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Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works
Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 - Cantata 5

Discussions in the Week of November 7, 2004

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 17, 2004):
Christmas Oratorio and St. Mark Passion

I read many years ago that some musicologists thought that the chorus of the Magi in Pt V was a recycled turba chorus from the lost St. Mark Passion (BWV 247). Bach of course reused metrical texts all the time, but I always thought it unlikely that he would have reworked a prose passage from the biblical narrative. Anyone know the present state of scholarly opinion?

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 17, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] According to the 1998 edition of BWV (pp 270-2), that movement 248/45 is still listed as a parody from the (lost) BWV 247/39b, as you surmised.

Allegedly based on Mark chapter 15, vv 25-34.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (November 17, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] And that is not the only recycling in the work. Remember Nr. 2b? That is now thought to have used the same music as the Choral movement "Lasset uns nun gehen gen Bethlehem, und das gesehen, was sie zu uns verkuendiget hat" ("Let us go unto Bethlehem" ("Let us now go unto Bethlehem") from Kantate III of the Weinachtsoratorium.


Discussions in the Week of September 27, 2009

William Hoffman wrote (September 27, 2009):
BWV 248V: Intro. Sources & Fugitive Notes

Details, recordings and previous discussions of the fifth part of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, "Ehre sei dir Gott (Honor to Thee, God)" can be found just below or at the BCW site: (scroll down to 248/5)

SUNDAY AFTER NEW YEAR: BWV 248v, Ehre sei dir Gott [Chorus, parody]
1/2/35 (Christmas Oratorio); borrowed materials: ?#1, lost; #3, BWV 247/116 (Mark Passion, 3/23/31]; #6, BWV 215/7 (election, 10/5/34); ?#9, lost).
Sources: (1) score (SPK P.32, CPEB, Berlin Sing.); (2) parts set (SPK St.112, CPEB, Berlin Sing.; (3) 2 score copies (H.Michel for CPEB, Paris Consv. Lib. D531, ?, Pölchau)
Literature: Breit. (1761); BG V2 (Rust 1856), NBA KB II/6 (Blankenburg & Dürr 1962); min. score Eulenberg (Schering 1922) & Ed. Peters, Bärenreiter (Dürr, 1960); Whittaker II:620-52, 666 f; Young 285-7, Dürr 169-72.
Text: #1, 3, 5, 7, 9-10, ? Picander (pub. 1734, Leipzig Statbib.); #4, Weissel cle. "Nun, liebe Seel, nun ist es Zeit" ("Now, Dear Soul, It IsTime") (S.5), mel. "In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr" ("In Thee Have I Trusted, Lord"); #11, Franck cle. "Ihr gestrin, ihr höhlen Lufte" ("You Star, You High Airs") (S. 9), mel. "Gott des Himmels und der Erden" ("God of Heaven and Earth"); Gospel Matthew 2:1-7 (Magi, Epiphany; #2, 3, 6, 8.
Forces: SATB, 4 vv, 2 ob d'a, str, bc.
Movements: 2 chs., 3 recits. (T, T, T), 3 ariosi (A, A, A), 2 cles., 2 arias (B, SAT).
1. (43) Chs. (tutti): Honor to Thee, God (probably original).
2. (44) Rec. (T): Now when Jesus was born.
3. (45) Chs.(tutti): Where is he that is born (=BWV 247/116).
Aso. (A): Seek Him in my heart.
4. (46) Cle.: (tutti): The brightness has devoured the darkness.
5. (47) Aria (B, ob): Enlighten my dark mind (BWV 215/7)
6. (48) Rec. (T): When Herod the King had heard these things.
7. (49) Aso.(A, str): Why do you startle and take fright?
8. (50) Rec. (T): And when he gathered all the chief priests.
9. (51) Aria (SAT, vn): Oh, when will the time come (model unknown)
10. (52) Aso. (A): My dear beloved already rules.
11. (53) Cle. (tutti): True, such a chamber in the heart.

Structure (11 movements): two lyric parody arias (5, 9), one turba chorus parody with two interpolated ariosi (3); rest original: opening chorus (1), three narrative recits. (2, 6, 8), two four-part chorales (4, 11), two independent ariosi (7, 10)

Francis Browne's translation of the text can be found at:

Following the first half of the oratorio in three parts celebrating the Nativity of Jesus on the three-day Festival of Christmas, Dec. 25-27, the second half, also in three parts, focuses on the Feast of the Naming or Circumcision of Jesus on New Year's Day, January 1, followed by the story of the Three Wise Men or Magi from the East in the final two parts.
Part 5, which falls on the Sunday After New Year's, centers on the Wise Men's search for Jesus They arrive at Jerusalem seeking the newborn King of the Jews. King Herod hears of this and calls together the Jewish High Priests and Scribes to determine where the threat to his Kingdom can be found. They cite the prophecy (Micha 5:1 and 2 Samuel 5:2) that a prince of Judah will come from Bethlehem.

Like the middle Part 2 of the first half of the Christmas Oratorio, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, Bach sets this Part 5 for more intimate forces in dramatic setting and omits brass in the opening and closing movements. Where Part 2 was an outdoor pastoral piece with a sinfonia and announcements similar to Handel's oratorio, <Messiah>, Part 5 also has an intimate burt indoor setting at King Herod's Court in Jerusalem. Here Bach observes the proscription of brass instruments as in his Passions, but deploys, in keeping with the Passion histories, a dramatic narrator and so-called crowd or turbae choruses.

Since the use of narration is integral to the 12-day Christmas story, the six parts of the Christmas Oratorio are not considered to be six individual cantatas that do not contain narration. Granted, the music involves choruses, arias, ariosi, and chorales but the oratorio tells a story in dramatic scenes, using the appropriate biblical passages interspersed with immediate lyric poetic commentary. Each part tells it own story, yet like Bach's Passion Oratorios, observes an important chapter in the Christological account of Christ's life on earth.

Here is a summary of the lyric movements with the biblical text:

1 (43) Chorus (Tutti): A (da capo). May honor, God, be sung to you, may laud and thanks be extended to you.
B. All the world exhalts you, etc..

2 (44) Recitative (Tenor)

Da Jesus geboren war zu Bethlehem im jüdischen Lande zur Zeit des Königes Herodis,
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the land of the Jews at the time of King Herod,
siehe, da kamen die Weisen vom Morgenlande gen Jerusalem und sprachen.
See, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem and said:

3 (45) Turbae Chorus
Wise Men:
Wo ist der neugeborne König der Jüden?
Where is the newborn King of the Jews?

Arioso (Alto): Seek him in my breast; here he dwells, to my and his delight!

Wise Men:
Wir haben seinen Stern gesehen im Morgenlande und sind kommen, ihn anzubeten.
We have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.

Arioso (Alto): Well for you, you have seen this light; it has taken place for your salvation, etc..

4 (46) Chorale: Your luster consumes all darkness, etc..

5 (47) Aria (Bass): A. (da capo). Light up, too my dark inclinations, etc..

6 (48) Recitative (Tenor)

Da das der König Herodes hörte, erschrak er und mit ihm das ganze Jerusalem.
When King Herod heard this he was afraid and with him all Jerusalem.

7 (49) Alto Arioso: Why would you all want to be alarmed? etc...

8 (50) Recit. Tenor

Und ließ versammlen alle Hohepriester und Schriftgelehrten unter dem Volk
And he gathered together all the high priests and scribes among the people
und erforschete von ihnen, wo Christus sollte geboren werden.
And demanded of them where the Christ should be born.
Und sie sagten ihm: Zu Bethlehem im jüdischen Lande;
And they said to him: in Bethlehem in the land of the Jews;
denn also stehet geschrieben durch den Propheten:
For it is written by the prophets:
Und du Bethlehem im jüdischen Lande bist mitnichten die kleinest unter den Fürsten Juda;
And you, Bethlehem in the land of the Jews, are not the least among the princes of Judah
denn aus dir soll mir kommen der Herzog,
From you will come the prince
der über mein Volk Israel ein Herr sei.
Who will be the lord over my people Israel.

9 (51) Aria (Terzetto): Oh, when will the time appear? etc..

10 (52) Arioso (tenor): "My Most beloved already rules, etc..

11 (53) Chorale: True, such a hreat-cellar [for Jesus to dwell in] is certainly no choice hall of princes, etc..

BCW English Translation of the biblical narrative by Francis Browne (November 2008).
Contributed by Francis Browne (November 2008)

English translation of lyric movements by Michael Marrisen, <Bach's Oratorios>, OUP 2008.

By the time Bach reached the Magi story in the final, two-part third of his Christmas Oratorio, he had virtually exhausted his supply of regal choruses and arias from recent secular drammi per musica. Fortunately, the brief biblical texts challenged Bach to compose much new music, primarily straightforward yet reflective ariosi or accompanied recitatives, which he interspersed within the dramatic biblical narration, like an operatic scena. This Bach did at the expense of elaborate chorale settings involving duet fantasias or four-part plain chorales with instrumental interludes. Thus with only two plain chorales, Part 5 becomes a most focused dramatic oratorio where individual reflection replaces collective commentary.

To achieve his oratorical goals, Bach, in one of his last Christological history narratives, adopted a progressive technique amid the ancient parody practice. Bach, according to scholar Friedrich Smend (Bach's "Markus Passion," Bach Jahrbuch 1940-48, p. 4), was evolving a musical style of treatment to fit the biblical words. In the St. Matthew Passion of 1727-29. Bach retained literal character portrayals, that is solos for individual and choruses for crowds. In the St. Mark Passion of 1731, says Smend, Bach began to show more freedom from tradition, allowing the narrator Evangelist to summarize the words of the Disciples. In the Christmas Oratorio of 1734-35 (text also attributed to Picander), Bach assigned to the tenor Evangelist alone in Movement No. 8 (248/50) the passage involving "all the high priests and scribes among the people."

Earlier in Part 5, Movement 3 (248/45), Bach intersperses two alto ariosi commentary following the Magi's general question and declaration. Bach treats the three Wise Men as a turbae chorus and the alto's responses as being symbolic yet representative interpolative (troped) responses. To the question, "Where is the newborn King of the Jews?," the alto replies, "Seek him in my breast; here he dwells, to my and his delight!" To the Magi's next statement, "We have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him," the alto replies, "Well for you, you have seen this light; it has taken place for your salvation."

The origin of the split turbae chorus comes from the St. Mark Passion crowd chorus "Pfui dich, wie fein zerbrichst du den Temple" (Ah thou that destroyst the temple (BWV 247/114/[39b]). This parody found by Gerard Freiesleben in 1916 has been accepted by Bach scholars. Further, it is possible that all three Christmas Oratorio motet crowd choruses may have been parodied from the St. Mark Passion, and may be repeat parodies from the lost Weimar Passion of 1717. Albert Schweitzer calls these three Christmas Oratorio crowd choruses "supremely beautiful" in his Bach biography (1911, II:305). This is before Bach scholars began suggesting that all three may have been St. Mark Passion parodies. It should also be noted that the affect between the oratorios for Christ's birth and death are decidedly different. The other two are the angels' "Glory to God in the highest" (248/21) from the repeated "Crucify him!"( BWV 247/105, 108), and the shepherds "Let us go now to Bethlehem" from "We heard him say `I will destroy the Temple' etc.." In the Christmas Oratorio the three choruses are sung separately by the Angels, the Shepherds, and the Three Wise Men, in the St. Mark Passion by Christ's protagonists, that is the Chief Priests (and Scribes) and the Bystanders.

In the Christmas Oratorio narrative, Bach may have broken (or stretched) two rules -- literal character portrayals and the doctrine of affections -- in order to fit the biblical text with appropriate and engaging music. But then, so did Handel in his reuse of music (often not his own) to fit the stock Italian opera arias involving affections of rage, jealousy, grief, etc.

As for other parodies in the Christmas Oratorio Part 5, there are probably only two lyric arias: No. 5 (BWV 248/47) for bass and the trio or Terzett, Movement No. 9 (BWV 248/51) for soprano, alto and tenor. The bass aria is a parody from the soprano aria, BWV 217/7, transposed from b minor to f-sharp minor. Alfred Dürr has observed (Bach Kantaten 172), the model or source is unknown for the Terzett, "Oh, when will the time appear."

Obviously, Bach had an extensive (yet limited) stock of music from the recent celebratory, regal secular cantatas BWV 213-BWV 214-BWV 215 to reuse in the Christmas Oratorio. The pastorale and dance-inspired music is quite compatible with the affections, the moods, of sovereign family celebration. But Bach drew the line with the opening chorus, establishing the dictum or theme, of Part 5, the Search for the Child Jesus. As Alfred Dürr and others have pointed out, Bach originally planed to use the closing chorus from secular Cantata BWV 213, a double parody from the closing choruses of Cantata BWV 184, "Good Shepherd, Comfort of your own people," which originated as Köthen Cantata BWV 184a/6, a pastoral gavotte closing Chorus of the Muses, "Delight of nations, delight of people." The themes of the two earlier works are the celebration of the Köthen Court in the New Year's dance serenade BWV 184a and the Good Shepherd from John's Gospel 10:1-10, for the Pentecost Tuesday Festival in BWV 184.

The opening chorus of the Christmas Oratorio Part 5 is the only known parody Bach considered, began, rejected, and replaced. Apparently a third generation reuse of a closing chorus most immediately from a church service cantata and the theme of shepherds was inappropriate for the dictum or statement of an Oratorio scene introducing the Three Wise Men into the closing two parts of the Christmas Oratorio. The rejected choruses, as well as the newly composed replacement, are scored without brass and thus enabled Bach to have more tonal freedom than the confines of the trumpets in D for Parts 1, 3, and 6 and the Horns in F for Part 4. In the two non-brass Parts, Bach stayed close to the majestic primary key of D major. In the pastoral Part 2 Bach focused on the key of the neighbor key of G Major and in the search Part 5 on the other neighbor key of A Major, the dominant of D Major.

To come: Opening movement and comparison with BWV 64/1, text comparison of BWV 248/47 with parody BWV 215/7, biblical references and repeat performances according to Marissen, Marshall Compositional Process, and Chafe Tonal Allegory

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 28, 2009):
William Hoffman wrote:
< The origin of the split turbae chorus comes from the St. Mark Passion crowd chorus "Pfui dich, wie fein zerbrichst du den Temple" (Ah thou that destroyst the temple (BWV 247/114/[39b]). This parody found by Gerard Freiesleben in 1916 has been accepted by Bach scholars. >
Since the Mark Passion is lost, how do scholars prove that turba choruses were repeated in the Christmas Oratorio? Replacing one metrical poetic text with another is a straightforward exercise, but adapting one passage of biblical prose to another is a complicated procedure. Why wouldn't Bach just write new music? He probably could have done it more quickly than an adaptation? Are there any examples of choral prose parodies?

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 28, 2009):
BWV 248V, Intro plus

William Hoffman concluded:
>>This parody found by Gerard Freiesleben in 1916 has been accepted by Bach scholars. <<
Douglas Cowling replied:
< Since the Mark Passion is lost, how do scholars prove that turba choruses were repeated in the Christmas Oratorio? >
Note the subtleties of the language: accepted by Bach scholars is a far cry from proven by scholars. A fair question, however to ask for clarification as to why, on what basis, the premise is accepted.

< Replacing one metrical poetic text with another lyric is a straightforward exercise, >
Once again, note the subtleties of language: it depends what one means by poetic, which we discussed a bit under somewhat trying circumstances a few weeks ago. In the present context, the implication is: <if it scans, it is poetry>. IMO, that is precisely why some of us consider Bachs texts somewhat less than uplifting, much of the time. They scan, and not much more.

< but adapting one passage of biblical prose to another is a complicated procedure. >
Only if one expects the results to be poetic in the spiritual as well as the technical sense. Otherwise, it is pretty much a straightforward exercise, as just noted.

< Why wouldn't Bach just write new music? He probably could have done it more quickly than an adaptation? Are there any examples of choral prose parodies? >
One possible answer as to why not simply write new music is that Bach may have been interested in conserving the reworked music. Bach the Conservator as distinct from Bach the Borrower.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 28, 2009):
BWV 248V, Turba parodies

[To Ed Myskowski] Maybe I'm being thick, but if you lay the two prose texts in the soprano line beside each other they really don't match very well:

Wo, wo, wo ist der neu-ge-bor-ne Kön-ig der Jü-den?
Pfui dich, wie fein zer-brichst du den Tem-pel

wo ist der neu-ge-bor-ne Kön-ig der Jü-den?
wie fein zer-brichst du den Tem-pel.

Wo, Wo?
Pfui dich

Even if you repeat, "Pfui dich," the parallel underlay is very awkward.

Are the scholars making the connection on any documentary evidence or do they just want to find lost music of Bach?

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 28, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote (continuing the thread):
< Maybe I'm being thick, but if you lay the two prose texts in the soprano line beside each other they really don't match very well: >
I hope it was clear from my prior post that I was supporting, not challenging, Dougs question of the phrase accepted by Bach scholars. I appreciate the details he next provided, most helpful in appreciating the discussion, for this non-scholar and I expect for most other readers as well.

William Hoffman wrote (September 29, 2009):
BWV 248V, Into. Part 2

Parody by Any Name

Alfred Dürr, coauthor of the Neue Bach-Ausgabe Criticial Commentary II/6 of the XO, has written most extensively about its use of parody. Throughout, he specifically cites the borrowings from Cantatas BWV 213- BWV 214-BWV 215, the arias and choruses which constitute the bulk of the lyric-poetic movements in the XO. Because C.P.E. Bach inherited both the XO and the three secular cantatas, parody can be proven through source-critical examination of the music of the original version and the later adaptation in which a new text has been overlaid. One must wonder why Bach retained the original three drammi per musica scores and parts sets, which he never repeated, and included them with the XO manuscript received by C.P.E. Bach.

Where the original source-critical music in manuscript no longer exists for a parody determination, a side-by-side comparison of the two extant texts examines the line length (syllables) and line number, the rhythmic emphasis, and the rhyme scheme. This was established by Wilhelm Rust, the original Bach Gesellschaft Editor in the 1860s, when he demonstrated that the opening and closing chorus and three arias of the Funreal Ode, BWV 198, were later used at the core music in the St. Mark Passion.

The St. Mark turba chorus Dürr cites in the XO (p. 166, NBA KB II 6), questioned by Doug Cowling, is one of four examples where the original music is lost. The other three are the opening chorus of Part 6, the aria Flößt mein Heiland" in Part 4, and the entire Part 6 from a lost sacred cantata, which survives only in a few performing parts in the XO extant parts set owned by C.P.E. Bach.

Lacking the original text, the two methods to suggest parody are the fair-copy nature of the surviving music, demonstrated most by Robert Marshall (<Bach's Compositional Process>), and faulty declamation, utilized most by W. Gillies Whittaker. When it comes to determining parody from one non-Latin language to Latin, where the syllables do not math, we have what is called contra-faction. This is most apparent in the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) where the text of the original music is found, for example, "Wir danken dir Gott," opening Cantata BWV 29, is the same music as the "Gratias agimus tibi" as well as example, the music has similar affect

As I pointed out in my Introduction to Part 5, Bach originally planned to open the XO Part 5 with a parody of the closing chorus in Cantata BWV 213, based on the beginning fair copy notation in the XO score, crossed it out and started composing a new chorus. The BWV 213/13 chorus is itself a parody of Cantata BWV 184/6, also a parody of the original BWV 184a/6, a Köthen Cantata in which no text survives, only a few parts Bach salvaged. An examination of the parts' music shows a gavotte in the Köthen style, which is another tool or piece of evidence to help determine parody.

BWV 248V/1(43) Chorus
Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen,
Let honour to you, God, be sung
Dir sei Lob und Dank bereit.
For you let praise and thanks be prepared.
Dich erhebet alle Welt,
All the world exalts you
Weil dir unser Wohl gefällt,
Because our welfare is pleasing to you,
Weil anheut
Because today
Unser aller Wunsch gelungen,
All our wishes have been achieved,
Weil uns dein Segen so herrlich erfreut.
Because your blessing delights us so gloriously.

BWV 213/13 Chorus
Lust der Völker, Lust der Deinen,
Delight of nations, delight of your people,
Blühe, holder Friederich!
prosper, noble Friedrich!
Deiner Tugend Würdigkeit
The merit of your virtue
Stehet schon der Glanz bereit,
is now ready for glory
Und die Zeit
and time
Ist begierig zu erscheinen:
is eager to appear:
Eile, mein Fri, sie wartet auf dich.
make haste, Friedrich, it waits for you.

184/6 Chorus
Guter Hirte, Trost der Deinen,
Good shepherd, comfort of your people,
Laß uns nur dein heilig Wort!
grant to us only your holy word!
Laß dein gnädig Antlitz scheinen,
Let your merciful shine,
Bleibe unser Gott und Hort,
remain our God and refuge,
Der durch allmachtsvolle Hände
who through his almighty hands
Unsern Gang zum Leben wende!
turns our way to life!

BWV 184a/6 N/A

BCW translations, Francis Browne

The same leading Bach authority, Alfred Dürr, discusses at length in the Preface to the Bärenreiter companion edition of the XO (1961), that the XO Part 5/5 (BWV 248/47) bass aria, is a parody of Cantata BWV 215/7, which Bach originally intended to parody as the aria Schließe, mein Herz," in the XO P3 (BWV 248/31). Instead, Bach composed new music for that aria, using Picander's parody text, as Bach would then do in the opening chorus of Part 5, keeping Picander's, text, composing new music, and setting aside the already-written music. These Bach changes, as well as the wholesale substitution of the sacred cantata in Part 6, may have caused Picander not to publish the XO text as his. Says Dürr, "The alterations that this revision necessitated perhaps made Picander unwilling to publish the text under his own name."

BWV 248V/5(47) Bass Aria
Erleucht auch meine finstre Sinnen,
Illuminate also my gloomy thoughts
Erleuchte mein Herze
Illuminate my heart
Durch der Strahlen klaren Schein!
With the rays of your clear light!
Dein Wort soll mir die hellste Kerze
Your word will be the brightest candle for me
In allen meinen Werken sein;
In all my deeds;
Dies lässet die Seele nichts Böses beginnen.
This lets my soul begin nothing evil

BWV 215/7 Soprano Aria
Durch die von Eifer entflammeten Waffen
To use weapons kindled with zeal
Feinde bestrafen,
to punish enemies
Bringt zwar manchem Ehr und Ruhm;
brings glory and fame to many;
Aber die Bosheit mit Wohltat vergelten,
but to repay evil with acts of kindness
Ist nur der Helden,
is something that belongs to heroes,
Ist Augustus' Eigentum.
is the prerogative of Augustus.

248III/8(31) Alto Aria
Schließe, mein Herze, dies selige Wunder
Enclose, my heart, this blessed wonder
Fest in deinem Glauben ein!
firmly in your faith!
Lasse dies Wunder, die göttlichen Werke,
Immer zur Stärke
always serve to strengthen
Deines schwachen Glaubens sein!
your weak faith!

BCW translations, Francis Browne

Biblical References

Michael Marrisen in his new study <Bach's Oratorios: The Parallel German-English Texts with Annotations> says that in the opening chorus of Part 5, the words "All the world exalts you," is a reference to Psalm 57:5, "Be exalted God, . . . and you honor [be exalted] over all the world."

Marrisen also observes that the alto arioso replying to the Wise Men's statement 248/V/3(45), "We have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him," involves relevant teachings from Isaiah:

248/V/3(45) Alto Arioso
Wohl euch, die ihr dies Licht gesehen,
Happy are you who have seen the light , 1
Es ist zu eurem Heil geschehen!
It has appeared for your salvation!
Mein Heiland, du, du bist das Licht,
My saviour, you, you are the light
Das auch den Heiden scheinen sollen,
Which shall shine on the Gentiles also 2
Und sie, sie kennen dich noch nicht,
And they, they do not know you yet, 3
Als sie dich schon verehren wollen.
Though they would already worship you
Wie hell, wie klar muss nicht dein Schein,
How bright, how clear must your radiance be,
Geliebter Jesu, sein!
Beloved Jesus!

1. Isaiah 9.2, "The people, walking in the dark like that, will see a great light."

2. Isaiah 49:6, "I [God] have also made you [Israel] for the light to the gentiles, that nyou may be my salvation to the end of the earth."

3. Isaiah 55:5, "Look, you will call gentiles whom you do not know; and gentiles who do not know you will run to you for the sake of the Lord your God."

Thus, I think, Picander's (presumed) text, the second major hurdle to appreciating Bach's XO (the first being it's parody or plagiarism onus), is better understood in the context of being relevant to the service and the overall design and context of Bach's oratorical setting. It would be interesting to contemplate the influences on Bach's XO librettist, perhaps coming from Pastor Christian Weiss, or another member of the Leipzig clergy or the University faculty.

Here, by contrast, are the words of the librettist's critic: "It belongs to a very poor order of literature, and is conceived in a tone of personality, as regards the principal figure, that must be distasteful to a large number of earnest and thoughtful hearers. One may marvel that the great artist could spend his thoughts on such a view of the subject - one may perhaps regret; but to understand him, one must regard the matter in the light in which he regarded it and wonder the while that he could write such music to thoughts of such an order." The author of these words is one G. A. Macfarren in his 12-page introduction to the Schirmer XO piano-vocal score of 1939.

Fugitive Notes:

Repeat Performances: Marissen, <Bach's Oratorios> (p.3): "There are some revisions (of the XO) entered into Bach's score and performing parts for later renderings, but we do now know in which years these were made. A traversal through all six parts is possible for the Christmas seasons of 1739-40, 1744-45, and 1745-46, since the series of festival days then were the same as 1734-35. Possibly individual cantatas from the set were rendered in various years. In any event, the libretto appears to have been left unchanged. (In years that the Christmas Oratorio was not rendered, Bach performed various liturgically appropriate cantatas that did not form into an oratorio cycle.)"

Tonal Allegory (Chafe, p.271). Set in A major, Part 5, "the sharpest area of the oratorio. . . dealing with the Magi seeking Jesus, is concerned with the imagery of light associated with the spread of salvation to the Gentiles." Chafe cites the alto Isaiah teaching arioso, the two chorales, "The brightness has devoured the darkness" and "true, such a chamber in the heart," and the bass aria "Illuminate also my gloom thoughts."

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 29, 2009):
Parody by Any Name [was: BWV 248V]

Aye Matey, theres the rub!

We (me) have previously pointed out that use of the term parody for Bach's reworking of musical materials does not agree with accepted definitions of the word in Music Dictionaries (one of which I cited).

There was little enthusiasm (understanbly) for the precise term, contrafactum. There was a suggestion for reworking (JM, I believe), which strikes me as clear, simple, accurate, understandable, and usable. In my experience, that pretty much condemns it to oblivion.

Parody, in the common (not specifically Bachian) usage:
(1) Literary or musical composition imitating the characteristic style of some other work or [style] of a writer or composer, but treating a serious subject in a nonsensical manner, as in ridicule.

Does anyone think this could apply to Bachs methods of composition, when reusing themes, etc.?

Is the term parody used in the scholarly (or other) literature to refer to any composer other than Bach, when reworking his own music? For example, is Beethovens Eroica Symphony a parody of the Eroica Variations for piano, thenmselves a parody of an earlier use of the theme (if memory serves)? I thought not.

Bach the Conservator of favorite themes, not Bach the Borrower, certainly not Bach the Parodist. A much more fruitful line of inquiry would be: why are the themes conserved or reworked (formerly know as parodied) among Bachs favorites?

As to Beethoven and the Eroica theme, I believe there are hints of a lady, and lust, as the inspiration. That would never apply to Bach, of course. Heaven help us.

Neil Halliday wrote (September 30, 2009):
William Hoffman wrote:
>The bass aria is a parody from the soprano aria, BWV 217/7, transposed (down) from b minor to f-sharp minor.<
Why did Bach compose the original soprano aria with "basscheten" bass (with unison upper strings in the alto clef replacing the usual bass continuo)? Perhaps to illustrate the rare virtue of "repaying evil with kindness" which we are told was August's special quality? ("Ist Augustens Eigentum"). The obbligato unison flutes (replaced by oboe d'amore in the bass aria), and soprano voice also imbue this version with a highly-wrought affect, perhaps illustrating the "zeal-inflamed weapons" that lesser mortals employ to harm their enemies.

The first three lines lines of the sacred text in the bass aria fit the music very well, with the melismas on "Erleuchte" and "Strahlen", but the second threelines of text do not fare so well: a long melisma on "Helden" (hero) in the original now finds itself somewhat incongruously set to "allen". The original also has an effective short adagio on the final "Ist Augustens Eigentum" (before the final repeat of the opening ritornello) ; this adagio is not indicated in the bass aria, though there is no reason why it could not apply here as well ("Durch der Strahlen klaren Schein").
The 'vivace' opening chorus in triple time has a delightfully joyous animation hightened by syncopated elements in the fugal sections and elsewhere; we are fortunate Bach chose to compose original music on this occasion.

On the use of the term "parody" (questioned by Ed):

(see the section on "music"). One advantage of "parody" - it's easier to type than "reworking" or "recycling":-)

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 30, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< The 'vivace' opening chorus in triple time has a delightfully joyous animation hightened by syncopated elements in the fugal sections and elsewhere; we are fortunate Bach chose to compose original music on this occasion. >
Has anyone suggested that this too is a parody of a lost work? This is by far the most difficult chorus in the whole work. So easy to rush the syncopations.

Neil Halliday wrote (September 30, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>This is by far the most difficult chorus in the whole work. So easy to rush the syncopations.<
Interesting. This certainly makes Richter's achievement remarkable, given the size of his choir and the accuracy of all the entries.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 30, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Interesting. This certainly makes Richter's achievement remarkable, given the size of his choir and the accuracy of all the entries. >
I think Richter's chorus was 60 voices. The fugues at "Cum Sancto Spiritu" and "Pleni sunt coeli" in the old Archiv Mass in B Minor are phenomenal ensemble achievements. I always seem to go back to that recording.

William Hoffman wrote (October 2, 2009):
BWV 248V: Intro. Part 3

Neil Halliday wrote:
“The 'vivace' opening chorus in triple time (248/43, Part V/1) has a delightfully joyous animation heightened by syncopated elements in the fugal sections and elsewhere; we are fortunate Bach chose to compose original music on this occasion.”
What a fine opening chorus -- preparing us for what I think is one of the best and most unique works, Part 5, in terms of its plan and style found in the entire Christmas Oratorio (XO). Several commentators have referred to the original influences and traditions of the XO: Leubeck Abendmusik 1705 and Heinrich SchützWeichnachts Historia. Others to its structure and character as an historia. Still others to its unique blend of narrative (narrator, characters, crowd choruses) diverse chorales, and lyric commentary), especially in the way Bach puts it all together.

I find Bach’s XO to be a unique omnibus work. In 1734, he was free of the fetters of weekly composition and provision of service music. Bach had the opportunity to compose exactly as he wished, had the quality resources of his Leipzig Collegium musicum, especially the brass, and had a great store of wonderful music recently composed. Werner Krieg in his 1987 notes to Gardiner’s XO recording writes at length about the seven stages of the origin or genesis of Bach’s XO. Much is conjecture yet common sense in thoughtful reflection on an amazing work.

A decade before, Bach’s oratorio composition as part of his “well-regulated church music” began at Lent 1725 with an extended cantata parody later called the “Easter Oratorio.” It offers ceremonial music for trumpets and drums, an elaborate sinfonia, character dialogue, and pastoral dance music. It came at a memorable time when Bach reached a crossroads in his cyclic church cantata composition and turned to music that would inspire, guide, and lead to his 1730s Christological cycle producing the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), the beginnings of his Great B-Minor Mass (BWV 232), and the oratorio series for the major feast days, culminating in the Christmas Oratorio.

Given all this, I think the key to understanding more fully Bach’s XO is his mastery of its stylistic and structural character. As has often and more recently been said, the XO is no mere cut-and paste job of self-plagiarism with a sprawling, indulgent text. This older view saw the XO simply as pleasing only because of its charming Nativity setting similar to the first third of Handel’s <Messiah> with the latter’s angelic announcements, pastoral sinfonia and engaging choruses, written some seven years AFTER the XO.

Stylistically, the XO is an amalgam of Bach’s most progressive gallant style of melodic, dance-like music with underlying, established, traditional characteristics such as “fugal sections” (cited above), elaborated and interpolated chorales, and motet-like turba choruses. It is a veritable feast for Feast Days. The movement, tonal and allegorical structure gives it extraordinary coherence and clear rhetoric. In short, the whole enterprise makes absolute sense and sensibility beyond, I would dare to suggest, even Handel’s ever-engaging, compelling and sustaining <Messiah> with its English language.

Now to Part 5, which often is still characterized as the least engaging and substantial of the XO’s six parts. Beyond its intrinsic musical worth, especially its soundly proportioned lyric chorus and two arias, I find a most compelling topical rather than symmetrical overall structure or musical plan. It is both representative of Bach’s creative imagination in the XO and a fine example of special treatment found nowhere else in Bach’s music, although there are forerunners.

The first movement with its rushing strings and answering oboes, and the intricate chorus, sounds a lot like “For unto us a Child is born,” a musical summary of the Christmas event, only here Bach dares to repeat the opening in da-capo form. The even more elaborate yet and robust opening chorus, which begins the XO Part 6 for the Feast of Epiphany, will be discussed in a few weeks.

Next, the narrator establishes the biblical account of the Wise Men’s search for Jesus. The tenor evangelist. introduces a most amazing and unique scena exchange between the energetic chorus of Wise Men and the allegorical alto soloist in true accompanied singing recitative. This original music of troped response and Isaiahic proclamation establishes the symbolic theme of Jesus as the light. Bach’s choice of alto voice represents special treatment of the voice type instead of the narrator-tenor, the soprano as the Soul, and the bass as Jesus. I can find no other chorus and arioso movement like it elsewhere in the XO or Bach’s dramatic music, whether sacred oratorio or secular dramma per musica. Taking this movement in its total context, I easily understand and accept Bach’s use of a previously-composed two-part crowd chorus (split here) in the older motet style. Together the chorus and arioso represent a fine example of Bach blending old and new styles, to achieve a so-called stile misto or mixed style, found most prominently in his Dresden colleague Zelenka’s “Misereri.”

The first half closes with a traditional reflective, affirmative, four-part chorale celebrating the theme of great light overcoming all darkness. It is the fifth stanza of Weissel’s chorale "Nun, liebe Seel, nun ist es Zeit" ("Now, Dear Soul, It IsTime") set to the sometimes-Passion melody "In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr" ("In Thee Have I Trusted, Lord").

The second half has the same basic pattern as the first: opening lyric commentary, biblical scena, more lyrical commentary (terzett and the ever-present alto in accompanied recitative), and a reflective closing chorale. It opens with a charming, pastoral duet of bass and obcarrying forward the theme of affirmative light. It sounds so wonderful and typical of such Bach aria types yet I can’t point immediately to another specific, similar aria, except for its recent parody in Cantata BWV 215/7

Next is the second unique biblical scena, now with the Evangelist narrator and the returning alto in accompanied recitative with violins, commenting dramatically on Herod’s fear of a rival. The Evangelist then describes Herod’s assembly with the Chief Priests and Scribes (an omen of the coming Passion trial?) seeking Jesus. In a departure from the literal tradition of Schuetz, the narrator replies that the location is Bethlehem, and then cities the biblical prophecy (in Micha and 2 Samuel) in narrative arioso style (accompanied recitative of singing cello), also found only in Jesus’ institution of blood and wine with the strings’ halo in the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244).

Then comes the two lyrical commentary movements. Soprano, alto and tenor sing another gentle yet striking and extensive free da-capo aria, with violin obligatto. The parody model for this is unknown, however its exacting construction speaks to a recent, lost, possibly secular drammi per musica for the Dresden Court, Bach’s main vocal composing interest in the 1730s. This is followed by the final, brief appearance of the allegorical alto with accompanying oboes instead of strings, speaking tenderly of the establishment of the new kingdom.

The closing, quite moving plain chorale describing the illumination of the heart. It is the ninth stanza of Franck’s chorale "Ihr gestrin, ihr hoehlen Lufte" ("You Star, You High Airs"), set to the melody "Gott des Himmels und der Erden" ("God of Heaven and Earth"), neither well-known yet most appropriate, closing with a slightly decorative tonic chord.


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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Last update: Friday, June 02, 2017 14:30