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Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works
Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 - Cantata 1

Discussions in the Week of October 10, 2004

Neil Halliday wrote (November 2, 2004):
BWV 248: (sections ! and 2)

[Toi Aryeh Oron] After Aryeh's reminder that BWV 248, the Xmas Oratorio, is currently up for discussion, I have listened to the first of 3 CD's, in Richter's 1965 recording.

This CD 1 covers all of section 1 and most of section 2 (movements 1 to 19), ending with what must be one of the highlights of the whole work (and at 11.14 it is in fact the longest of all 64 movements, in the Richter recording): the alto aria "Schlafe, mein Liebster, geniesse der Ruh".

There are a number of reasons for its excellence and beauty, not least the wonderfully warm singing of Christa Ludwig; but what caught my attention was the exquisite instrumentation of the piece; and a look at the BGA score reveals all: Oboes d'amore 1 and 2 double the 1st violins, oboes da caccia 1 and 2 double the second violins and violas respectively, and a transverse flute doubles the alto part; plus continuo. The combination of the flute with Ludwig's voice is breathtaking in its effect.

All 19 movements (on this 1st CD) are delightful, including the recitatives. If I have any criticism at all, it would with some of tenor Wunderlich's vibrato, in his aria; OTOH, his voice has a pleasing timbre.

John Pike wrote (November 2, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< ending with what must be one of the highlights of the whole work (and at 11.14 it is in fact the longest of all 64 movements, in the Richter recording): the alto aria "Schlafe, mein Liebster, geniesse der Ruh". >
I agree this is a most beautiful aria. I have Gardiner's recording of the XO, which I can warmly recommend.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 2, 2004):
[To John Pike] Yes, a lovely piece! Listening to the Ralf Otto recording of that, at the moment, with Monica Groop singing it. Sounds like they've got a theorbo in there participating in the bass line: yum! Can anybody with the booklet of that confirm for me, please, who's playing theorbo? The Brilliant Classics edition came with no booklet at all.

It seems to me that this piece, in all the Bach oeuvre, has some of the strongest claim to be sung by a woman (whether that's historically accurate or not, from the first performance)...Mary rocking the newborn baby. I'm not sure I'd want to hear it sung much more slowly than this, taking any more than 9.5 minutes, both for the overall flow and for that rocking. Pendulums the length of arms pretty much have a set tempo! And it's hard to go too slowly in [anachronistic] rocking-chairs, either.

I got our baby rocker up out of the basement a request for more rides in it, and piling it full of stuffed animals to rock them.

Sw Anandgyan wrote (November 3, 2004):
Otto's XO with Concerto Köln

Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Listening to the Ralf Otto recording of that, at the moment, with Monica Groop singing it. Sounds like they've got a theorbo in there participating in the bass line: yum! Can anybody with the booklet of that confirm for me, please, who's playing theorbo? The Brilliant Classics edition came with no booklet at all. >
Joachim Held : Theorbe
plays a 'Kopie nach Anonym,
17. Jahrh. von Nico B. van der Waals 1990

Gerald Hambitzer : Cembalo ( Harpsichord )

Happy Listening

Jason Marmaras wrote (November 17, 2004):
BWV 248 (XO), 1st Mv. - aufjauchzen

I'm again going to ask a[n a little trivial] question, one that I've been thinking about for quite a while.

So, here it goes. The text of the Christmas Oratorio goes "Jauchzet, frohlocket," - pause - "auf, preiset die Tage!" &c.

The translation in Gardiner's recording (in the booklet only the italian translator is noted after the complete text)

"Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage,
[Eng.:] Rejoice, exult! up, glorify the days,
[Fr.:] Jubilez, chantez d'allgresse! Louez ces joursmerveilleux!
[It.:] Giubilate, esultate! Celebrate questi giorni,"

It seems 'jauchzen' is the verb for the english translator, where it is aufjauchzen' for the other two; or, that the french and italian translators ommit 'auf'. Bach's music seems to go for the english translation, but since I saw that this mvt. is parodized from "Tnet, ihr pauken", I got suspicious... I still want to believe that Bach wouldn't mean "Jauchzet (,frohlocket,) auf" and write it the way it's written. And, anyway, if the english translation (I think by Ms. Mary Wittall) is invalid (i.e. 'auf' is/was not used in this way), the "auf, preiset dei Tage" must receive very careful and thought-through execution, no?

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 17, 2004):
[To Jason Marmaras] Both 'jauchzen' and 'aufjauchzen' mean 'jubilare.' While 'auf' might seem to be a separable prefix of 'aufjauchzen,' its position in the sentence, separated by another verb, precludes its use in this manner, nor can 'auf' be considered to be the separable prefix for both 'jauchzen' and 'frohlocken' since there is no separable verb 'auffrohlocken' in the German language. This leaves the possibility that 'auf' is used as an adverb with an imperative meaning: "stand up, get up, etc." As Jakob Grimm explains it in the DWB, 'auf' as an adverb, when used in this isolated fashion, replaces a normal imperative verb. One could easily say "Auf, frohlocket!" ["Rouse yourselves, get/stand up and be joyful!"] The position of 'auf' before 'preiset' seems to relate 'auf' more to the verb that follows it.

How does the NBA enter the first line of the text in its printed edition, based upon what the editors have seen in the score and original parts:

NBA 248/1: Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage,

Originally this line read: BWV 214/1: Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!

But the NBA KB II/6 was kind enough to include a facsimile of the printed text of BWV 248 (Bach, as you know, was responsible for having his cantata texts printed for the members of the congregation to read as they heard the music performed. He would have to proof-read the printed texts before their final printing.)

This is Bach's own printing out of the words (not as he had entered it into the score):

>>Jauchzet! frohlocket! auf! preiset die Tage,<<

Notice the exclamation marks which separate the imperative forms of the full verbs and the 'auf' which is treated as a verb with an implied verb action of 'rising up.' Note also that despite the exclamation marks, the subsequent word is not capitalized. Now it becomes clear that the adverbial particle has an imperative meaning as it was described above. It (the 'auf') still appears to be related more to the verb 'preiset' which follows it, rather than standing completely alone. Bach's musical line, although the music was not composed on this particular text, seems also to imply a tight connection between 'auf' and 'preiset.'

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 17, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:

Well reasoned and presented, from expertise in that material!

A good cogent presentation of the question by Jason, too.
It's a good point that the parsing of the text here (both for performers and listeners) is difficult in any case, with the music coming in from Bach's earlier use with a different text, and with the "auf" syllable connected so closely with the following material, musically. It seems to me that in performance there really needs to be a short staccato delivery of that syllable to help with the clarity. Another question would be in how strongly to accent it: as it comes in a weak part of the bar, but is automatically accented somewhat (agogically) following a rest, with regard to the strength of the exclamation points. All around, I'd suggest probably a medium volume but very crisp articulation and short "f" followed by lots of silence, during that beat. It danot sound like "aufpreise" across the bar line.

Ditto, the orchestra should be playing similarly short there, as if they were singing that text themselves with an appropriate (medium) amount of emphasis on that word. Certainly not as strongly as in the following downbeat.


Discussions in the Week of March 15, 2009

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 14, 2009):
Week of March 15, 2009: BWV 248/1, Jauchzet Frohlocket

Week of March 15, 2009: BWV 248/1, Jauchzet Frohlocket

Part One, Christmas Oratorio
Cantata for Christmas Day


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


Christmas Season 1734

Saturday, Dec 25, 1734 ­ 1st Day of Christmas
Part 1: Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage
Sunday, Dec 26, 1734 ­ 2nd Day of Christmas (St. Stephen)
Part 2: Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend
Monday, Dec 27, 1734 ­ 3rd Day of Christmas
Part 3: Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen
Friday, Jan 1, 1735 ­ Circumcision of Christ (New Yearıs Day)
Part 4: Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben
Sunday, Jan 3, 1735 ­ Sunday after the Circumcision
Part 5: Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen
Wednesday. Jan 6, 1735 ­ Epiphany
Part 6: Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben


The structure of the Christmas Oratorio has both an overall unity as an oratorio and a serial integrity as a sequence of independent cantatas. The whole work is linked by the biblical narrative which is sung by a tenor evangelist as in the Passions. The bulk of the text is drawn from the Lucan infancy narrative, switching to Matthew for the magi narrative. Bach is often selective, not setting all of the verses.

The poetic texts were probably written by Picander (Mvts. 1-5) Since the work is full of parodies from secular cantatas, scholars debate whether the oratorio project was already in mind when those cantatas were written. There are also several unifying features which reenforce the oratorio format: the overarching tonal sequence and orchestration, the use of the chorale ³Herzlich tut mich verlangen² as the first and last chorales in the work, and the final ³farewell² recitative of the four soloists (as in SMP). At the same time, each part is a fully-contained cantata which stands alone.


Mvt 1: = BWV 214, 1 (Chorus): ³Tönet ihr Pauken²
Mvt 2: new composition
Mvt 3: new composition
Mvt 4: = BWV 213, 9 (Alto Aria): ³Ich will dich nicht hören²
Mvt 5: new composition
Mvt 6: new composition
Mvt 7: new composition
Mvt 8: = BWV 214 (Bass Aria): ³Kron und Preis²
Mvt 9: new composition


Did Bach know Heinrich Schützı ³Historia der Geburt Jesu Christi²? Schütz was commissioned to write his Christmas ³Oratorio² for the then-Protestant Court Chapel in Dresden in the mid-1650ıs. In his 1664 publication of the work, Schütz only included the Evangelistıs recitatives and in the preface directed performers to contact other musicians for the rest of the intermedii which contain the choruses and solo ensembles. One of the contact people listed is the cantor at St. Thomas, Leipzig. That would suggest that work was performed in St. Thomas in the 17th century and probably known to Bach at least as a holding in the cantorıs library (Sebastian Knüpfer was cantor 1657-76).

Schütz sets the entire infancy narratives beginning with the Nativity in Luke and concluding with the Return from Egypt at the end of Matthew. Bach is more selective but begins with the same verse. The musical style of the ³Historia² derives from Monteverdi and Cavalli, but the evangelist part is notable for its superb adaptation of the Italian recitative style to the German language. There is no direct influence on Bach, but he would have been aware that his oratorio was a contribution to a century-old tradition of setting the Christmas narrative. Bach certainly performed the music of Schütz which was in Bodeschatz collection of Latin motets which were sung every Sunday as the introit (see Muscial Sequence for Mass of Christmas Day below). We will see the Schütz connection again when we look at the Christmas interpolations in the Magnificat.


Mvt. 1. Chorus: ³Jauchzet, frohlocket! auf, preiset die Tage²
This splendid da capo movement is something of a puzzle. In its secular form it is a triumph of word-painting, a veritable ³Guide to the Baroque Orchestra² with characteristic themes for timpani, trumpets and strings. The opening is positively Mahlerian: the solo timpani actually introduces the principal theme. When he came to write the sacred version, Bach abandoned all the word-painting of BWV 214 and was content for the extroverted music to express a generalized sense of joy. Why didnıt he ask Picander to write a verse that used biblical images of instruments? (e.g. Psalm 150). The motet, ³Singet dem Herrn² has figures depicting drums and harps. Was Bach worried that using a similar text might draw attention to the secular original? There are similarities between this chorus and ³Herrscher des Himmels² which opens Part Three and which was the concluding chorus in BWV 214.

Mvt. 2. Recitative (Tenor): ³Es begab sich aber zu der Zeit²
About 10 minutes before the tenor began to sing the scriptural verses here, the Deacon would have chanted the same text to a plainsong melody at the altar. In fact, all of Luke 2:1-14 was chanted, which is the entire text of
Parts 1-5 of the oratorio. (see below for the Musical Sequence for Christmas Day). Bach did not allude to any of the chant formulas in his recitative here or in the Passions.

Mvt. 3. Recitative (Alto): ³Nun wird mein liebster Bräutigam²
One of the chief glories of the Christmas Oratorio is the way in which the other soloists break into the Evangelistıs secco recitatives with very direct comments ­ the soprano yells at Herod in Part Six! The oboes dıamore here have a four-noted, slurred figure which always appears ready to begin an arioso. This fluidity displays Bachıs consummate mastery of forms.

Mvt. 4. Aria (Alto): ³Bereite dich, Zion, mit zärtlichen Trieben
Like the opening chorus, this aria drops the word-painting of its secular original in BWV 213: the writhing bass line in the B section depicted the serpents sent to strangle the infant Hercules in his cradle ­ Is this an inside manger-scene joke for Bach? Or a more respectable allegorical allusion to Hercules who killed the snakes as Christ would triumph over the satanic serpent? The movement is unusually scored for First Violins doubled by oboe dıamore over continuo with bassoon ­ one would have expected all the violins in unison (neither oboe nor bassoon is found in BWV 213.) Also unusual is the appearance of the voice doubled by the violins -- Handel loved this kind of colla parte doubling. However, Bach quickly drops that unison and returns to the free canonic texture of the opening. There are careful markings of ³piano² and ³forte² throughout to alert the instrumentalists that there is a lot of antiphonal back and forth between the voice and the orchestra. Why doesnıt Bach add these dynamics all the time? The ³unisono e staccato² marking in BWV 213 does not appear here.

Mvt. 5. Chorale: Wie soll ich dich empfang²
Much ink has been spilled over why Bach used the chorale ³Befiehl du deine Wege², the so-called ³Passion Chorale² which he set so dramatically in the SMP. A look at the varied texts which were sung to the melody sheds considerable doubt on the thesis that Bachıs listeners would have identified it as an exclusive reference to the Passion: modern listeners canıt shake that impression. Bach does give the chorale a heightened importance by making it the first and last chorale in the oratorio. The melody has a chameleon-like shape which can shift from predominately minor harmonies, as in this setting, to a more major modality, as at the end of Part Six. Interestingly, Bach closes this harmonizaton with the same delayed cadence which depicted ³Pein² in the SMP (No. 72), even though there appears to be no word-painting here.

Mvt. 6. Recitative (Tenor): ³Und sie gebar ihren ersten Sohn²
Except in the Shepherds and Herod scenes, there is very little drama and almost no dialogue in the Christmas Oratorio. Certainly none of the narrative tension of the Passions. Bach contents himself here with one verse and segues without break into the following movement: again an immediate commentary by the other soloists.

Mvt. 7. Chorale (Soprano) & Recitative (Tenor): ³Er ist auf Erden kommen arm²
Once again Bach moves between genres with superb fluidity. The oboe, oboe dıamore (an unusual pairing) and continuo begin a lovely trio which Bach marks ³Andante.² Over this, the soprano sings the Christmas chorale ³Gelobet Seist Du², which the congregation had just sung as the Gradual Hymn ³De Tempore² before the Gospel (for possible organ preludes on this chorale in the same service see below in Musical Sequence for Mass of Christmas Day). After each line here, the bass bursts in passionately with his recitative, and each time the oboes delightfully drag the movement back to the chorale. The chorale was very popular as a Christmas hymn and was the basis of chorale-cantata BWV 91.

Mvt. 8. Aria (Bass): ³Großer Herr, o starker König²
This lordly Bass-cum-Trumpet aria was adapted from the secular cantata and is similar in affect and even melodic shape to the bass aria in Cantata BWV 110, ³Unser Mund.² It even has the same penultimate position. Once again, Bach asks for unusual scoring, doubling the first violin with one flute: oboe doubling would have been more traditional (as in BWV 110). The flute does not appear in the BWV 214 source. Tremendous rhythmic tension is produced by the non-sychronized syncopations between the voice and orchestra: there are several moments when the listener can be tricked into losing the first beat of the bar. Once again Bach adds precise ³piano² and ³forte² markings ­ even a ³pianissimo²! ­ which are not in the BWV 214 source.

Mvt. 9. Chorale: ³Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein²
The cantata closes with a majestic setting of the Christmas hymn, ³Vom Himmel Hoch², a melody which fascinated Bach and which he used many times. The ³Canonic Variations² on the chorale is one of his great contrapuntal works, on a par with the ³Art of the Fugue² and ³The Musical Offering². Chorales were sung by congregations in three ways in Bachıs time: 1) unison without organ accompaniment, 2) four-part harmony from 17th century sources with organ accompaniment. The third method allowed the organist to improvise flourishes or interludes after each line was sung. An improviser of Bachıs genius would have played ad libitum every Sunday. A few of these improvisations were written down, most notably his stunning version of the Christmas ³In Dulci Jubilo.² Although the congregation did not sing the cantata chorale, the orchestra led by the trumpets provide brief interludes that give the melody a majesty which is breathtaking.

[Sources: Wolff, Terry, Leaver, Stiller & Williams]

Tower bells rung at 6 am and 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.
[Williams says the organ began to play only when the service began after the opening bell. Organ music did not accompany the congregation coming into the church]

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.
Bachıs 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
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 temporeı,):
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
Verba (Words of Institution) sung in German plainsong by Celebrant

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

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

Final Prayer & Benediction:
sung with 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

[Willaims says that there was no music after the service as the congregation left the church]


Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248: Details
Recordings: Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001 | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Systematic Discussions:
Cantata 1 | Cantata 2 | Cantata 3 | Cantata 4 | Cantata 5 | Cantata 6 | Part 7: Summary
Individual Recordings:
BWV 248 - Collegium Aureum | BWV 248 - H. Christophers | BWV 248 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 248 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 248 - R. Jacobs | BWV 248 - N. McGegan | BWV 248 - R. Otto | BWV 248 - K. Richter | BWV 248 - H. Rilling | BWV 248 - P. Schreier | BWV 248 - M. Suzuki | BWV 248 - K. Thomas | BWV 248 - J.v. Veldhoven
A Bottomless Bucket of Bach - Christmas Oratorio [D. Satz]

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127


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