Cantata BWV 122Das neugeborene Kindelein
Aryeh Oron wrote (December 30, 2001):
BWV 122 - Background
The background below is based on several sources (Robertson, Young, Finscher, etc.) and something of my own. The English translations are taken from Richard Stokes’ book.
This is a typical (?) Chorale Cantata, based on the hymn of Cyriakus Schneegaß with the same title as the cantata. Verses 1, 3 & 4 of the hymn are quoted in Mvts. 1, 4 & 6 of the cantata accordingly, whereas verse 2 is paraphrased for Mvts. 2 & 3. The librettist is unknown, however Young assumes that it was probably Bach himself.
Mvt. 1 Chorus
Das neugeborne Kindelein
(The new-born infant child)
A swinging joy-motif in the oboes and strings gives the melody a cheerful lilt, repeated in the ritornelli after each line sung. The sopranos carry the cantus firmus in long notes, followed by the other parts in imitation with flowing runs. This is a familiar pattern from other opening choruses, and here it results in entrancing lyricism.
Mvt. 2 Aria for Bass
O Menschen, die ihr täglich sündigt
(O mortals, you who sin each day)
The exhortation is made more emphatic by being repeated to its initial phase. Only the continuo accompanies, because the message becomes stronger when there is no external cause to divert the men’s opinion from listening. The text explains why we should by joyful. The men should appreciate the birth of their Redeemer, who will deliver them from their sins. They should heed the angel’s joyful shouts, which announce that God is reconciled with them now.
Mvt. 3 Recitative for Soprano (with instrumental chorale)
Die Engel, welche sich zuvor
(The angels who have till now)
In the first two lines only the continuo can be heard accompanying the singer. From the third line on we hear the 3 transverse flutes (the only movement in this cantata in which they play together). It seems that these represent the angelic chorus, as they play the chorale tune, at a high pitch, above the declamation of the singer. The singer states that the angels, who previously avoided sinners as cursed (that is why they are not heard in the beginning), now rejoice over their salvation.
Mvt. 4 Terzett for Alto, Soprano & Tenor
(Chorale for Alto + Aria (Duet) for Soprano & Tenor)
Ist Gott versöhnt und unser Freund
(If God is appeased and our friend)
This movement is actually a trio, but with a unique structure. The soprano and the tenor sing a duet, interspersed with the alto’s singing of the hymn. The chorale, representing the other world, and humanity, represented by soprano and the tenor, are completely interwoven. The lines are sung alternately, beginning with the chorale. Each text complements the other, and unison strings, playing a siciliano melody accompany the whole. The derision directed by Satan, who dares to defy God, finds vivid expression in the tenor and alto parts as the alto reaches the end of the first three lines of the chorale.
Mvt. 5 Recitative for Bass
Dies ist ein Tag, den selbst der Herr gemacht
(This is a day the Lord Himself has made)
Strings accompany this movement, which begins with quotation from Psalm 118: 24. The bass then lists the happy fulfilment of expectant waiting for this blessed time, the faithful hope, the belief, the love, and the joy which pierces sadness. A joy-rhythm appears in the last two lines at the mention of ‘Freudigkeit’ (joy).
Mvt. 6 Chorale
Es bringt das rechte Jubeljahr
(It brings this true Jubilee)
All voices and instruments of the opening chorus participate in this plainly harmonised sixth verse of the chorale.
Thomas Braatz wrote (December 31, 2001):
BWV 122 - Individual mvts.:
This begins in a minor key (G minor) as a Christmas cantata! There are short ritornelli that are frequently divided into 2-measure, echo-like responses with alternating forte and piano passages. There is a definite dance-like effect present that should not be overdone (see Harnoncourt below). Instead of the usual “Vorimitation” [the parts not involved in the cantus firmus provide in faster note values the fugal imitation of the chorale melody in advance of the cantus firmus], Bach has this imitation coincide with the entrance of the cantus firmus. This imitation gets weaker as the mvt. progresses until the last line when the imitation no longer occurs. Likewise, the ritornello motifs relax and begin to merge with the vocal motifs more and more as the mvt. draws to a close.
The bc ritornello motif dominates the entire mvt. The melodies sung by the voice are developed out of the material supplied by the bc. This mvt. does not sound joyful, but rather reminds one of a sermon summoning the listener to do penance. Almost every commentator beginning with Dürr (1971) refers to the ‘tortured chromaticism’ in this mvt. but I fail to see any of this in this mvt. Am I missing something here, other than that this mvt. is in a minor key?
Mvt. 2 and Mvt. 3 are related to each other: The bass sings similar intervals on the words, “O Menschen” [“O Mankind”] as the soprano does on “die Engel” [“the Angels”]. These two spheres are reunited when the highest instruments in the orchestra accompany the soprano with their version of the chorale melody. These spheres continue their ‘reconciliation’ in Mvt. 4.
Schweitzer points out the dotted motif in the bc as the ‘angelic’ motif. “It is founded on the same light floating rhythm that is given out by the strings and flutes in the sinfonia of the Christmas Oratorio. [In this sinfonia the oboes represent the music of the shepherds.] This motif is also found in the aria, “Bleibt, ihr Engel, bleibt bei mir” [BWV 19: “Es erhub sich ein Streit.“] As there is no mention of angels in the text of BWV 122, it may be thought that the resemblance of this bass figure to the angel motive is purely accidental. If, however, we refer to the previous recitative, it becomes clear why Bach introduces the angel motive here. It runs thus: “Die Engel, welchen sich zuvor vor euch, als Verfluchten scheuten, erfüllen nun die Luft im höheren Chor“ [„The angels, which formerly avoided you, as though you were accursed, now fill the air in a lofty choir.“] Thus here, as in the chorale in the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), Bach imagines angels and men singing together.
Cantata BWV 122: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4