys of D major, part II in its subdominant key G major. Parts I and III are similarly scored for exuberant trumpets, while the Pastoral Part II (referring to the Shepherds) is, by contrast, scored for woodwind instruments and does not include an opening chorus. Part IV is written in F major (the relative key to D minor) and marks the furthest musical point away from the oratorio's opening key, scored for horns. Bach then embarks upon a journey back to the opening key, via the dominant A major of Part V to the jubilant re-assertion of D major in the final part, lending an overall arc to the piece. To reinforce this connection, between the beginning and the end of the work, Bach re-uses the chorale melody of Part I's "Wie soll ich dich empfangen" in the final chorus of Part VI, "Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen"; this choral melody is the same as of "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden", which Bach used five times in his St Matthew Passion .

The music represents a particularly sophisticated expression of the parody technique, by which existing music is adapted to a new purpose. Bach took the majority of the choruses and arias from works which had been written some time earlier. Most of this music was 'secular', that is written in praise of royalty or notable local figures, outside the tradition of performance within the church. [1]

Instrumentation

The scoring below [72] refers to parts, rather than necessarily to individual players. Adherents of theories specifying small numbers of performers (even to 'One Voice Per Part') may however choose to use numbers approaching one instrument per named part.

Part I
3 trumpets, timpani, 2 transverse flutes, 2 oboes, 2 oboes d'amore, 2 violins, viola, continuo group [I 1] [I 2]
Part II
2 flutes, 2 oboes d'amore, 2 oboes da caccia, 2 violins, viola, continuo
Part III
3 trumpets, timpani, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 oboes d'amore, 2 violins, viola, continuo
Part IV
2 horns, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola, continuo
Part V
2 oboes d'amore, 2 violins, viola, continuo
Part VI
3 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes, 2 oboes d'amore, 2 violins, viola, continuo
Notes
  1. The continuo part is open to interpretation in matters of scoring. Examples: for his 1973 recording, Nikolaus Harnoncourt employed bassoon, violoncello, violone (double bass) and organ; [73] Peter Schreier (1987) used violoncello, double bass, bassoon, organ and harpsichord; [74] René Jacobs in 1997 chose violoncello, double bass, lute, bassoon, organ and harpsichord; [75] and Jos van Veldhoven in 2003 opted for violoncello, double bass, bassoon, organ, harpsichord and theorbo. [76]
  2. The different types of oboes referred to above are mostly called for at different points in each section. However, numbers 10, 12, 14, 17, 18, 19 and 21 in Part II call for 2 oboe d'amore and 2 oboe da caccia. This scoring was intended to symbolise the shepherds who are the subject of the second part. It is a reference to the pastoral music tradition of shepherds playing shawm-like instruments at Christmas. Similarly, the pastoral sinfony in Handel's Messiah (1741) is known as the 'Pifa' after the Italian piffero or piffaro, similar to the shawm and an ancestor of the oboe.

Parts and numbers

Each section combines choruses (a pastoral Sinfonia opens Part II instead of a chorus), chorales and from the soloists recitatives, ariosos and arias.

By notational convention the recitatives are in common time.

Part I

Part I: For the First Day of Christmas
No.  Key Time First lineScoringSource – Audio
1Chorus D major 3/8 Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage3 trumpets, timpani, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, strings (violin I, II, viola) and continuo (cello, violone, organ and bassoon)BWV 214: Chorus, Tönet, ihr Pauken!
2Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Es begab sich aber zu der ZeitContinuo Luke2:1-6
3Recitative (alto)Nun wird mein liebster Bräutigam2 oboe d'amore, continuo
4Aria (alto) A min 3/8Bereite dich, Zion, mit zärtlichen TriebenOboe d'amore I, violin I, continuoBWV 213: Aria, Ich will dich nicht hören
5ChoraleE-Phrygian [77] [78] CommonWie soll ich dich empfangen2 flutes, 2 oboes, strings and continuo"Wie soll ich dich empfangen", v. 1 (Paul Gerhardt, 1653); Zahn 5385a (Hans Leo Hassler, 1601) [79]
6Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Und sie gebar ihren ersten SohnContinuo Luke2:7
7Chorale (sopranos)

Recitative (bass)

G major3/4
Common
Er ist auf Erden kommen arm

Wer will die Liebe recht erhöhn

2 oboe d'amore, continuo"Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ", v. 6 (Martin Luther, 1524); Zahn 1947 (Wittenberg 1524) [80] [81]
8Aria (bass)D major2/4Großer Herr und starker KönigTrumpet I, flute I, strings, continuoBWV 214: Aria, Kron und Preis gekrönter Damen
9ChoraleD majorCommonAch mein herzliebes Jesulein!3 trumpets, timpani, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, strings and continuo (cello, violone, organ and bassoon)"Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her", v. 13 (Martin Luther, 1535); Zahn 346 (Martin Luther, 1539) [82]

Part II

Part II: For the Second Day of Christmas
No. KeyTimeFirst lineScoringSource – Audio
10Sinfonia G major 12/8 2 flutes, 2 oboe d'amore, 2 oboe da caccia, strings, continuo
11Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Und es waren Hirten in derselben GegendContinuo Luke2:8-9
12ChoraleG majorCommonBrich an, o schönes Morgenlicht2 flutes, 2 oboe d'amore, 2 oboe da caccia, strings, continuo"Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist", v. 9 (Johann Rist, 1641); Zahn 5741 (Johann Schop, 1641) [83]
13Recitative (Evangelist, tenor; Angel, soprano)Und der Engel sprach zu ihnen
Fürchtet euch nicht
Strings, continuo Luke2:10-11
14Recitative (bass)Was Gott dem Abraham verheißen2 oboe d'amore, 2 oboe da caccia, strings, continuo
15Aria (tenor)E minor3/8Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eiletFlute I, continuoBWV 214: Aria, Fromme Musen! meine Glieder
16Recitative (Evangelist, tenor) [II 1] Und das habt zum ZeichenContinuo Luke2:12
17ChoraleC majorCommonSchaut hin! dort liegt im finstern Stall2 flutes, 2 oboe d'amore, 2 oboe da caccia, strings, continuo"Schaut, schaut, was ist für Wunder dar", v. 8 (Paul Gerhardt, 1667); Zahn  346 (Martin Luther, 1539) [84]
18Recitative (bass)So geht denn hin!2 oboe d'amore, 2 oboe da caccia, continuo
19Aria (alto)G maj/ E min 2/4Schlafe, mein Liebster, genieße der Ruh'Flute I (colla parte an octave above the alto soloist throughout), 2 oboe d'amore, 2 oboe da caccia, strings, continuoBWV 213: Aria, Schlafe, mein Liebster, und pflege der Ruh
20Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Und alsobald war da bei dem EngelContinuo Luke2:13
21ChorusG majorSplit Common (2/2)Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe2 flutes, 2 oboe d'amore, 2 oboe da caccia, strings, continuo Luke2:14
22Recitative (bass)So recht, ihr Engel, jauchzt und singetContinuo
23ChoraleG major12/8Wir singen dir in deinem Heer2 flutes, 2 oboe d'amore, 2 oboe da caccia, strings, continuo"Wir singen dir, Immanuel", v. 2 (Paul Gerhardt, 1656); Zahn 346 (Martin Luther, 1539) [85]
  1. In some performances sung by the Angel (soprano).

Part III

Part III: For the Third Day of Christmas
No. KeyTimeFirst lineScoringSource – Audio
24ChorusD major3/8Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das LallenTrumpet I, II, III, timpani, flute I, II, oboe I, II, strings, continuoBWV 214: Chorus, Blühet, ihr Linden in Sachsen, wie Zedern
25Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Und da die Engel von ihnen gen Himmel fuhrenContinuo Luke2:15
26Chorus A major 3/4Lasset uns nun gehen gen BethlehemFlute I, II, oboe d'amore I, II, strings, continuo
27Recitative (bass)Er hat sein Volk getröst'tFlute I, II, continuo
28ChoraleD majorCommonDies hat er alles uns getanFlute I, II, oboe I, II, strings, continuo"Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ", v. 7 (Martin Luther, 1524); Zahn 1947 (Wittenberg 1524) [80] [81]
29 Duet (soprano, bass)A major3/8Herr, dein Mitleid, dein ErbarmenOboe d'amore I, II, continuoBWV 213: Aria, Ich bin deine, du bist meine
30Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Und sie kamen eilendContinuo Luke2:16-19
31Aria (alto)D maj/B min 2/4Schließe, mein Herze, dies selige WunderViolin solo, continuo
32Recitative (alto)Ja, ja! mein Herz soll es bewahrenFlute I, II, continuo
33ChoraleG majorCommonIch will dich mit Fleiß bewahrenFlute I, II, oboe I, II, strings, continuo"Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen", v. 15 (Paul Gerhardt, 1653); Zahn 6461 (Georg Ebeling, 1666) [86]
34Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Und die Hirten kehrten wieder umContinuo Luke2:20
35Chorale F minor CommonSeid froh, dieweilFlute I, II, oboe I, II, strings, continuo"Laßt Furcht und Pein", v. 4 (Christoph Runge, 1653); Zahn 2072 (Kaspar Füger, 1593) [87]
24Chorus da capoD major3/8Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das LallenTrumpet I, II, III, timpani, flute I, II, oboe I, II, strings, continuoBWV 214: Chorus, Blühet, ihr Linden in Sachsen, wie Zedern

Part IV

Part IV: For New Year's Day (Feast of the Circumcision)
No. KeyTimeFirst lineScoringSource
36Chorus F major 3/8Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit LobenHorns I, II, oboe I, II, strings, continuoBWV 213: Chorus, Lasst uns sorgen, lasst uns wachen
37Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Und da acht Tage um warenContinuo Luke2:21
38Recitative (bass)
Arioso (sopr./bass)
Immanuel, o süßes Wort
Jesu, du mein liebstes Leben
Strings, continuo 
39Aria (soprano & 'Echo' soprano)C major6/8Flößt, mein Heiland, flößt dein NamenOboe I solo, continuoBWV 213: Aria, Treues Echo dieser Orten
40Recitative (bass)
Arioso (soprano)
Wohlan! dein Name soll allein
Jesu, meine Freud' und Wonne
Strings, continuo 
41Aria (tenor) D minor CommonIch will nur dir zu Ehren lebenViolin I, II, continuoBWV 213: Aria, Auf meinen Flügeln sollst du schweben
42ChoraleF major3/4Jesus richte mein BeginnenHorns I, II, oboe I, II, strings, continuoWords: Johann Rist, 1642

Part V

Part V: For the First Sunday in the New Year [V 1]
No. KeyTimeFirst lineScoringSource
43ChorusA maj/F min3/4Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungenOboe d'amore I, II, strings, continuo 
44Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Da Jesus geboren war zu BethlehemContinuo Matthew2:1
45Chorus
Recitative (alto)
Chorus
D majorCommonWo ist der neugeborne König der Juden [V 2]
Sucht ihn in meiner Brust
Wir haben seinen Stern gesehen
Oboe d'amore I, II, strings, continuoBWV 247: St Mark Passion, Chorus,
Pfui dich, wie fein zerbrichst du den Tempel [40]
46ChoraleA majorCommon Dein Glanz all' Finsternis verzehrt Oboe d'amore I, II, strings, continuoWords: Georg Weissel, 1642
47Aria (bass)F minor2/4Erleucht' auch meine finstre SinnenOboe d'amore I solo, organ senza continuoBWV 215: Aria, Durch die von Eifer entflammeten Waffen
48Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Da das der König Herodes hörteContinuo Matthew2:3
49Recitative (alto)Warum wollt ihr erschreckenStrings, continuo 
50Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Und ließ versammeln alle HohenpriesterContinuo Matthew2:4-6
51Trio (sopr., alto, ten.)B minor2/4Ach! wann wird die Zeit erscheinen?Violin I solo, continuounknown
52Recitative (alto)Mein Liebster herrschet schonContinuo 
53ChoraleA majorCommonZwar ist solche HerzensstubeOboe d'amore I, II, strings, continuoWords: Johann Franck, 1655
  1. Part V is meant to be performed on the Sunday between New Year's Day and Epiphany on 6 January; in some years there is no such day, e.g in 2017, 2018 & 2019.
  2. Matthew2:2

Part VI

Part VI: For the Feast of Epiphany
No. KeyTimeFirst lineScoringSource
54ChorusD major3/8Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnaubenTrumpet I, II, III, timpani, oboe I, II, strings, continuoBWV 248a (lost church cantata)
55Recitative (Evangelist, tenor; Herod, bass)Da berief Herodes die Weisen heimlich

Ziehet hin und forschet fleißig
Continuo Matthew2:7-8
56Recitative (soprano)Du Falscher, suche nur den Herrn zu fällenStrings, continuoBWV 248a (lost church cantata)
57Aria (soprano)A maj/F min/A maj3/4Nur ein Wink von seinen HändenOboe d'amore I, strings, continuoBWV 248a (lost church cantata)
58Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Als sie nun den König gehöret hattenContinuo Matthew2:9-11
59ChoraleG majorCommon Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier Oboe I, II, strings, continuoWords: Paul Gerhardt, 1656
60Recitative (Evangelist, tenor)Und Gott befahl ihnen im Traum'Continuo Matthew2:12
61Recitative (tenor)So geht! Genug, mein Schatz geht nicht von hierOboe d'amore I, II, continuoBWV 248a (lost church cantata)
62Aria (tenor)B minor2/4Nun mögt ihr stolzen Feinde schreckenOboe d'amore I, II, continuoBWV 248a (lost church cantata)
63Recitative (soprano, alto, tenor, bass)Was will der Höllen Schrecken nunContinuoBWV 248a (lost church cantata)
64ChoraleD majorCommonNun seid ihr wohl gerochenTrumpet I, II, III, timpani, oboe I, II, strings, continuoBWV 248a (lost church cantata); Words: Georg Werner, 1648

Reception

The first English-language monography on the Christmas Oratorio was published in 2004. [88] It was a translation of a 2002 Dutch-language study by Ignace Bossuyt  [ fr; nl ]. [89]

Recordings

Related Research Articles

Throughout his life as a musician, Johann Sebastian Bach composed cantatas for both secular and sacred use. His church cantatas are cantatas which he composed for use in the Lutheran church, mainly intended for the occasions of the liturgical year.

<i>Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen</i>, BWV 11

Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11, known as the Ascension Oratorio, is an oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach, marked by him as Oratorium In Festo Ascensionis Xsti, probably composed in 1735 for the service for Ascension and first performed on 19 May 1735.

Johann Sebastian Bach composed the church cantata Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit, BWV 14, in Leipzig in 1735 for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany and first performed it on 30 January 1735, a few weeks after his Christmas Oratorio. The cantata, in Bach's chorale cantata format, is based on Martin Luther's hymn "Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit". Its text paraphrases Psalm 124, focussing on the thought that the believers' life depends on God's help and is lost without it.

<i>Schwingt freudig euch empor</i>, BWV 36

Johann Sebastian Bach composed the church cantata Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36, in Leipzig in 1731 for the first Sunday in Advent. He drew on material from previous congratulatory cantatas, beginning with Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c (1725). The Gospel for the Sunday was the Entry into Jerusalem, thus the mood of the secular work matched "the people's jubilant shouts of Hosanna". In a unique structure in Bach's cantatas, he interpolated four movements derived from the former works with four stanzas from two important Advent hymns, to add liturgical focus, three from Luther's "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" and one from Nicolai's "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern". He first performed the cantata in its final form of two parts, eight movements, on 2 December 1731.

<i>Unser Mund sei voll Lachens</i>, BWV 110

Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the Christmas cantata in Leipzig for Christmas Day and first performed it on 25 December 1725.

<i>Gott, wie dein Name, so ist auch dein Ruhm</i>, BWV 171

Gott, wie dein Name, so ist auch dein Ruhm, BWV 171, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for New Year's Day and probably first performed it on 1 January 1729.

<i>Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ</i>, BWV 91

Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BWV 91, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He wrote the Christmas cantata in Leipzig in 1724 for Christmas Day and first performed it on 25 December 1724. The chorale cantata is based on the hymn "Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ" (1524) by Martin Luther.

<i>Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen</i>, BWV 65

Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen, BWV 65, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in 1724 in Leipzig for Epiphany and first performed it on 6 January 1724 as part of his first cantata cycle.

<i>Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem</i>, BWV 159 Church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach

Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem, BWV 159, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for the Sunday Estomihi, the last Sunday before Lent, and probably first performed it on 27 February 1729. The gospel reading for the Sunday, from the Gospel of Luke, includes Jesus announcing his suffering and death in Jerusalem. The cantata's theme and Bach's music foreshadow his Passion.

<i>Ich lebe, mein Herze, zu deinem Ergötzen</i>, BWV 145

Ich lebe, mein Herze, zu deinem Ergötzen, BWV 145, is a five-movement church cantata on a libretto by Picander which Johann Sebastian Bach, as its composer, probably first performed in Leipzig on Easter Tuesday, 19 April 1729. As a seven-movement pasticcio, with one of the added movements composed by Georg Philipp Telemann, it is an Easter cantata known as So du mit deinem Munde bekennest Jesum or as Auf, mein Herz!.

<i>Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt</i>, BWV 112

Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, BWV 112, is a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, a church cantata for the second Sunday after Easter. Bach composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig and first performed it on 8 April 1731. It is based on the hymn by Wolfgang Meuslin, a paraphrase of Psalm 23 written in 1530, sung to a melody by Nikolaus Decius.

<i>Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe</i>, BWV 197a

Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe, BWV 197a (197.1), is a Christmas cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Leipzig for the First Day of Christmas in 1728 or 1729.

Late church cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach refers to sacred cantatas he composed after his fourth cycle of 1728–29. Whether Bach still composed a full cantata cycle in the last 20 years of his life is not known, but the extant cantatas of this period written for occasions of the liturgical year are sometimes referred to as his fifth cycle, as, according to his obituary, he would have written five such cycles – inasmuch as such cantatas were not late additions to earlier cycles, or were adopted in his oratorios.

<i>Jauchzet, frohlocket! Auf, preiset die Tage</i>, BWV 248 I

Jauchzet, frohlocket! Auf, preiset die Tage, BWV 248I, is a 1734 Christmas cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach that serves as the first part of his Christmas Oratorio. Bach was then Thomaskantor, responsible for church music at four churches in Leipzig, a position he had assumed in 1723. For the oratorio, the libretto by an unknown author followed the nativity of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, interspersed with reflecting texts for recitatives and arias, and stanzas from Lutheran hymns.

<i>Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben</i>, BWV 248 IV

Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben, BWV 248IV, is a Christmas cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, composed in 1734 as Part IV of his six-part Christmas Oratorio. Each part of the oratorio is a cantata, written for performance on one of the feast days of the Christmas period. Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben is meant for the New Year's Day feast of the circumcision and naming of Jesus. Based on a libretto by an unknown author, it tells the naming of Jesus from the Nativity of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke.

<i>Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend</i>, BWV 248 II

Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend, BWV 248II, is a 1734 Christmas cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach as the second part of his Christmas Oratorio. Bach was then Thomaskantor, responsible for music at four churches in Leipzig, a position he had assumed in 1723.

Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen, BWV 248III, is a 1734 church cantata for the third day of Christmas (27 December) which Johann Sebastian Bach composed as the third part of his Christmas Oratorio. The Christmas cantata was first performed in 1734, in Leipzig.

Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen, BWV 248V, is a church cantata for the second Sunday after Christmas, which Johann Sebastian Bach composed as the fifth part of his Christmas Oratorio, written for the Christmas season of 1734–35 in Leipzig. The cantata was first performed on 2 January 1735.

Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben, BWV 248VI, is a church cantata for Epiphany, which Johann Sebastian Bach composed as the sixth part of his Christmas Oratorio, written for the Christmas season of 1734–35 in Leipzig. The cantata was first performed on 6 January 1735.

"Nun liebe Seel, nun ist es Zeit", alternatively written "Nun, liebe Seel, nun ist es Zeit", is a Lutheran hymn for Epiphany, in five stanzas of six lines each, by Georg Weissel. It was first printed in 1642, set as a motet by Johannes Eccard. A version with an additional stanza is attributed to Johann Christoph Arnschwanger.

References

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Cited sources

Further reading