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Oster-Oratorium BWV 249
General Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of June 13, 2010 (3rd round)

William Hoffman wrote (June 13, 2010):
Easter Oratorio, BWV 249: Introduction

Easter Oratorio

Overview page, BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV249.htm
Latest study: Julian Mincham, BCW http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-49-bwv-249.htm

EASTER SUNDAY: BWV 249, "Kommt, eilet und laufet" [ORATORIUM, PARODY]
(1) April 1, 1725, ?before sermon, "Kommt gehet und eilet"; (2) c1738, (3) c1743, (4) April 6, 1749
*BWV 249 Sources: (1) orig. score & parts (lost, ?WFB); (2) score (SPK P.34) and parts (SPK. St.355), CPEB "Oratorium Festo Paschali," Berlin Singakadamie; set copy (11 parts [3 tp, ti, 2 ob, 2 vn, va, bn, bc], sinfonia only), CPEB/copyist Michel, Hamburg)
Literature: BGA XXI3 (Rust 1774); Smend 1942, 1950; Hänssler (Hellmann,1962, w/BWV 249/(12) chorale, sub. BWV 130/6); NBA KB II/7 (Brainard 1981); Terry Cantatas & Oratorios (London 1925); Daw 130f, Young 171f, Dürr (2005) 271-74.
Text: ? Picander (not published); BCW Francis Browne trans. http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV249-Eng3.htm
[chorale interpolation (12), "Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir" (Eber 1554)]
Forces: SATB, 4 vv, 3 tp, timp, (fl) 2 rec. 2 ob (ob d'a), str, bc; 1725 parts: S=Mary the Mother of James, A=Magdalene, T=Peter, B=John the Evangelist
Movements: sinfonia, TB duet w/chs., 4 recits. (SATB, TBA, SA, B), 3 arias (STA), chorus
1. Sinfonia (tutti orch.): A (Allegro) 3/8 gigue (D), 2. B adagio ¾ (b)
3. Duet dc w.chs. (T, B, tutti), 3/8 gigue (D): Come, hasten & hurry, ye fleet footsteps (=249a,b/3 orig. TB duet)
4. Rec. (SATB) (b-b): O colds human hearts, where is the love (Jn. 20:1)
5. Aria dc (S, fl), gigue ¾ (b): Soul, they spice, will no myrrh be (Mk. 15:23 & Jn. 19:39) (=249a,b/5)
6. Rec. (TBA) (D-b): Here is the grave, there the stone (Jn. 20:2-5)
7. Aria free dc 4/4 (T, rec. str) (G): My grief at Thy death shall be eased ("tears," Rev. 21:4) (=249a,b/7)
8. Rec. (SA) (b-A): Meanwhile, we sight with burning longing
9. Aria dc 4/4 (A, ob, str) (A): Tell me now where I might finds Jesus ("whom my soul loves," Song of Songs 3:1-4) (=249a,b/9)
10. Rec. (B) (FG-A): We rejoice that our Jesus lives once more
11. Chorus (tutti), French Overture 4/4 adagio; 3/8 gigue (D), allegro: Praise & thanks, Lord, be ever Thy hymn ("Gates of hell," Mat. 16:18; "redeemed," Isaiah 35:10, "Lion of Judah," Rev. 5:5) (=249a,b/11)
(12. Cle. tutti: Lord God, we all praise Thee (?orig.lost, sub. 130/6)

*Sources: Version 1 (1725) with 4 solo parts named, score lost, parts survive; Version 2 (c. 1738) "Oratorium" with a few extra measures of music and minor changes in scoring; Version 3 (c.1743-46) altered text (aria No. 5, B ending), changes in scoring (No. 2 Adagio oboe changed to flute, No 3 duet to SATB chorus) and smaller revisions.

A brief outline of the plot shows the basics of the Easter story and the reactions of the main participants.
The opening da capo chorus of people (No. 3) urges the Lutheran congregation to "Come, hasten and hurry" to the empty tomb and celebrate. These commands are similar to those of the opening SMP chorus (1727), "Come" "See ye." The principal characters, who are collectively grieving and preparing to anoint the body, are introduced (No. 4) in recitative. Mary the Mother of James in a da capo aria (No. 5) addresses the "Soul" of the one who receives the Easter proclamation, substituting a laurel wreath or myrrh spices. In the succeeding recitative (No. 6) Peter, John and Mary Magdalene see the tomb and great tombstone opening and Mary gives the Easter proclamation, "He is raised from the dead." Peter is pleased to see the sudarium "lying unwrapped." Peter sings a da capo pastoral slumber song (No. 7) and the two Marys in an arioso (No. 8) express their desire to see Jesus. Mary Magdalene, who is more then just a casual observer, in a da capo aria (No. 9) personally pleads to be with Jesus. The Evangelist John proclaims (No. 10) the Resurrection and everyone joins in a canticle of praise and thanksgiving, with various biblical references.

Text and Sinfonia

A deep understanding of the text is found in Michael Marissen's recent study: <Bach's Oratorios: The Parallel German-English Texts with Annotations> (OUP 2008), pp. 134-38). As he observes in his first footnote:
"To try to reconcile the logical and chronological difficulties of this libretto would be fruitless. The text was designed not as a chronicle for all listeners to track from left to right but as a theological proclamation for 18th century Lutherans to identify with liturgically and apply to their loves spiritually. That is to say, to criticize the libretto for being unsatisfying by the dictates of formal reason would be historically uninformed."

In addition to citing the biblical references found in the movement summary above, Marissen offers important insights. He shows that the various New Testament gospel texts covering the Easter Sunday story have differing perspectives. The overall story is complex and somewhat convoluted. These complexities include the significance and timely application of myrrh oil and the use of the burial sudarium (Schweißtuch, sweat-cloth), the identities of the women, the perspective of the two women in the story going to anoint Jesus' body, and the figure that speaks to Mary the Mother of James and Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb on Easter morning. In Bach's libretto, it is an angel, based on Matthew 28, while it is a young man in Mark 16, two men in Luke 24, and two angels in John 20.

While the <Easter Oratorio> text changes probably were devised by Bach, the identity of the libretto author is usually thought to be Picander, although the text never was published. Picander is the author of the text of the original <Shepherds' Cantata> BWV 249a, performed five weeks earlier, and is Bach's librettist for almost all the succeeding vocal music parodies. Still, the <Easter Oratorio> text has numerous scholarly biblical references and some local dialect. Perhaps the oratorio parody text was a collaboration of Bach, Picander, and a Lutheran Pastor, possibly Dr. Christian Weiss Senior at St. Thomas Church.

Picander's original arcadian inages in the pastoral serenade are turned into sometimes graphic, pietistic sentiments in the <Easter Oratorio>. The text change in the final two lines of the da capo B section, Alto Aria No. 5, "Seele, deine Spezereinen" (Soul, your spices), which is now found in the published editions, appears in the third version, dating between 1743 and 1746. Like Bach's changes in the 1749 version of the <St. John Passion> (No 9 aria and Nos. 19-20 and arioso-aria combination), these seem to reflect a more enlightened than pietistic language. Aria BWV 249/5 in the earlier wording:
"Sich mit Lorberkränzen schmücken/Schicket sich vor dein Erquicken"
(adorning yourself with laurel wreaths befits your being recalled to life);
In the extant, later wording:
"Mit dem Lorbeerkranze prangen, with the splendour of the laurel wreath
Stillt dein ängstliches Verlangen. will your anxious longing be satisfied."

Another unresolved issue is the origin of the opening two-part instrumental sinfonia and succeeding opening vocal movement. The three movements have long been assumed to be from a lost concerto, a concerto grosso (Smend) in the manner of the <BrandenbuConcertos>, or an instrumental collection. The view is questioned because "the internal structure of the three movements concerned is quite unlike that of other concertos," says Dürr <Bach Cantatas> 274, citing Joshua Rifkin and others.

As Julian Mincham notes in a recent BCW Sinfonia posting, Bach in most cases doesn't simply revive and tack-on a sinfonia to an already-composed cantata. Rather it is an initial invention, an impetus and an integral part of the whole work. Meanwhile, I think Bach often resorts to models or examples, as in his parodies which often are not simply duplications with new text underlay but are transformations within a new context. As Dürr also notes: "The bipartite structure of the notably brief closing chorus [No. 11] is modelled in that of the Sanctus, BWV 232III , composed shortly beforehand (Christmas 1724) and later in the <B minor Mass.>"

Bach Oratorios as Sacred Opera

Perhaps the most intriguing facet of Bach's <Easter Oratorio> is its overall form. Labeled an oratorio because its covers biblical incidents on Easter Sunday in a dramatic but non-liturgical fashion, it is now considered part of Bach's Trilogy of Sacred Operas, along with the <Christmas> and <Ascension Oratorios>, according to Bach scholar Christoph Wolff. This trilogy designation is found in his lecture, "Are Bach's Oratorios Sacred Operas?" at the Biennial Meeting, "Bach and the Oratorio Tradition," May 8-11, 2008, of the American Bach Society and the 101st Bethlehem Bach Festival at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

Wolff describes the common ingredients in all three Christian oratorios: the festive atmosphere of the trumpets and drums, the use of sacred chorales (except in the <Easter Oratorio>), the Gospel stories (not quoted in the first oratorio, for Easter), the exordium and applicato technique of all three oratorios, and the extensive use of pre-existing occasional secular celebratory music with dramatic overtones. Above all, Wolff emphasizes the theatrical dialogue character and communal audience response as believers in all three oratorios: the duet roles in the original 1725 "theatrical cantata" Easter work, the Narrator-Angel-Herod dialogues in the <Christmas Oratorio>, BWV 248, and the narrative base leading to the canonic dialogue of two men in white robes at Christ's ascension into heaven, in the <Ascension Oratorio>, BWV 11

Wolff spent much of his lecture on the <Easter Oratorio> as the first work and its connections to the other two festival oratorios. He noted that Bach designed the original version to emphasize dramatic dialogue throughout, without biblical scripture or hymns. In the c. 1738 version that survives today, Bach turned to a devotional emphasis, expanding the opening aria a quarto into a non-theatrical introduction. Meanwhile, Bach retains the soprano-alto arioso duet No. 8, "Indessen, saufzen wir" (Meanwhile, we sigh) involving Mary the Mother of James and Mary Magdalene, as the heart of the work, in homophonic imitation, a Handelian technique found in the oratorio <Israel and Egypt>. Wolff also points out the Hasse/Steffani-like opening overture (sinfonia).

Wolff also suggests that Anna Magdalena Bach portrayed the soprano role (the shepherdess Doris, later Mary the Mother of James) in the original Weißenfels pastoral serenade, which he calls "tafelmusik" (table or banquet music). Wolff in particular thinks that the soprano trio aria with flute or violin, No. 5, "Hundertausend Schmeicheleien" (100,000 Flatteries - "spices" in the oratorio), running as long as 11 minutes (!), was tailored for Anna Magdalena.

Before closing his one-hour lecture with a brief discussion of the Passions SJP and SMP as sacred operas, Wolff cited Bach distant relative Johann Gottfried Walther's 1732 musical lexicon definition of "oratorium," also cited in Martin Geck's book, <JSB Life and Work> p. 422: "a religious <Opera>, or <musical> representation of a religious story.

Italian Style

Douglas Cowling (BCW 249 discussion 2) wrote (March 31, 2007):

[Bach's use of the term "oratorium" is interesting and seems to indicate that scriptural narrative is going to be used. We see this in the Christmas (BWV 248) and Ascension (BWV 11) oratorios which have Luther's prose. Ironically, the use of "oratorium" historically meant a scriptural story rendered in poetic verse: Vivaldi's "Juditha Trumphans" and Händel's "La Resurrezione" are roughly contemporaneous.

[The latter is particularly interesting for it has the same "plot" as the Easter Oratorio and the character of Christ does not appear even though he is a prominent figure in the scriptural accounts -- one could easily imagine a dramatic scene between Christ and Mary Magdalene. Bach has the same reticence, which is odd -- Christ speaks with extraordinary dramatic effect in the Passions. Why not here?

[I'm wondering if Bach was trying to fashion an oratorio in the Italian style (like those in Dresden?) and encountered opposition from the Leipzig church authorities opposed to the notion of biblical characters being given poetry. The absence of Christ from the narrative might indicate Bach's sensitivity to the thought of Christ speaking poetic paraphrases -- perhaps it was an Italian tradition. We know that in the Passions he chose to set scriptural prose rather than lyrical paraphrases.]

Thank you, Doug. I think the evidence definitely -- especially in the <Easter Oratorio> -- points to Italian style. Bach's first venture into the feast day oratorio realm relates directly to Handel's "La Resurrezione" (1708 Rome), and also has connections to Schütze's summa <Resurrection History> (1623 Dresden), and Antonio Caldera's sacred oratorios <Maddalena ai piedi di Christo> (1697-98 Venice, 1713 Vienna) and <The Passion of Jesus Christ> (1716, Vienna)

Schütze's first venture into early historia or oratorio is a summa or harmony of the four Gospel accounts of the whole Easter Story, including Resurrection Sunday, Walk to Emmaus Monday, and Disciple Gathering Tuesday. It was performed annually until 1675, replacing Scandello's Easter History and eventually replaced by Strungk's, as the Dresden Catholic Chapel Easter tradition from 1573 to 1700. These Easter works, with instruments, choruses and multiple voices singing the roles of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the Angel at the Tomb, had no model in Catholic tradition, being part of a post-Lutheran German vernacular historia genre specific to Dresden and best known throughout Germany as oratorio Passions.

The Italian sacred vulgate oratorio tradition flourished from 1660 to 1720, particularly in palaces in Rome where the Papacy had forbidden opera at any time of the year. It was a frank substitute for opera, with elaborate sets and costumes and numerous da capo arias, but no staging or choruses -- thus being a closet or static drama.

Handel, trained in the Hamburg Opera tradition of sacred operas and passion-oratorio, 1703-06, moved to Italy to learn opera. In Rome, he initially composed secular cantatas, vesper music and oratorios, primarily for the wealth Roman families usually headed by Cardinals. At Easter 1708, Handel on commission created "La Resurrezione" for Easter Sunday and Monday, paired with Alessandro Scarlatti's Passion Oratorio (perhaps St. John, 1680-85), on Wednesday of Holy Week, with a large orchestra conduced by Archangelo Corelli. Along with <Messiah> and the <Brockes Passion>, it was Handel's only biblical oratorio with a specifically Christian theme. Is it just a coincidence that Bach's first viable church piece, <Cantata BWV 4, "Christ lag in Todesbanden>," was perat Easter 1707 or perhaps on the same Easter Sunday 1708 in Mühlhausen as Handel's Easter Oratorio in Rome?

Four elements are common to Bach's and Handel's Easter Oratorios: a festive instrumental introduction, the use of da capo arias (all four in Bach), music using various forms of the gigue and gavotte dance, and primary characters signing arias and ensemble dialogue using poetic rather than biblical text. In Handel's case there are two distinct settings: the underworld exchanges between an Angel (soprano) and Lucifer (bass) and the earthly biblical setting of the mortal characters Mary Magdalene (soprano), Mary Cleophas (mezzo), and St. John the Evangelist (tenor) - the same three biblical characters in Bach's <Easter Orartorio>, plus Peter. Handel's assigned libretto by Capece provides operatic emotions from weeping and lament to delight, joy and triumph, with Handel's unerring gift for characterization. Bach's libretto and treatment are grounded in the Schütz manner of intimacy and reflection.

Another common element is the soprano lead in both oratorios. Handel employed famed diva Margherita Durastanti as Mary Magdalene for the premiere but the Pope objected to a female singer; a castrato was substituted for the Easter Monday repeat performance. Bach, as Christoph Wolff points out, had Anna Magdalena sing the role of the shepherdess Doris in the initial pastoral serenade at the Weißenfels Court but it is assumed that a boy soprano in the Thomas Church choir sang the parodied role of Mary the Mother of James on Easter Sunday five weeks later in 1725.

Yet another common element is the composers' reuse of existing music. In the case of Handel, he was legion at recycling his vocal music, beginning with the instrumental sarabande in his first opera, <Almira> (Hamburg 1705), later used as an aria in his first oratorio, <The Triumph of Time and Truth> (Rome 1707), and finally the famed castrato aria, "Lascia ch'io pianga" in <Rinaldo> (London 1711).
In "La Resurrezione" near the end is John's tenor aria "Caro figlio" (Dear son), which also had its origins in Hamburg and later was used also in <Rinaldo> as the aria "Cara sposa" (Dear wife).

See Johan Van Veen's reviews of two recordings of "La Resurrezione" just posted on BCW http://www.musica-dei-donum.org


Cantata BWV 249a, "Entfliehet, verschwindet"; "February 23, 1725, birthday "Shepherds' Cantata" (pastoral serenade), Duke Christian, Weißenfels; text Picander I (1727) & Vierte Auflage (1748) (Doris, Sylvia, Menalcas, Damoetas); NBA KB I/35 (Dürr 1964); reconstructions: no recits, Brainard NBA II/7 (1977), Appx. B; Bärenreiter #1785 (1943, Smend w/recits. Hermann Keller).
BCW cover page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV249a.htm
BCW Translation, Z. Philip Ambrose: http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV249a.html
Literature: Smend, Bach in Köthen 119, 195, 207; Dürr Cantatas 805-809
1. Sinfonia (tutti orch.): A (Allegro) 3/8 gigue (D), 2. B adagio ¾ (b)
3. Duet (T, B; SA) 3/8 gigue (D): Flee, disappear, escape you sorrows (=249)
4. Rec. (BTAS) (b-b): What hear I there (music lost)
5. Aria dc (S, fl), gigue ¾ (b): Hundred thousand flatteries swell in my breast (=2495)
6. Rec. (BSTA) (D-b): As again, lovely sheep, what have you (music lost)
7. Aria free dc 4/4 (T, rec. str) (G): Watch you, you fat sheep (=2497)
8. Rec. (BA) (b-A): All right, beloved sheep (music lost)
9. Aria dc 4/4 (A, ob, str) (A): Come yet, Flora . . . breathe with the west wind (=249/9)
10. Rec. (B) (FG-A): What care you plenty (music lost)
11. Chorus (tutti), French Overture 4/4 adagio; 3/8 gigue (D), allegro: Fortune & health, so will one's future.

Secular Origin and Usages

Alfred Dürr in The Cantatas of JSB 805-809, an expansion of his notes in the Rilling CD of BWV 249a (Smend-Keller version) suggests (808) that the secular origin of the Easter Oratorio as a shepherds' pastoral serenade makes it less suitable to its church purpose, without biblical words and chorale, in comparison with the Christmas Oratorio.

The shepherds' serenade was Bach' second commission for the Court of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißenfels. Both were substantial, milestone secular serenades or tafelmusik. The first, the Hunting Cantata BWV 208 of 1713 was Bach's first cantata in the "new style" in 15 movements with da capo arias and recitatives, with a large orchestra and perhaps an opening sinfonia which was an early version of the opening movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. It was repeated several times as a birthday tribute for courts (with name changes) at Weimar, Weißenfels, Saxony, and possibly Köthen.

"Primitive as it is, the plot (of BWV 249a) offers the composer ample scope for characterful shaping of the various movements," says Dürr. Among them, the pastoral lullaby (No. 5), and above all, the full-textured finale in praise of the prince belong to the regular repertory of baroque opera and serenade music. Bach's setting is of imperishable worth and towers above the general level of such congratulatory music.

Bach composed a third commission for the Court at Saxe-Weißenfels: BWV 210a, "O angenehme Melodei" (O pleasing melody), soprano solo homage serenade (three versions); originally composed as a homage to the Duke of Saxe-Weißenfels, January 12, 1729; for the birthday of Count von Flemming, August 25, 1729-30; and repeats for him and unknown patrons (through text revisions) between 1735-1740; and finally, parodied as the extant secular wedding cantata, "O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit" (O glorious day, longed-for time), 1738-41 (no librettist identified for any version).

The pastoral birthday serenade BWV 249a was repeated once in a parody 18 months later as a birthday tribute, BWV 249b, to the Saxon court adviser and leading Bach patron Count von Flemming. Bach also presented two other parody birthday serenades for von Flemming, BWV 210a in 1729-30 and BWV Anh. 10 in 1731.

Cantata BWV 249b, "Die Feier des Genius: Verjaget, zerstreuet"; August 25, 1726; birthday "Dramma per Musica," Leipzig Graf von Flemming; text Picander I (Genius, Mercurius, Melpomene, Minerva); NBA KB I/39 (Neumann 1977)


Sources and Techniques

What were Bach's sources for these <Easter Oratorio> models? In the cases of the Schütz and Caldara oratorios, the manuscripts were found in the royal Saxon library at Dresden, also the source of much of Bach's studies of sacred vocal stile antico and moderno techniques. The Handel source is allusive, since his work disappeared after its 1708 debut, although it was later salvaged. IMHO, the most likely source is Telemann in Hamburg, who had direct connections with Handel, Keiser, and Mattheson and, as municipal music director, was composing oratorios for the church feast days and Good Friday as well as secular occasions. We will explore the Telemann connection in the BCW Easter Sunday discussion, the week of June 27, 2010, <Cantata BWV 160, "Ich weiß, daß mein Erloser lebt>."

Caldara's <Maddalena ai piedi di Christo> is a crucial link in the chain of sacred oratorios. From 1710 to 1716, Caldara created numerous Lenten oratorios for Marchese Raspoli, Handel's most influential Roman patron, who underwrote the 1708 Scarlatti-Handel Passion-Easter oratorio pairing in 1708. In 1713, Caldara presented his <Maddalena ai piedi di Christo> as a test piece in Vienna. Finally, in 1716, Caldara became vice-Kapellmeister to Habsburg Emperor Charles VI in Vienna. There, Caldara composed 50 operas, numerous sacred works, including a 25 oratorios and a <Magnificat> (Suscipet Israel, BWV 1083), which Bach arranged, 1740-42, as well as the Passion Oratorio to a Metastasio text, Caldara's inaugural Viennese work on Tuesday of Holy Week, 1716.

Caldara's works have all the hallmarks of the Italian-style oratorio with opening sinfonias, numerous da capo arias alternating with ariosi and recitative, dramatic tension, conflict between good and evil, symbolic characters, detailed orchestral scoring with gavotte and gigue dance styles, musical representation of the text, and striking "set-up" and "exit" arias. Many of these ingredients Bach adapted for use in his dramatic music, beginning with his Köthen serenades (1717-24) and the Passion of John; the 1725 almost-simultaneous creation of the <Easter Oratorio>, the beginnings of the <St. Matthew Passion>, and the first drammi per musica for the Dresden Court; and the completion of the SMP in 1729, followed by the <Missa in B Minor> in 1733 for the Dresden Court, and the <Christmas> and <Ascension Oratorios> of 1734-35.

Meanwhile, in contrast to Handel, Caldara, and other contemporary Italian opera composers, Bach wasn't content to refashion his works with new arias and texts or produce a "new" hybrid piece, as amalgamation, a pastiche or pastry confectionary. Employing the Renaissance sacred music technique of parody or new-text underlay, as well as the utilization of old melodies in new contexts, Bach began tentatively in the 1725 pastoral cantata and its sister <Easter Oratorio> to explore and integrate the musical world of static drama and personal reflection.

From the facts "on the ground," so to speak, it is possible to conjecture about Bach's reasoning and practice in the composition of these unique feast day oratorios. Essentially, he seems to embrace, explore and integrate both the musical worlds of the past and the present. A side-by-side (synoptic) examination reveals three remarkable, unique, different works. Much has been written about the ambitious <Christmas Oratorio> in six parts while the <Ascension Oratorio> shows both new directions and closure for Bach. Now, looking at the pioneering <Easter Oratorio> and its brethren, the serenades and first drammi per musica, it seems that Bach was able to utilize and sustain both profane and sacred elements in a compatible and effective duality, something not even his most talented colleagues achieved - or perhaps even desired.

IMHO both 1725 and 1735 were watershed periods in Bach's creative life. In the latter, he achieved full expression of his Christological cycle, using the wealth of recent secular cantatas to fashion new works. Regrettably, Bach expended most of this great, remarkable resource on the <Christmas Oratorio>. Still, it is intriguing to comprehend a full-blown, three-day <Easter Oratorio>, integrating the lyrical pastoral choruses and arias into a composite and extensive gospel account similar to Schütze's somewhat repetitive historia. At the same time, Bach would have had to use chorales and parodied da capo arias. - quite an undertaking. Alfred Dürr has even suggested that Bach also created a fourth, Pentecost Oratorio.

What we do know is that, subsequently, Bach ceased secular cantata composition, content to repeat or slightly parody annual works for the Dresden court. Meanwhile, there was a small burst of playful creativity with the <"Peasant"> and <"Coffee" Cantatas>, now seen as forerunners or intimations of popular light opera.

Two phrases come to mind re. Bach's <Easter Oratorio> as we know it: "Es ist vollbracht" and "Es ist genug," "It is finished" and "It is enough."

Neil Halliday wrote (June 13, 2010):
"Gently shall my death pangs only a slumber...be" (tenor aria).

On the face of it, it seems remarkable that Bach could set this text to music originally composed to illustrate the slumber of contented sheep in rich pastures, but it works beautifully, given the context of joy-through-death, on account of Christ's resurrection.

IMO, slower tempos capture a gentle, peaceful and consoling mood more expressively: compare Parrott with McCreesh.

Interestingly, recorders double the violins at the octave throughout, creating a lovely timbre, and the paired-slurring of the semiquaver notes throughout, is an expressive feature.

-------

Julian mentioned in his article that some listeners might wonder why Bach replaced the oboe with a flute in a later version of the second sinfonia; I certainly prefer the oboe in this lovely adagio, but it's hard to say why; eg, the flute works beautifully in the soprano aria (which itself apparently has the option of an obbligato violin!).

Werner's recording (a fine example of his art) concludes most satisfyingly with the grand closing chorale of BWV 130 - with flourishes on trumpets and drums between each chorale phrase. I haven't yet sought the reason for Werner's use of this chorale as a conclusion to the work; did the lack of a da capo suggest to Werner the need for a concluding chorale? (I noticed William also mentioned this chorale in his informative introduction. Perhaps the answer can be found at the BCW; I'll do a search later when time permits.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 14, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Labeled an oratorio because its covers biblical incidents on Easter Sunday in a dramatic but non-liturgical fashion, it is now considered part of Bach's Trilogy of Sacred Operas, along with the <Christmas> and <Ascension Oratorios>, according to Bach scholar Christoph Wolff. >
I have to admit that I see more differences than similarlties in Bach's three New Testament oratorios. The Easter Oratorio is really a unique work that stands apart from all of Bach's sacred music.

1. The Absence of Scriptural Narrative:
Unlike the two oratorios and the passions, Bach does not use the prose narratives of scripture. In fact, the entire work is a dramatic reaction to the Resurrection account and does not rewrite the biblical story in lyrical poetry. One could say that the work is a single tableau of the Empty Tomb. The absence of the figure of Christ is significant when considering the dramatic possibilities of the scriptural scenes between Jesus and the Maries or the Angel and the Maries.

2. The Absence of Chorales
This alone sets the work apart from the other oratorios. The fact that Bach added a concluding chorale in a later version and removed the charact' names might indicate that the work was criticized for its non-traditional
format.

3. The Operatic Libretto.
The libretto owes more in form and style to a dramatic cantata like "Phoebus and Pan" than to any of the scriptural passions or oratorios. Through the whole work we see the typical operatic structure of a brief interactive "Action" in the recitatives and reflective "Reaction" which illustrates a particular affect in the arias. The libretto has none of the allegorizing or moralizing themes which we see throughout the other cantata-oratorios or passions.

The Easter Oratorio is the most Catholic and Italian of Bach's vocal works. Such oratorios were popular in Italy in Easter Week when concerted music returned to the liturgy and in popular devotions such as "sacred concerts". We see dramatic Easter works in the early 17th century. A single sinfonia survives from Monteverdi's oratorio, "Magdalena" and there are several contemporary scenas which dramatize scenes from the scriptural narrative, including the encounter of Christ and Mary Magdalene. When Handel is commissioned in Rome, he is clearly writing a work which is in a popular genre. If we had to choose the two works of Handel and Bach which are the most similar, "La Resurrezione" and the "Easter Oratorio" would be the obvious choice.

The questions then arise why Bach would choose to write such a Catholic, Italian oratorio -- unlike anything he had written before -- and where did he find his models? The answer must lie in Dresden.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 14, 2010):
William Hoffman wrote:
< The opening da capo chorus of people (No. 3) urges the Lutheran congregation to "Come, hasten and hurry" to the empty tomb and celebrate. These commands are similar to those of the opening SMP chorus (1727), "Come" "See ye." The principal characters, who are collectively grieving and preparing to anoint the body, are introduced (No. 4) in recitative. >
EM:
As a lad (couple years, and more, ago) this was the central mystery of religion for me: what happened to the body? It still is, come to think of it, if now more simple question than profound mystery.

WH:
< A deep understanding of the text is found in Michael Marissen's recent study: <Bach's Oratorios: The Parallel German-English Texts with Annotations> (OUP 2008), pp. 134-38). As he observes in his first footnote:
"To try to reconcile the logical and chronological difficulties of this libretto would be fruitless. The text was designed not as a chronicle for all listeners to track from left to right but as a theological proclamation for 18th century Lutherans to identify with liturgically and apply to their loves spiritually. That is to say, to criticize the libretto for being unsatisfying by the dictates of formal reason would be historically uninformed." >
EM:
This thoughtful (dare I say lovely?) statement of the issues cuts to the core of the misunderstandings often expressed in BCML discussions, re Bachs relevance to 21st century theology and science. *Historically uninformed* (HUP?) is especially noteworthy. It is no small irony that the citation is from a footnote!

I also find Doug’s response to Will’s introduction enlightening in many details. Thanks, as always.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 18, 2010):
Excellent performances (on youtube):

1st movement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaVanbr6S9w&feature=related

Adagio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgQz899oW_8

Neil Halliday wrote (June 18, 2010):
Plus Herreweghe's heavenly "Sanfte soll", with a lovely arioso at the end.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_hIDGRbdfM

and lots more; just type whatever you want (or so it seems) into the search window.

 

Article: Easter Oratorio BWV 249 - An Examination of its Sources and Development

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 2, 2010):
Thomas Braatz contributed another article to the BCW:
"Easter Oratorio BWV 249 - An Examination of its Sources and Development"
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/BWV249Chron.pdf
Linked from: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/IndexArticles.htm
(links from other pages would be added later)

Thomas Braatz wrote:
The curious history of the Easter Oratorio continues to raise many questions in the minds of listeners, performers and musicologists alike. Some of these can be answered by examining carefully all available sources and others are open to various interpretations. This report will attempt to put some issues to rest or least offer some reasonable solutions that will need to be considered. One of the key questions that I will attempt to answer is: "What is the problem with this particular parody? Why is it considered as one of the weakest parodies that Bach ever produced?" Other questions that are important to solving the many riddles surrounding this work are: "What are the various stages of development of both the music and the texts? How do we know when the autograph score and the existing original parts were prepared? What about the final chorale which is sometimes performed with this work?" There are also some curious questions like: "How can a bassoon play pizzicato? and What about a 19th-century, 3-piano arrangement of mvt. 1?"

William Hoffman wrote (September 2, 2010):
[To Aryeh Oron] I trust that this article will be listed on BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV249.htm
as well as the latest discussion, beginning June 13, 2010.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 5, 2010):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"What is the problem with this particular parody? Why is it considered as one of the weakest parodies that Bach ever produced?"
It is terrific to have this factual information about the scores: I wish we had a Provenance page for every cantata!

The Easter Oratorio has two strikes against it:

1) It has never been forgiven the fact that it is a "parody" work in a way that the Christmas Oratorio and the Mass in B Minor have never been judged.

2) It is judged a failure against the model of the Passions.

I would suggest that the Easter Oratorio is unpopular because it is the only example in Bach's works of a specific genre: the Italian Easter oratorio. And that like much of Baroque opera, it does not resonate with modern sensibilities. I suspect many audiences (and it appears scholars as well) are disappointed that Bach did not use Luther's prose translation and depict the high drama of the scriptural story. Think of the possible scenes: the earthquake, the angelic descent and rolling away of the stone, the soldiers and Pilate, the mourning women, Mary Magdalene's encounter with Jesus. If Bach had taken the Passions as his model, the Easter Oratorio could have been spectacular drama. But he didn't, and it isn't.

Rather he used a libretto which removed all the drama of the story. The terse prose of scripture is replaced by elegant and somewhat remote poetry. The characters reflect on the Resurrection but do not participate in it. The whole work seems slack and passive. The four characters stand before an imaginary stage set of the Empty Tomb and meditate on it. Christ remains offstsge. This is precisely what happens in Handel's "La Resurrezione". The performance took place on a specially-built stage with the characters standing before a backdrop of the Resurrection and commenting in the same desultory fashion as in Bach's work.

I'm not saying that Handel's 1708 Easter oratorio was a model for or even known by Bach. However, it seems likely that they are representative works of a genre of Italian oratorio: the similarities are too striking to be coincidence. I wonder if there are other works out there which have comparable features. It seem that Dresden would be the likely place to look.

The music is magnificent. Why can't we love this work?

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 5, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< It is terrific to have this factual information about the scores: I wish we had a Provenance page for every cantata! >
I share that wish. For newcomers, the folks corresponding (above) are among the most important contributors to that goal.

DC:
< Rather he used a libretto which removed all the drama of the story. The terse prose of scripture is replaced by elegant and somewhat remote poetry. The characters reflect on the Resurrection but do not participate in it. The whole work seems slack and passive. The four characters stand before an imaginary stage set of the Empty Tomb and meditate on it. Christ remains offstsge. >
EM:
True enough, but the question always remains: To what extent did Bach have latitude in selection/preparation of librettos?

The passive (non-operatic!) approach is exactly in conformance with his charter (if not necessarily personal choice) in pursuing the Leipzig appointment.

Note that the psychologically passive perspective is precisely correct for the contemporary Christian believer, contemporary with either Bach or the 21st C. Perhaps that emphasis was intended?

Of course, exactly the opposite is true for the contemporaries of Jesus. I will be interested in texts for the coming weeks, the key period from Resurrection to Ascension of Jesus. This is the culmination of the *de tempore* half of the liturgical year, in the language recently presented by Will Hoffman. In the spirit of Dougs post, this period presents the maximum opportunity for an active (operatic) presentation of the miraculous and/or godly acts of the resurrected Jesus.

DC:
< The music is magnificent. Why can't we love this work? >
EM:
Some of us have done so for quite some time. This was my first (and only) Phillipe Herreweghe cantata performance before joining BCML. It remains a favorite of mine, and I expect of Herreweghe as well.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 5, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< The passive (non-operatic!) approach is exactly in conformance with his charter (if not necessarily personal choice) in pursuing the Leipzig appointment. >
Actually I would say that the libretto of the Easter Oratorio is the only sacred cantata of Bach's which could justifiably be called operatic. I wouldn't be surprised if Bach dropped the names of the soloists because there were complaints that giving non-scriptural words to biblical characters was indecorous. If I was a conservative Leipzig burgher worried about the infiltration of avant-garde, pseudo-catholic, operatic ideas from Dresden, I would disapprove of this work's libretto.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 6, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Actually I would say that the libretto of the Easter Oratorio is the only sacred cantata of Bach's which could justifiably be called operatic. I wouldn't be surprised if Bach dropped the names of the soloists because there were complaints that giving non-scriptural words to biblical characters was indecorous. If I was a conservative Leipzig burgher worried about the infiltration of avant-garde, pseudo-catholic, operatic ideas from Dresden, I would disapprove of this work's libretto. >
I see (and agree with) Dougs additional point. I was responding to to the original statement that the Easter Oratorio is a missed opportunity for spectacular drama, but that does not necesssarily make it non-operatic. Incidentally, I find the discussion of Bachs constraints by Leipzig authorities among the more interesting, informative, and entertaining topics. Not so entertaining to Bach, I suspect.

Harry W. Crosby wrote (September 6, 2010):
Ladies and Gentlemen, for me, this discussion of the history of the Easter Oratorio, the related accounts of its critics, and the bases of their complaints, all add up to hearty endorsement of the classic epigrams, "When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," and, "What you don't know won't hurt you."

I got my first recording of the Easter Oratorio about 1960 when I was reaching out for any available recordings of Bach's vocal works. I loved it from the word go and have owned a progression of oft-played performances, my favorites today being those of Herreweghe and Gardiner. I kicked back last night and bathed in the former.

Of course I understand the fascination of some for the intricate history, the derivations, etc., of many Bach works; I am, after all, a historian myself, admittedly of more mundane people and events. That said, I am unable to relate to the basic idea that this lovely, invigorating work could be spoiled for some by their perceptions of its heritage as mongrel, a stew of leftovers.

But, then perhaps I am being too judgmental. As Archie* famously quipped, "Chacun a son ragout."

*For those too young to remember, Archie was the cockroach who spoke for author Don Marquis in his famous first person column, "Archie and Mehitabel," popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (September 6, 2010):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< Ladies and Gentlemen, for me, this discussion of the history of the Easter Oratorio, the related accounts of its critics, and the bases of their complaints, all add up to hearty endorsement of the classic epigrams, "When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," and, "What you don't know won't hurt you."
I got my first recording of the Easter Oratorio about 1960 when I was reaching out for any available recordings of Bach's vocal works. I loved it from the word go and have owned a progression of oft-played performances, my favorites today being those of Herreweghe and Gardiner. I kicked back last night and bathed in the former. >

I first heard the Easter oratorio via "DeKoven Presents!" in the 1970s (and what had to have been a recycled show from the 1960s). On this specific episode, DeKoven played the opening Sinfonia at least three times (it was the "repeat treat" concluding the show).

 

Easter & Ascension Oratorios - Matthew Halls, Retrospect Ensemble

Andrew White (Drew) wrote (March 8, 2011):
The samples for this recording sound very promising: http://www.linnrecords.com/recording-js-bach-easter-oratorio-ascension-oratorios.aspx

Two of my favorite vocal works by Bach, with my favorite Bachian tenor, James Gilchrist -- wonderful to hear him sing one of Bach's finest tenor arias, BWV 249:7 ("Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer").

Sampson and Harvey are great, as well. A strong line-up, to be sure.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (March 8, 2011):
[To Andrew White] Thanks Andrew!

SOME modern flutists play so marvellously well the Baroque flute (like in Track 5-Aria-Seele ...) that we forget how devilishly difficult is to play in tune and with even sound that instrument.

A question for the "Cantatati": which Baroque evidence exists for the use of ostensible vibrato in all the long notes, whether by singers or instruments?

Thanks,

 

Continue in Part 4

Oster-Oratorium 249: Kommt, eilet und laufer for Easter Sunday (1725)
Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


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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