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Cantata BWV 142
Uns ist ein Kind Geoboren

BWV 142

Russell Telfer wrote (February 15, 2007):
I have just spent a weekend studying and rehearsing Uns ist ein Kind Geboren, the cantata dignified with the title of BWV 142 (as well as BWV 248'2 and the Lauds from BWV 243). The German choral score shouts ANONYMUS at you on the front.

What a pity we don't know who it's by. You don't have to be too skilled to tell it's unlikely to be by Bach, but it's not far off, with some exciting touches. It has a labour-saving device which I'm not aware of Bach himself using, namely no 7 for Alto takes the music from the Tenor aria of no 5 and transposes it a fourth.

I've noted with interest recent comment on the "Problem" with the list and am doing my bit by sitting on my hands every time I feel tempted to be embroiled.

Incidentally I am occupying myself creating a midi version of this cantata - it fills a gap, it's good practice and it has a satisfying payoff. Later I intend to enhance it using Myriad - which I regard as the best choice of music notation software at its price. I hope to make it available to members but it'll take a week or two.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 15, 2007):
[To Russel Telfer] BWV 142 is most probably by Johann Kuhnau, J.S. Bach's predecessor as Thomaskantor:
This is a charming work that should be better known.
Francis Browne provided an English translation, which you might find useful:
When the MIDI file is ready, I shall be happy to present it at the BCW.


Bach/Kuhnau - BWV 142 Uns ist ein Kind geboren [Beginners Bach]

Peter wrote (July 5, 2007):
Whilst Steve and Jack are treating us all to their thoughts on the real Bach cantatas, back over here in the junior section, our local community orchestra has just started to rehearse BWV 142 "Uns ist ein Kind geboren" which we are planning to put on over the Christmas period. It appears this is not by Bach but by one Johann Kuhnau. Does anyone have any views, comments on this work? Has anyone ever played it before as an amateur (or indeed professional)? Any advice on how it should be played? I would be most interested to hear anyone's comments.

Steven Foss wrote (July 8, 2007):
[To Peter] This is my second attempt to reply to your email. My first attempt was lengthy and was lost when 1000 other homes in the Riverside, California were suddenly without electric power and I temporarily lost my religion. I will attempt a brief summation.

I have not sung or performed instruments for BWV 142. The consensus is that this piece is not by Bach. As to Johann Kuhnau's authorship, it is only an "attributed to" work, with no final answer on the subject that I could find. (Spurious, Possibly by Kuhnau, Attributed to Kuhnau, etc seem to be the only references to infer that J S Bach not being the Author without proof to the contrary). At least Bach did not burn his predecessor's works as J J Rheinberger would later do in another Church in the 19th century.

Kuhnau is not the only composer who's work was misindentified as belonging to Bach by an overly enthusiastic Bach Geshellschaft. Witt (a Passaglia in d minor) and H. Purcell (another Keyboard Piece, hard to believe considering the completely different system of ornaments used by HP) as well as an alumni of Bach's stundents, especially the younger Krebs, and other anon individuals.

Johann Kuhnau of course was JSB predecessor as Kantor at St. Thomas Kirk. Kuhnau published a variety of Keyboard works under the title Klavier Uebung, and publication was during the 18th century generally only undertaken by someone with a reputation. (Publication was for something special as the expense of printing and the high price of the finished product, as expensive as a musical instrument, meant the distribution was for the wealthy and not the Masses.) Kuhnau's publication antedates that of Domenico Scarlatti's publication of Harpsichord Sonatas, and is noteworthy that Kuhnau's work contains pieces with the crossing over hands on the keyboard.

J S Bach was a shrewd business man in using the same title for his printed opus of Harpsichord Pieces and Organ Pieces, as J S Bach used a "Branding" or High name recognition with his publication (4 parts in all) under essential the same name, Clavier Übung.

(And all those that would argue that Clavier equals a Clavichord, I might point out that a 2 manual Harpsichord was specified for Parts 2 and 4, and an Organ for Part 3. Likewise in the manuscript copies for the Harpsichord Suites, the titles is in variably Suite pour la Clavecin, i e Harpsichord).

However, I digress. Your question is about performance.

Christmas pieces have a way of being played and consequently becoming popular. (It wasn't until the 1920's that the tradition of performing the Nutcracker at Christmas time became established, the performance was not expected to be at the Yuletide). Uns ist ein Kind geboren could be easily translated to Unto Us A Child is Born (with all do respect to Handel's Messiah, which was originally performed 13th of April, 1742-for Easter-has also become a fixture of Christmas time.)

If you have any influence over the conductor, here are some observations on performing 18th century music.

As this is a Christmas piece, the underlying feeling is one of great happiness and Joy and ones singing should reflect this.

What I have seen of the vocal score without the text is all in a minor, ie , not the most cheery key. However, the Xmas Carols We Three Kings, and What Child is This are also in minor keys among others.

If a reference is to the future suffering of Christ, one should sing in a contemplative mood rather than a funereal, ie, the We Three Kings verse starting Myhrr is mine its bitter perfume."

During Advent (or Lent for that matter), 18th century organists restricted their use of stops or used the stops sparingly. During festive times such as Christmas, the Organists pulled out the stops, using more colorful stops and combination of stops (and a bell like contraption called a Cymbalstern). The basic idea was more austere performances during Advent to be superceded by more colorful perfornances during Christmas.

As this work is scored for 2 first Violins, 2 Second Violins, 1 Viola, 1 Cello, 1 Bass, and Harpsichord (could be continou), the issue of how many string players and singers per part.
As from Jack's many posts, The Leipzig council wasn't the most supportive of public servants when the subject of Church music was concerned. So in all possibilites the orchestra was probably not much more than a String quartet with a Bass and a couple of Violins to beef the ensemble. I would rather see 3 Violins per part, 2 Violas, 2 Cellos, and 1 Bass. 3 fiddles seem to stay in tune better than two, Violas are a little bit louder and harder to come by, ditto the Cellos, and this arrangement is both Period Instrument Correct and it isn't the end of the world if one instrumentalist gets sick, with the exception of the Bass player; just pray he doesn't get the flu.

I would similarly recommend the same rule of 3 for the choir. 3 vocies tend to stay on pitch (intonation) more easily than two.

Now for reality.

Not knowianything about the size or resources of your Choir, I will make some observations for choirs I have sung in during my checkered past:

It is more than likely that the choir has a number of individuals that will be singing than the above I mentioned.

If it is a church choir, the majority of these singers can barely read music and will be singing by rote. If it is the typica church choir or choral society, it will have an over abundance of Sopranos, most Sopranos that cannot sing above the c above middle c. This group will overpower the rest of the choir by their sheer numbers or blunt force trauma.

There will be one Alto. She will be able to sing even into the lower Tenor range and have difficulty in the higher notes of the Alto range. A few Mezzo-Sopranos will be press ganged into singing Alto by coercion.

There will be one Tenor. The rest of the so-called Tenors are actually Baritones that are falsettoing any note above the E above middle C. They will be few in number.

There will be one Bass. Again, the rest of the Basses are actually Baritones that are stretching to reach the lower notes. There will be about twice as many Basses as Tenors.

Maybe only several individuals can sight read and sing from a score without the benefit of any rehearsal.

There will be no String orchestra. In its place will be either an Organ or Piano playing an arrangement of the score while simultaneously doubling all of the Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass parts.

In sections were there is only the basses singing, the tenors (1 tenor and baritones) will have to double the Bass line. If only the Altos are singing, the Tenors and Baritones will more than likely will be doubling in a falsetto voice. The above is especially true if either group has to sing against the Sopranos.

I think the best recommendations on how to perform BWV 142 Uns ist ein Kind geboren come from J S Bach himself, which he wrote to the Leipzig council as to the minimum requirements needed for church music performance. It is reproduced in the Bach Reader.

Good Luck on the Performance.

Peter wrote (July 9, 2007):
[To Steve Foss] Thank you very much for your most interesting reply which I will certainly pass on to our conductor. I will reply in more detail when we return from a short trip to Venice - we leave in 20 minutes! Hope to do a bit of "following in Vivaldi's footsteps" there whilst the others do the usual St. Mark's, Doge's palace, etc...

Steven Foss wrote (July 10, 2007):
[To Peter] Bon Voyage!

Enjoy Venice,


Discussions in the Week of March 29, 2009

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 28, 2009):
Week of March 29: BWV 142 Kuhnau: ³Uns ist ein Kind Geboren²

Week of March 29: BWV 142 ­ Kuhnau: ³Uns ist ein Kind Geboren²

Cantata for Christmas Day
Attributed to J.S. Bach in BGA
Probably by Johann Kuhnau (1660-1720)
Cantor of St. Thomas, Leipzig: 1701-22

1st performance: December 25, 1720 (?) - Leipzig

Links to texts, translations, scores, recordings and earlier discussions:


Audio clips of ³Uns ist ein Kind geboren²
[link below CD cover]

Audio clips of four Kuhnau cantatas (Robert King}:
Ihr Himmel jubilirt von oben
Weicht ihr Sorgen aus dem Hertzen
Gott, sei mir gnädig nach deiner Güte
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern


1. Concerto
Kuhnau opens with an Italian-style concerto grosso with three pairs of flutes/recorders, oboes and violins. The two bar ritornello is more a punctuation than a section, although Bach used much the same motif in the C Major Concerto for Two Harpsichords. The use of a minor key for a Christmas cantata is unusual. Kuhnau¹s choice of concluding chorale may have dictated A minor. However this is a very lively movement, not unlike Vivaldi¹s Violin Concerto in A Minor (the one every Suzuki student plays!)

Does anyone what is going on in the two flute parts in BGA score? They both appear a third lower than they are supposed to, but they are not transposed. That produces a strange F natural- E sharp in the first bar. It looks to me that someone misread a clef and just kept copying. Are there transposing recorders or flutes?

2. Chorus: ³Uns ist ein Kind geboren²
The opening chorus is a double fugue on the two halves of the Dictum text from Isaiah. The strings. The first violin adds adds a fifth voice. The texture becomes more homophonic in the second section, the counterpoint passing largely to the strings. Flutes and oboes only appear in the concluding coda. The biblical text had been sung in Latin earlier in the service as versicles before the collect (see Musical Sequence for Christmas Day below. The liturgical sequence would have been the same for Kuhnau and he used the same motet collections as Bach). Kuhnau also set this text for his cantata ³Wie schön leuchtet² (see audio clip above)

3. Aria (bass): Dein Geburstag is erschienen²
The libretto of the cantata is by Neumeister, and this bipartite bass aria is the first modern poetic movement. The ritornello is written for violins without viola, a favorite sonority of the 17th century. The principal motif of the second section is a written-out tremolo on ³was ich suche².

4. Chorus: Ich will den Namen Gottes loben²
The second chorus in C major opens with a triple-time fugue of the type often encountered in the Bach¹s older contemporaries. Bach obviously valued this type of fugue which is very similar to passages in J.C. Bach¹s ³Lieber Herr Gott² which Wolff thinks Bach had copied for his own funeral. The counterpoint disappears in the second half of this chorus in favour of a homophonic dance movement.

5. Aria (tenor): ³Jesu, dir sei Dank²
The tenor has a da capo aria accompanied by two oboes and continuo. The dotted figure is preminiscent of the theme of ³Sehet Jesu hat die hand² in the SMP. The very brief middle section is for voice and continuo alone.

6. Recitative (alto): ³Immanuel²
The secco recitative for alto reminds us of the ³Immanuel² recitative in Part Four of the Christmas Oratorio. At the mention of ³praise², the soloist launches into a lovely little three bar arioso.

7. Aria (alto): ³Jesu, dir sei Preis²
Commentators are almost universally snippy and sniffy that Kuhnau repeats the tenor aria, this time for flutes/recorders (again in that odd notation) and alto in D minor (without a key signature?). Actually, Kuhau is quite clever. The first aria has the text, ³Jesu, dir sei Dank gesungen², while this cantata has ³Jesu, dir sei Preis gesungen². The transposition and changes in voicing and scoring are actually quite effective ­ hardly a dodge by a lazy hack. Even Bach was known to repeat movements: ³Jesu bleibet meine Freude² (Jesu Joy of Man¹s desiring) is repeated without alteration in Cantata BWV 147, ³Herz und Mund².

8. Chorale: ³Allelujah, allelujah²
The closing setting of the chorale, ³Wir Christenleut,² still appears often in choral anthologies and is performed quite often by church choirs who are clearly attracted by its similarity to ³Jesu, Joy of Man¹s Desiring² with a simply harmonized chorale graced with a strong unison melody played by tutti strings and winds. The chorale was also sung later in the service as a communion hymn (see Musical Sequence for Christmas Day below)

The sequence would be the same for Kuhnau who would have used contemporary choral and organ works in the prescribed places.

Tower bells rung at 6 amand again at 7 am:
The 5200 kg bell ³Gloriosa² (1477) (pitched in A) was rung only on festivals Candles lit at 7 am, Archdeacon of Leipzig officiates as celebrant; Deacon assists Musicians must be in loft by final bell or be fined.

Organ Prelude on ³Puer Natus² (BWV 603 ­ Orgelbüchlein?)
Settings by Bach or other composers before all chorales & choral works
Introit Hymn/Motet by Choir: ³Puer Natus In Bethlehem²
Settings by Praetorius or Schein are possible

Organ Prelude before Kyrie to establish key and cover tuning
Missa Brevis: Kyrie & Gloria (Plainsong Gloria intonation sung by Celebrant)
A concerted setting in Latin was sung from Christmas Day to Epiphany.
Bach¹s own missae breve are generally from his later tenure in Leipzig but may have been used with later performances of the cantata:
B minor (1733) ­ used in B Minor Mass [only missa brevis with brass]
BWV 233 - F major (1738)
based on Christmas cantata ³Dazu ist Erscheinen² ­ 2 horns
BWV 233a ­ Kyrie (1708-1712)
BWV 234 ­ A major (1738)
BWV 235 ­ G minor (1738)
BWV 236 ­ G Major (1738)

Collect/Prayer of Day sung in Latin plainsong by Celebrant
with Versicles ³Puer Natus est nobis²
Choral Responses sung to four-part polyphony
from Vopelius collection ³Neue Leipziger Gesangbuch²

Epistle: Titus 2:11-14 (The grace of God has appeared)
sung by Deacon in German to plainsong

Organ Prelude on ³Gelobet Seist Du² (BWV 314 or 604?)
Congregational Gradual Hymn of the Day (³de tempore¹,):
³Gelobet Seist Du, Jesu Christ ³

Gospel choral responses sung in six-part polyphony from Vopelius collection
Gospel : Luke 2: 1-14 (Birth of Christ)
sung by Deacon in German to plainsong

Organ Prelude on ³Wir Glauben All An Einen Gott² (BWV 1098?)
Congregational Creed Chorale:
³Wir Glauben All An Einen Gott² (Luther)

Organ Prelude before Cantata
First Cantata

Organ Prelude on ³Ein Kindelein So Löbelich² (BWV 719?)
Congregational Pulpit Hymn after the Cantata (Offertory)
³Ein Kindelein So Löbelich²

Sursum Corda sung in Latin in six-part polyphony
from Vopelius collection
Preface sung in Latin by Celebrant
Sanctus (without Benedictus)
A concerted setting was sung in Latin during Christmas week.
BWV 237 ­ C major
BWV 238 ­ D major
BWV 239 ­ D Minor
BWV 240 ­ G Major (arr?)
BWV 241 ­ D Major (Kerll?)
Hand bells rung at the altar at the end of the Sanctus

Lord¹s Prayer sung in German plainsong by Celebrant
Choral Amen from Vopelius
Verba (Words of Institution) sung in German plainsong by Celebrant

Chorale-prelude before Cantata
Second Cantata ³sub communione² during Communion?
Unknown if by Bach or other composer;
Bach¹s motet ³Lobet den Herrn² has a traditional Christmas text.

Chorale-preludes before hymns
Other congregational hymns during Communion:
introduced by organ prelude:
³Ich Freue Mich In Dir² (Ziegler)
³Wir Christenleut² (Fuger)

Prayer after Commuiom
Sung in Latin by celebrant
Choral responses 4 part polyphony from Vopelius

Sung in German by celebrant
Choral Amen 4 part polyphony from Vopelius

Organ Prelude on ³³Ein Kind Geborn zu Bethlehem²
Final Congregational Hymn: ³Ein Kind Geborn zu Bethlehem²
German repeat of Introit chorale

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 30, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Does anyone what is going on in the two flute parts in BGA score? They both appear a third lower than they are supposed to, but they are not transposed. That produces a strange F natural- E sharp in the first bar. It looks to me that someone misread a clef and just kept copying. Are there transposing recorders or flutes? >
Could it perhaps be the instrument was really a flute d'amore?

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 30, 2009):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Could it perhaps be the instrument was really a flute d'amore? >
I never realized such a beast existed!

And here's an article describing the various kinds of flutes d'amore:

It includes comments about Bach's use of the instrument. It would be interesting to know whether the instrument had pastoral/Christmas associations for both Kuhnau and Bach:

"Bach used the instrument in Cantatas and it is possible that some of his flute sonatas we play on concert flute were in fact intended for flute d¹amore. More research is needed to verify this. There is one example where the indication for flute d¹amore does clearly appear on a Bach score and that is for two flutes d¹amore in the orchestral pastoral in part ii of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). There is evidence that he used the flute d¹amore and other larger flutes in other works as the range of the part goes below that of the C flute. Again, this requires closer research."

"The Flute d¹amore" by Kate Walsh

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 31, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I never realized such a beast existed!
And here's an article describing the various kinds of flutes d'amore:
It includes comments about Bach's use of the instrument. It would be interesting to know whether the instrument had pastoral/Christmas associations for both Kuhnau and Bach: >
Certainly seems to be the case for Christoph Graupner, he used it in several pieces including a large A major orchestral suite for flute/oboe/viola d'amore and strings. I call it "The Lovey Dovey Suite" ;)

You can hear some excerpted movements using my edition here:

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 31, 2009):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Certainly seems to be the case for Christoph Graupner, he used it in several pieces including a large A major orchestral suite for flute/oboe/viola d'amore and strings. I call it "The Lovey Dovey Suite" ;) >
Viola d¹amore, oboe d¹amore, AND traverso d¹amore! I can feel the love!
Gorgeous music.

James Atkin Pritchard wrote (March 31, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling, in response to his Introduction message] Doug, would the music by Vopelius have been used at every choral eucharist? And do you know whether it's available in a modern edition? Also, is the German plainsong you mention (lections, Lord's Prayer, Verba etc.) available?

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 31, 2009):
[To James Atkins Pritchard] The "Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch" (1682) was edited by Vopelius and contained settings of the "ordinary" of mass and vespers by 17th century composers such as Demantius and Praetorius. It functioned like a hymn book for liturgical texts, providing Bach with settings of items which were required every Sunday. There are polyphonic settings of familiar ordinary texts like the Gloria and Sanctus which could sung when a concerted setting was not required, but there are also elaborate polyphonic settings of simple texts like the "Dominus vobiscum/Et cum spiritu tuo" and "Amen" sung every Sunday before and after the prescribed Collect or Prayer of the Day.

The collection makes distinctions between Sundays. For instance, there is a four-part setting of the "Gloria tibi Domine" acclamation before the Gospel for ordinary Sundays and an extended six-voice setting for principal festivals. This certainly parallels the degree of elaboration we see in cantatas for the big festivals. This collection and the Bodenschatz collection of motets bear witness to the large number of 17th century settings which characterized Bach's weekly music-making. The "modern" cantatas would have stood out in arresting contrast to the oalbeit very beautiful repertoire.

As far as I can determine, the entire collection has not been edited for performance. An appendix in Jürgen Grimm, "Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch des Gottfried Vopelius (Leipzig 1682). Untersudcungen zur Klirung seiner geschichtlicben Stellung" provides a few dozen examples of shorter works, written in terrible hand-written scrawl. I'm editing these pieces, as well as a number referenced in the works of Praetorius, for a concert reconstruction of a Bach Christmas mass next season by the Tallis Choir of Toronto. I'll probably post them to the Choral Public Domain Library at some point.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 2, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote
>This collection and the Bodenschatz collection of motets bear witness to the large number of 17th century settings which characterized Bach's weekly music-making. The "modern" cantatas would have stood out in arresting contrast to the older albeit very beautiful repertoire.<
An important point, which Doug never fails to emphasize. Why am I thinking of John Coltrane playing <My Favorite Things>? Must be something friendish in the April First air.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (April 2, 2009):
Here is a cute arrangment of some movements from BWV 142 performed by a single flute player, but doing all the parts himself, and then stitched together to form a video. He uses a bass flute which has a wonderful sound I think. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (April 4, 2009):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] Kim, this Graupner is very beautiful. Thank you so much.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Christoph Graupner & Bach [Bach & Other Composers]

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (April 4, 2009):
Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch [was: Week of March 29: BWV 142 Kuhnau: ³Uns ist ein Kind Geboren²]

[To Douglas Cowling] Thank you so much for this information. I'll look forward to your CPDL posting, and I hope that someday in the not too distant future a modern edition of the entire collection appears.


Discussions in the Week of December 4, 2016 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote wrote (December 9, 2016):
Christmas: Oratorio, Forerunners, Cantata 142, Rathey Book Review

Following the early German baroque tradition of Michael Praetorius and Heinrich Schütz, Bach’s predecessors as Cantor at the Thomas School and Church in Leipzig helped lay the groundwork for Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, in its content and form. Of particular note (and their dates as cantors) are Johann Schelle (1677-1701), and Sebastian Knüpfer (1657-1676). Bach knew his predecessor, Johann Kuhnau, and the Christmas Cantata, “Uns ist ein Kind geboren” (Unto us a child is born), formerly attributed to Bach as BWV 142, is possibly the work of Kuhnau or one of various composers in Leipzig between 1700 and 1710.

Furthering this Yule tradition were the Leipzig Collegia musica ensembles of mostly university students led by various musical notables.1

The three cantors' settings during the growth of Lutheranism and the emergence of a special piety and theology helped shape the Christmas Oratorio as a masterpiece among Bach’s mature works often utilizing parody or contrafaction, that is existing music with a new-text underlay. Bach’s account of the six services at Christmas Season is the culmination and centerpiece of his Christological cycle of varied musical settings involving cantatas as musical sermons, Latin liturgical settings, introit psalm motets, and Lutheran congregational chorales.

The twin themes of the compositional process that shaped and produced Bach’s static sacred Yuletide drama, without historical parallel, and the cultural and theological understanding of Bach’s Christmastime in Leipzig are explored in depth in Marcus Rather’s new Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio: Music, Theology, Culture.2 The music the three previous cantors had composed followed a direct and unique line beginning with Praetorius’ c.1620 Christmas Mass setting of polychoral motets and chorales, leading to Schütz’s narrative story, Historia der Freuden- und Gnadenreichen Geburth Gites un Marien Sohnes, Jesu Cristi (History of the Joyously- and Richly-Merciful Birth of God’s and Mary’s Son, Jesus Christ) of 1660/64.

Leipzig Cantors Knüpfer, Schelle

Subsequently, cantor Knüpfer composed a Christmas concerto setting, “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her,” of Luther Christmas chorales and others’ hymns, the Gloria from Luke 2:14, and free poetic texts. Dating to c1683, Schelle’s Actus musicus “is a somewhat straightforward setting of the Christmas story from Luke 2, combined with hymn stanzas and occasional instrumental interludes,” says Rathey (Ibid.: 38). Bach also used this music in his various settings. This work was part of a cycle of oratorio-type cantatas (concertos) and he also composed a cycle beginning with chorales, as his Actus musicus does.

Knüpfer was the Leipzig agent for the distribution of Schütz’s Weinachtshistorie, and “we can assume that the piece was at some point performed in Leipzig as well,” says Rathey (Ibid.: 39). On a smaller scale is Knüpfer’s Christmas concerto, also with Luther’s “Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar” and Kaspar Füger’s 1592 “Wir Christenleut,” as well as other chorales (music download, Instead of an oratorio-like setting with biblical texts, Knüpfer still has a “clear dramatic element,” says Rathey (Ibid.), with the introduction of the angel announcing the birth and the juxtaposition of choirs of angels and shepherds.

Elements in Schelle’s Actus musicus that Bach later uses include the various narrative choirs and the setting of Luther’s “Vom Himmel Hoch,” Stanza 13, “Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein” (Ah little Jesus dear to my heart), that closes Part 1, the Nativity, in BWV 248/9 with trumpet flourishes, as well as the textual, theological references to Jesus coming into the heart of the believer as unio mystica and Mary as motherly love, says Rathey (Ibid.: 40f). Schelle work also uses Stanza 5, “Alleluia: Gelobet sei Gott” (Allelujah! Praise be to God), of “Wir Christenleut haben jetzund Freud” (We Christian people have joy now). This text also is used to close Bach’s Cantata BWV 110, “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens” (May our mouth be filled with laughter, Psalm 126:2), for Christmas Day 1725 (see BCML Discussion, week of December 11). Bach also uses the anonymous melody to a different text in Part 3, the Adoration of the Shepherds, in his Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248/35. The same Stanza 5 also is the closing chorale for the anonymous Christmas Cantata 142.

Around the turn of the 18th century, a Leipzig Collegium musicum performed at the annual New Year’s Fair, beginning on the Feast of Epiphany, January 6, closing the Christmas season. Meanwhile, the Leipzig opera house, founded in 1693, would mount a new production. This heralded the development of the Italian-style cantata with its madrigalian choruses and arias, as well as accompanied recitatives, and plain chorale settings, elements central to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

Anonymous Christmas Cantata 142

The apocryphal Bach Cantata BWV 142, “Uns ist ein Kind geboren” (Unto us a child is born), whose composer is still unknown, dates to as early as the first decade of the 18th century, with its mix of choruses, arias and recitatives (recording, Lasting about 14 minutes in eight brief movements, it is a hybrid, non-symmetrical, possibly adaptation involving three arias and a plain recitative text (variant) of Erdmann Neumeister, two choruses set to biblical words, an opening sinfonia, and a closing plain chorale.3

Accompanied by pairs of recorders and oboes with strings, its setting of two da-capo arias (nos. 5 and 7) with parodied texts in the same work ruled out Bach as the composer butthe model “is not unknown in their predecessors,” observes W. Gillies Whittaker in The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach.FN Its attribution to Johann Kuhnau (1660-1772) in the early 20th century suggested to Whittaker that Kuhnau “may well have been responsible for the first version. If Bach took a hand in it at all, it may have been in remodeling the arias, which are short and not without charm.”

“The work is distinguished by its striking instrumentation and the variety of its musical forms,” says Peter Wollny in the 2004 liner notes to the Wolfgang Helbich CPO recording.5 The three arias are “markedly graceful,” with the three soloists (bass, tenor, alto) entering in ascending sequence with the separate sound groups of high instruments accompanying, respectively, with violins, oboes, and recorders, Wollny points out. The biblical dictum second fugal chorus, following the bass aria (no . 3), is a paraphrase of Psalm 69.3.

Cantata 142 movements, scoring, incipits, key, meter:6

1. Concerto, instrumental sinfonia, 33 mm. (2 recorders, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola, continuo); a minor; 4/4.
2. Chorus double fugue, 41mm [SATB, tutti instruments]: “Uns ist ein Kind geboren, / ein Sohn ist uns gegeben.” (A child has been born to us, a son has been given to us, Isaiah 9.6); a minor; 4/4.
3. Aria in two parts, with short ritornelli, 38 mm [Bass; 2 violins, continuo]: Dein Geburtstag ist erschienen, / so erfordert meine Pflicht, / dich, mein Jesu zu bedienen.” (Your birthday has appeared / and so my duty requires / that I should serve you, my Jesus.); “Doch, ich Armer weiß gar nicht, / was ich suche, was ich finde, / welches dir zum Angebinde / dich, o großer Gott, vergnügt.” (But I – poor man -- do not know at all -- / what I could look for, what I could find / that as a gift for you / might be considered a holy offering / that would please you, o great God.); e minor; 4/4.
4. Chorus fugal, 64mm [SATB; strings, continuo]: “Ich will den Namen Gottes loben mit einem Liede, / und will ihn hoch ehren mit Dank.” (I wish to praise God’s name with a song / and honour him highly with my gratitude.); C Major; ¾.
5. Aria da capo, opening theme from Concerto, 22 mm [Tenor; 2 oboes, continuo): A. “Jesu, dir sei Preis gesungen, / Jesu, dir sei Ehr' und Ruhm!” (Jesus, may praise be sung to you / Jesus, may you have honour and glory!); B. Denn das Los ist mir in allen / auf das Lieblichste gefallen; / du, du bist mein Eigentum.” (For the lot that has fallen to me / is the most delightful of all; you, you belong to me.); a minor; 4/4.
6. Recitative secco, 8 mm [Alto, continuo]: “ Immanuell! Du wollest dir gefallen lassen, / daß dich mein Geist und Glaube kann umfassen; / kann ich die Freude gleich so herzlich nicht entdecken, / die dein Geburtstag will erwecken, / wird doch mein schwaches Lallen / dir durch Lob und Preis gefallen.” (Immanuel, it has been your pleasure to allow / my spirit and faith to grasp you; / even if I am not able wholeheartedly to reveal all the joy that the day of your birth will inspire, / yet my feeble stammering will still / please you through giving praise and honour.); f minor; 4/4.
7. Aria da capo (same music as No. 5) [Alto; 2 recorders, continuo]: A. Jesu, dir sei Preis gesungen, / denn ich bin durch dich erlöst” (Jesus, may praise be sung to you / for it is through you that I have been redeemed.”; B. “Nichts betrübet das Gemüte, / da mein Herz durch deine Güte / überschwenglich wird getröst't.” (Nothing troubles my soul / since my heart through your kindness / has been abundantly consoled.); d minor; 4/4.
8. Chorale plain, with ritornelli, 41mm [SATB; winds, 2 violins obbligato; viola, continuo): “Alleluja, Alleluia, gelobet sei Gott, / singen wir aus unsres Herzen Grunde, / denn Gott hat heut' / gemacht solch Freud' / der wir vergessen soll'n zu keiner Stunde.” (Alleluia, alleluia, may God be praised, / let us sing from the bottom of our hearts, / for God has today / created such joy / that at no time should we ever forget it.); a minor; ¾.

Cantata 142 appeared authentic, a “seemingly certain attestation,” says Wollny (Ibid.). Christian Friedrich Penzel, one of Bach’s last students and prefect in 1755, copied Bach cantatas found in the Thomas School archives, including this work (original lost). Five cantatas of Bach survive only in copies by Penzel: BWV 150, 157-159 and 106. Cantata 142 Provenance is as follows: Penzel - J. G. Schuster (1801) - Franz Hauser (1833) - J. Hauser (1870) - BB (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz) (1904).

The text of Cantata 142 was based on Neumeister’s third annual cycle of 1711, first set by Georg Philipp Telemann, TVWV 1:1151 (recording,; details,,_BWV_142). In 1720, Kuhnau performed a cantata setting of Neumeister’s text, “differing textually, however, in many details,” says Wollny (Kuhnau article with list of extant works, Kuhnau also composed various cantata settings for Christmas, including one beginning with the chorale, “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” (How beautifully shines the morning star). Kuhnau also composed a Latin Magnificat setting ( “Kuhnau’s mastery of styles and forms suggests a versatile and lively musical mind, something which belies his current reputation as the somewhat dull and pedantic predecessor of Bach, observes John Butt in his Kuhnau profile in the Sacred Music recording by the King’s Concort (

Another composer with Leipzig associations in the early 1700s to whom Cantata 142 may be considered is Georg Melchior Hoffman (c.1679-1715), Leipzig New Church music director, whose Magnificat setting, BWV Anh. 21, was attributed to Bach, as well as Cantatas BWV 53 and 189 (see BCW Biography, Other composers7 were Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755), violinist whi worked in Leipzig 1710-12, whose cantatas are lost; Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758), who student Collegium musicum at Christmas 1710 set music for the Leipzig University Church, and young Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (1690-1749), who studied in Leipzig, 1707-10 (see BCW Biography, Another possibility is an unknown composer from the Kuhnau-Hoffmann Leipzig circle who also was associated with the cantata texts of Neumeister, who studied in Leipzig c.1695 and was a pastor in Weissenfels, Sorau, and Hamburg (BCW Biography,

Stölzel, Mid-1730s Music

Stölzel, court composer at Gotha and Sondershausen, has come to be a major figure in Bach performances in the mid 1730s at the time Bach’s oratorios were composed and he began the contrafaction arrangements of the four Missae: Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233-36 for feast days services to accompany the oratorios. At Good Friday 1734 before undertaking the Christmas Oratorio, Bach presented Stölzel’s poetic Passion oratorio, “Ein Lammlein geht,” (A Lambkind goes fourth), followed after the oratorios with the first of possibly two Stölzel double cantata cycles, known as the Names of Jesus and the String cycles. Coincidentally, from Christmas 1736 to Epiphany 1737, Stölzel performed his setting of a so-called non-liturgical “Christmas Oratorio in the Form of a Cantata Cycle” in the Sondershausen court chapel (recording information,ölzel-Christmas-Weimar-Baroque-Ensemble/dp/B00003Q083, biography & works,ölzel.

Before beginning his Christmas Oratorio as a series of feast day oratorios in the mid-1730s, Bach had completed three church year cantata cycles, three biblical Passion settings of John, Matthew, and Mark, as well as the Missa: Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233a, 1733 setting that opens the B-Minor Mass, Bach’s Leipzig Christmas Day Performance calendar (BCW Cantatas for Christmas Day,

1723-12-25 Sa - Cantata BWV 63 Christen, ätzet diesen Tag (2nd performance, Leipzig) + Magnificat in E flat major BWV 243a (1st performance, Leipzig)
1724-12-25 Mo - Cantata BWV 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (1st performance, Leipzig, earlier version); Sanctus, BWV 238
1725-12-25 Di - Cantata BWV 110 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (1st performance, Leipzig)
1726-12-25 Mi – no documentation
1727-12-25 Do – no documentation
1728-12-25 Sa - Cantata BWV 197a Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe (1st performance, Leipzig) (? or the following year)
1729-12-25 So - Cantata BWV 63 Christen, ätzet diesen Tag (3rd performance, Leipzig) (?)
1730-12-25 Mo – no documentation
1731-12-25 Di - Cantata BWV 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (2nd performance, Leipzig, earlier version; or 1732)
1732-12-25 Do - Cantata BWV 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (2nd performance, Leipzig, earlier version; or 1731)
1733-12-25 Fr - Cantata BWV 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (3rd performance, Leipzig, later version)
1734-12-25 Sa - Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248/1 Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage (1st performance, Leipzig)
1735-12-25 So - G.H. Stölzel: Uns ist ein Kind geboren, ein Sohn ist uns gegeben, Mus A 15:38 + Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget, Mus A 15:39
1746-12-25 So - Cantata BWV 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (5th performance, Leipzig, later version; or 1747)
1747-12-25 Mo - Cantata BWV 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (5th performance, Leipzig, later version; or 1746)

Vocal works with no definite date:
(1728-1731) - Cantata BWV 110 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (2nd performance, Leipzig)
(1736-1737) - Cantata BWV 197a Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe (2nd performance, Leipzig)
(After 1740) - Cantata BWV 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (4th performance, Leipzig, earlier version)
(1743-1746) - Cantata BWV 191 Gloria in excelsis Deo (1st performance, Leipzig)
(?) - J. Kuhnau: Cantata BWV 142 Uns ist ein Kind Geoboren (not known if performed by J.S. Bach)
(?) - G.M. Hoffmann: Little Magnificat in A minor BWV Anh 21 (?,not known if performed by J.S. Bach)

Marcus Rathey's New Book

Marcus Rathey’s new study of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio: Music, Theology and Culture (Oxford University Press, 12016), is an exhaustive, source-based examination of what has emerged as a major masterpiece, shedding its earliest historical reception in the 19th century as a light, inconsequential work of self-plagiarism and idolatrous contrivance. The chapter titles hint at the breadth and depth of this odyssey: “Redefining Christmas,” “Layers of Time: The Theology of the Christmas Oratorio,” Bach’s Oratorio Concept,” “Planning the Oratorio,” and the six parts: Part 1, Nativity, “Dichotomies”; Part 2, Annunciation to Shepherds, “Mundane and Celestial Harmonies”; Part 3, Shepherds’ Adoration, “Inward Mobility”; Circumcision & Naming, “’What’s in a Name’?”; Paar 5, Magi Journey, “Paths of Enlightenment” (Part 5), and Part 6, Magi Adoration, “The Bridegroom and the Enemy.”

Rathey’s latest book follows on the heels of his Bach’s Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama, Liturgy (Yale University Press, 2016), with its Chapter 3, “From Love Song to Lullaby: The Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248.” His new monograph is an exemplar for an individual study of Bach’s major vocal works and hopefully will lead to other studies of the Passions, groups of cantatas for seasons and special uses, and the other oratorios, as well as the instrumental music (Peter Williams emphasizes the keyboard music in his new Bach: A Musical Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

The cultural and religious climate of Bach’s time and his oratorio are the basic subject of Rathey’s study, examining various German sources, particularly before Bach’s time. Of central interest, and an extension of his previous book, is the theme of the heart, found in graphic and devotional literature, with an emphasis on love songs and duets. His theological studies focus on the unio mystica of the human heart in the “The Duty in life” concept of the meaning of the Christmas feast with its related “Doctrine of Faith” and “Consolation of Faith” as “Christ comes as a child to make mankind children of God,” relates Rathey (Ibid.: 9).

Rathey also conducts a philological study of the textutal and musical influences found often in this extensive parody work. Musically, in “Redefining Christmas,” Rathey examines the traditions that were most directly influential on Bach (see above, “Leipzig Cantors Knüpfer, Schelle”). In the chapter, “Layers of Time: The Theology of the Christmas Oratorio,” examined is the “The Threefold Meaning of Christmas,” that is the three modes of Christ’s coming, into the flesh, into our hearts, and at the final judgement. These are found in the prayer books and libretti of Bach contemporary poets (and pastors) Neumeister (see above, “Anonymous Christmas Cantata 142,” and Benjamin Schmolck (Stölzel’s librettist; see above, “Stölzel, Mid-1730s Music”).

The oratorio libretto, possibly by Picander, “has three gravitational centers: the historical event of the birth of Jesus, the existential meaning on this coming expressed in the image of Christ’s indwelling in the believer’s heart, and the return of Christ at the end of Time” [the eschatology), says Rathey (Ibid.: 61). At the same time, in order to engage the congregation, Bach set plain chorales with elaborate instrumental support, a chorale chorus, and three dialogues with troped poetic materials as love duets, emphasizing Christmas hymns of Martin Luther, Johann Rist, and Paul Gerhardt, moving from traditional to pietist-flavored stanzas.

In the chapter “Bach’s Oratorio Concept,” Rathey studies contemporary models and the influence of poetic Passion texts of Stölzel (see above) and Johann Adolph Hasse at the Dresden court, both performed on Good Friday 1734. No examples of other composers so-called “Christmas Oratorios” are cited, except for Carl Heinrich Graun’s poetic work with chorales (Ibid.: 80f), “Mache dich auf, werde Licht,” and no date but similar in structure and gallant style to his poetic Passion setting, “Der Tod Jesu” (The Death of Jesus). Almost no information is found on the works of Johann Mattheson, “Die Heilsame Geburt” (1715) and “Das größte Kind” (1720), Telemann’s “O Jesu parvule,” TVWV 1:797; and Georg Gebel’s “Jauchzet, ihr Himmel! Erfreue dich Erde!” of 1748.8 These works are designed in cantata style while Bach’s contemporaries also composed numerous cantatas for Christmas Season services.


1 See “Bach’s Collegium musicum in Leipzig and Its History,” A Summary Translation by Thomas Braatz of an article by Andreas Glöckner entitled “Bachs Leipziger Collegium musicum und seine Vorgeschichte” from Die Welt der Bach-Kantaten Vol. 2, Johann Sebastian Bachs weltliche Kantaten; editors: Christoph Wolff/Ton Koopman published by Metzler/Bärenreiter, 1997, pp. 105-117.
2 Rathey, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio: Music, Theology, Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
3 Cantata 142 Details and Discography, Score Vocal & Piano [1.27 MB],; Score BGA [1.87 MB], References: BGA XXX (Cantatas 141-150, Paul Graf Waldersee, 1881; NBA KB I/41, (Miscellaneocantatas, spurious Andreas Glöckner, 2000: 117). Score copy, digital facsimile,
4 Whittaker, W. Gillies. The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: Sacred & Secular (London: Oxford University Press: 1958: I: 161).
5 Peter Wollny notes (Susan Marie Praeder trans.), BCW Recording details,
6 Cantata 142 German text and Francis Browne English translation,
7 Also cited in Rainer Weber, “Nachbemerkung” (Afterward), Cantata 142 vocal-piano score (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel EB 7142, 1977).
8 Recordings of these works are listed at


This discussion of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio will continue a year from now on the BCML during consideration of Bach’s Christological cycle, taking up the remainder of Rathey book, dealing with the chapters “Planning the Oratorio,” and the six chapters on each part, as well as the extensive dance element in the work, and other resources.


Cantata BWV 142: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions | Discussions of Non-Bach Cantatas: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Johann Kuhnau: Short Biography | Cantata BWV 142 | Motet Tristis est anima mea / Der Gerechte kömmt um | Passions-Pasticcio BWV 1088 | Johann Kuhnau & Bach | Music

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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Last update: Monday, September 11, 2017 15:27