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Oster-Oratorium BWV 249
General Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Discussions in the Week of March 9, 2017 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (March 11, 2017):
Easter Oratorio, BWV 249 and Its Secular Model

Given its reception history as a secular parody with textual limitations, Bach’s 1725 Easter Oratorio, BWV 249, stands out as one of his most important major vocal works. In the context of his “well-ordered church music,” it is the second of a trilogy of Johannine works, following his St. John Passion, BWV 245, and its prologue works BWV 159 and Anh. 199, and leading to his spring 1725 settings of 10 Easter Season Johannine cantatas to texts of Mariane von Ziegler. Bach’s Easter Oratorio in its various manifestations also represents the first active collaboration between the composer and his librettist, Picander, followed the synoptic Gospel settings of the St. Matthew and St. Mark Passions. This fruitful partnership would also involve the creation of drammi per musica for the Saxon Court and its members which would lead to parodies of the core choruses and arias in the Christmas and Ascension Oratorios.

The 45-minute Easter Oratorio, titled “Kommt, eilet und laufet” (Come, hasten and run), with a festive orchestra of trumpets and drums with winds and strings, features an opening two-part sinfonia followed by a chorus and then four alternating dramatic recitatives and da-capo style arias, and a closing chorus. Except for the recitatives, all the movements have dance styles from of a French suite, revealing the work’s secular origins with its pastoral character and dialogue qualities in the manner of a contemplative, pictorial, Italianate profane work. The original dialogue Shepherds Cantata BWV 249a, “Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen” (Flee now, vanish, yield now, you sorrows), also had 11 movements with four mythological characters celebrating the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißenfels, five weeks before Easter Sunday.

The model was another birthday table-music Hunting Cantata BWV 208, “Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!” (What pleases me is above all the lively hunt!), for the same duke, 12 years previously. When Bach commissioned Picander to write the original text in early 1725, he specified four characters representing two shepherds and two shepherdesses. In the Easter Sunday sacred version he had the text altered to fit a harmonization of the brief Mark 16:1-8 Gospel account of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The two shepherdesses now represent the two Marys, Magdalene and the Mother of the Apostle James, both who had witnessed the Crucifixion of Jesus and now come to anoint the body in the tomb. The two shepherds now represent the apostles Peter, who denied Jesus at his trial, and John, who also witnessed the Crucifixion in the Gospel of John.1 As a static, contemplative work, Bach’s Easter Oratorio lacks the biblical narrative and chorales found in his other two oratorios and his three oratorio Passions.

The Easter Oratorio (Oratorium Festo Paschali) was premiered on Easter Sunday, 1 April 1725, at the Nikolaikirche early main service before the Resurrection sermon (not extant) on the Gospel, Mark 16:1-8, of Superintendent Salomon Deyling, followed by the midday main service at the St. Thomas Church before the sermon of Archdeacon Johann Gottlob Carzov, says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinityfest.2 The Easter Oratorio may have been repeated on 10 April 1735 as part of Bach’s series of oratorio presentations, preceded by the Christmas Oratorio and followed by the Ascension Oratorio on May 19, says Petzoldt (Bach’s Easter Sunday performance calendar is found at BCW

In Mark’s brief account, the two Marys encountering an open tomb are told by an angel that Jesus of Nazareth is arisen and “he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him.” The Easter Sunday Epistle in Bach’s time was 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” The German text of Luther’s 1545 translation and the English Authorised (King James) Version 1611 is found at BCW, The Easter Sunday Introit Psalm 110, Dixit Dominus (The Lord said unto my Lord, KJV), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 669), emphasizes that “man shall praise God” and was a popular polyphonic motet setting, also performed at Easter Sunday vespers. The full text (KJV) of Psalm 110 is found at

Easter Oratorio as “Ugly Duckling”

With its secular parody origin plus lack of narration and closing chorale, Bach’s Easter Oratorio, greatly valued by Bach and reperformed at least three times, seems like an ugly duckling among his major vocal works, observes John Eliot Gardiner in his 2014 liner notes synopsis.3 <<It has often puzzled me why the Easter Oratorio, BWV 249, is sometimes considered the ugly (or at least forgotten) duckling among Bach’s choral works. That is certainly not how Bach himself saw it. Agreed, its origins were not especially propitious. In 1725 he hastily reworked a pastoral dramma per musica, recently composed for the Weißenfels court, into a cantata for Easter Sunday, its two shepherds (Menalcas and Damoetas) and two shepherdesses (Doris and Sylvia) transformed, not wholly convincingly, into Christ’s disciples, racing each other to the empty tomb on Easter morn. Uniquely, he provided no chorales. He returned to this Easter cantata around 1738, expanding and rescoring it. What emerged was the Easter Oratorio, which was then subjected to further revision between 1743 and 1746, with the opening duet burgeoning into a four-part chorus. This is the version we have recorded.

By now the earlier identification of the four vocal parts with the roles of the two Marys, Peter and John had been virtually expunged. Bach’s intent here was manifestly to eliminate the theatrical flavour of the cruder cantata version and to give a more consistently meditative emphasis to the paraphrased scriptural narrative, in which the expression of human emotional responses to the Resurrection is paramount. By the time he had revised it for the last time – on 6 April 1749, just three days after his final restoration of the St John Passion – this was now a much more polished creation, worthy to set beside the Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11.

The first three movements of the Easter Oratorio are all in triple time (unique in Bach’s oeuvre), laid out like a concerto of the period: a festive sinfonia scored for trumpets, drums, oboes, bassoon and strings, a superbly crafted adagio for oboe (or flute) and strings redolent of a Venetian slow movement, and then a lively da capo chorus. What follows is a sequence of recitative and aria pairings constructed rather like a dance suite: a slow minuet (No.5) for soprano with flute obbligato suggestive of the agency of the Holy Spirit and the consolation of prayer floating heavenward, a pastoral bourree (No.7) for tenor and a pair of recorders (a reminder of the Actus tragicus [Cantata 106]), a sprightly gavotte (No.9) for the alto with an oboe d’amore colouring the string band (and a hesitant, melting end to the B section, almost a blueprint of a Mozartian tragedienne’s grief) and a gigue as a final chorus of thanksgiving (No.11) involving the expanded orchestra and including a brief cameo appearancefor the lion of Judah.
© John Eliot Gardiner, 2014

Resurrection Importance in Bach’s Music

The centrality of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in Christian belief and its impact in Bach’s music is described in Klaus Hofmann’s 2005 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS recording of the Easter Oratorio, with its older folk traditions.4 There also is a comparison throughout with the original shepherd’s Taflemusik, BWV 249a. <<Since the beginnings of Christianity the birth, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus have been central philosophical concepts in mankind’s imagination and have inspired artistic creations in pictures, words, and music both vocal and instrumental. In the Middle Ages in particular, dramatic representations of the biblical events blossomed; in Bach’s time, too, this tradition was still very much alive, and even today remnants of it have survived in folk art.

Music had always played a prominent part and, especially in Passions, developed its own manifestations and genre traditions. Bach’s Passions are rooted in this tradition, and his Christmas Oratorio is also related to it. In a particular way, however, the Easter Oratorio, ‘Kommt, eilet und laufet’ (Come, hasten and run), is linked to older, folk traditions. The text is ultimately based on the resurrection story of the four [chapters in the] Gospels, after Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20. For this text, however, Bach’s librettist (whose identity we do not know), apparently used a literary model derived from the tradition of the medieval Easter plays about the ‘Visitatio sepulchris’ – the visit to the grave. This is evident from various textual allusions and is also mirrored in the typical sequence of events: at the news of Jesus’ resurrection, two of his disciples hurry to the grave. There they meet women from Jesus’ following who are mourning his death and who wish to anoint his body. The disciples find the grave empty; only Jesus’ napkin remains; and the women tell of an angel who told them that Christ had risen.

For the oratorio, the number of characters was limited to just four: Mary the mother of James, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. In Bach’s piece each of them is allocated a voice: the two Marys sing soprano and alto, Peter is a tenor and John a bass. There are three solo arias, each related to specific situations in the story. Mary the mother of James’s aria [no. 5] ‘Seele, deine Spezereien’ (‘Soul, your exotic delicacies’), Peter’s aria [no. 7] ‘Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer’ (‘My deathly anguish shall softly’) and that of Mary Magdalene [no. 9], ‘Saget, saget mir geschwinde’ (‘Tell me, tell me quickly’). As a frame there are the [opening and closing] choral movements [no. 3] ‘Kommt, eilet und laufet’ (‘Come, hasten and run’) and [no. 11] ‘Preis und Dank’ (‘May praise and thanks’). A surprising feature – indeed a unique one in Bach’s oratorios – is the omission of an ‘evangelist’ and thus of the biblical story, knowledge of which is taken for granted. The events are portrayed by dialogue alone. Bach’s Easter Oratorio thus has much in common with the secular cantatas that he liked to call ‘dramma per musica’ (‘musical drama’), and the texts of which consist largely of arguments and counter-arguments from (usually) four mythological figures. The opening with its splendid instrumental sinfonia also corresponds to secular models.

All of these innovations and unexpected features may have caused consternation amongst those who attended the Leipzig Easter service on 1st April 1725 at which the oratorio was heard for the first time, or at least given them something to talk about. What they could not have known, however, was the origin of this Easter music: the work is to a large extent a ‘parody’. The original was a secular cantata that Bach had written a short time earlier for the birthday of Duke Christian of Sachsen-Weißenfels, and had performed in Weißenfels on 23rd February 1725. The text, beginning ‘Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen’ (‘Flee now, vanish, yield now, you sorrows’, was written by Bach’s usual librettist, Christian Friedrich Henrici (known as Picander; 1700-1764). The libretto has survived, but Bach’s music has unfortunately disappeared – although not completely: in outline, at least, it is reflected in the Easter Oratorio. Overall, the secular original appears to have been a true ‘dramma per musica’, a pastoral play with four characters [SATB] – two shepherdesses, Doris and Sylvia, and two shepherds, Menalcas and Damoetas. An introductory duet from the two shepherds speaks of their eager anticipation of the ducal birthday. The shepherds meet the shepherdesses who, in February, are out looking for flowers with which to make a garland for the duke. Doris, too, is filled with anticipation and – as she professes in an aria – with ‘hunderttausend Schmeicheleien’ (‘a hundred thousand flatteries’ for the duke. They set out together for the court. Menalcas sings a shepherd’s song to his sheep. Sylvia appeals to Flora, the goddess of flowers, to encourage the flowers’ growth with a soft west wind. But Damoetas brings matters to a head: why does the great ruler need flowers? Sincere felicitations would please him just as much – and such felicitations, from the quartet of singers and festively accompanied by trumpets and drums, conclude the birthday tribute.

Bach’s Leipzig audience, who knew nothing of the work’s early history, will presumably have accepted the work quite impartially, unconcerned that all its beauties were merely ‘borrowed’ or that they might have served another purpose with a different text. The splendid instrumental movement at the beginning is excellently suited to introduce music for Easter. It is in the spirit of the Brandenburg Concertos, a festive collaboration and confrontation of orchestral groups – the trumpets and drums, the trio of oboes and bassoon, the strings, who each have an opportunity to shine as soloists. The following Adagio for solo oboe and strings introduces tender, reflective, yearnful and lamenting tones. The first chorus, however, is once more entirely dominated by the expression of joyous celerity – the music seems accurately to depict the hastening and running demanded by the text. In fact, however, its animated pulse was originally associated with the words ‘Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen’ (‘Flee now, vanish, yield now, you sorrows’). Moreover, in the version heard in Leipzig at Easter 1725, this was not yet a choral movement but a duet for tenor and bass, Peter and John. Bach expanded it to four parts for a later performance around 1743-46.

In terms of content, Mary the mother of James’s aria [no. 5] ‘Seele, deine Spezereien’ (‘Soul, your exotic delicacies’) alludes to the assertion that the anointing of Jesus’ body will not take place. The aria text explains that Jesus will no longer be festooned with delicacies and myrrh but, as one who has vanquished death, with a laurel wreath. The soprano and flute join forces in an intimate, expressive duet. It is evident that Bach worked hard on refining this aria, to bring the existing music into line with the new text. Without prior knowledge one would not guess that the flute’s sparkling triplets conceal an image of the ‘hundred thousand flatteries’ of which the shepherdess Doris sang in the birthday tribute.

The text of Peter’s aria [no. 7] ‘Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer’ (‘My deathly anguish shall softly’) is a meditation on Jesus’ napkin, found in the empty grave. This element of the story had already assumed a prominent role in the tradition of Easter plays, and is here interpreted as proof of the resurrection of Jesus. Through the resurrection, suggests the aria text, our own ‘deathly anguish’ is alleviated; the prospect of our own resurrection makes the believer see death as nothing more than ‘Schlummer’ (‘slumber’). This is also the keyword that links the parody to the original, where the text runs: ‘Wieget euch, ihr satten Schafe,in dem Schlafe unterdessen selber ein’ (‘Ye replete sheep, rock yourselves now to sleep’). This slumber song is dominated by calmly circling motifs in the wind parts and slowly changing harmonies. The recorders identify the piece as a shepherd’s idyll; the long opening pedal point in the bass lines imitates the drone bass of the bagpipes.

Mary Magdalene’s aria [no. 9] ‘Saget, saget mir geschwinde’ (‘Tell me, tell me quickly’) introduces a new wind colour: an agitated solo for the oboe d’amore. The text is about longing for Jesus and the hope of soon being reunited with him. Mary Magdalene is searching for Jesus; in one of the ancient Latin Easter plays she says at this point: ‘Brennend ist mein Herz vor Verlangen, meinen Herrn zu sehen. Ich suche und finde nicht, wo sie ihn hingelegt haben’ (‘My heart is burning with desire to see my Lord. I seek and find not where they have laid him down’) and ‘Freut euch mit mir, alle, die ihr den Herrn liebt! Denn den ich suchte, der ist mir erschienen’ (‘Rejoice with me, all of you who love the Lord! For the one I sought has appeared to me’).

Finally we have [the closing chorus, no. 11], ‘Preis und Dank’ (‘praise and thanks’); the former tribute to a prince has turned into a song of triumph, beginning with a flourish from the trumpets and drums. The new message is that ‘Höll und Teufel sind bezwungen’ (‘Hell and the Devil are conquered’). In the final lines, ‘Eröffnet, ihr Himmel, die prächtigen Bogen, der Löwe von Juda kommt siegend gezogen!’ (‘Open, o heavens, the glorious arches, the lion of Judah is coming in triumph!’ we again hear ancient motifs: one of the old Easter plays has the words ‘Es öffnet sich die Tür zum Himmelreich’ (‘The door to heaven opens’), for the risen Christ and for mankind alike. And also ‘Alleluja! Heute ist der Herr auferstanden! Der starke Löwe, Christus, der Sohn Gottes’ (‘Alleluja! Today the Lord is risen! The strong lion, Christ, the Son of God’). In the Easter Oratorio, as so often in Bach’s music, tradition is used as an effective force, and the past becomes the living present.
© Klaus Hofmann 2005

Easter Oratorio movements, scoring, texts, key, meter (text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW

1. Sinfonia Allegro [Tromba I-III, Tamburi, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo]; D Major; 3/8 passepied-gigue style.
2. Adagio [Oboe I, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo]; b minor; ¾ sarabande style.
3. Aria (Duet) Tenor (Peter), Bass (John) & Chorus [S, A, T, B; Tromba I-III, Tamburi, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo]: “Kommt, eilet und laufet, ihr flüchtigen Füße, / Erreichet die Höhle, die Jesum bedeckt! / Lachen und Scherzen / Begleitet die Herzen, / Denn unser Heil ist auferweckt.” (Come, hurry and run, you swift feet, / get to the cave that covers Jesus! / Laughter and jokes, / accompany our hearts, / for our saviour is raised from the dead.); b minor; ¾.
4. Recitativo secco [ASTB; Fagotto e Continuo]: Alto (Mary Magdalene: “O kalter Männer Sinn! / Wo ist die Liebe hin, / Die ihr dem Heiland schuldig seid?” (O cold minds of men! / Where is the love gone / that you owe to the saviour?); Soprano (Mary, mother of James): “Ein schwaches Weib muß euch beschämen!” (A weak woman puts you to shame); Tenor (Peter): “Ach, ein betrübtes Grämen” (Ah, affliction and grief); Bass (John): “Und banges Herzeleid” (and fearful sorrow of heart); Tenor, Bass (Peter, John): “Hat mit gesalznen Tränen / Und wehmutsvollem Sehnen / Ihm eine Salbung zugedacht,” (with salty tears / and melancholy longing / intended an anointing for him,); Soprano, Alto (Mary Magdalene): “Die ihr, wie wir, umsonst gemacht.” (which you, as we, have done in vain.); b minor; 4/4.
5. Aria da capo [Soprano] (Mary, mother of James) [Flauto traverso o Violino solo, Fagotto e Continuo]: A. “Seele, deine Spezereien / Sollen nicht mehr Myrrhen sein.” (My soul, your spices / should no more be myrrh); B. “Denn allein / Mit dem Lorbeerkranze prangen, / Stillt dein ängstliches Verlangen” (For only / with the splendour of the laurel wreath / will your anxious longing be satisfied.); b minor; ¾ minuet or gigue style.
6. Recitativo secco [TBA; Fagotto e Continuo]: Tenor (Peter): “Hier ist die Gruft” (Here is the tomb); Bass (John): “Und hier der Stein, / Der solche zugedeckt. / Wo aber wird mein Heiland sein?” (And here is the stone which covered it. / But where will my saviour be?); Alto (Mary Magdalene): “Er ist vom Tode auferweckt! / Wir trafen einen Engel an, / Der hat uns solches kundgetan.” (He has risen from the dead! / We met an angel / who proclaimed this to us.); Tenor (Peter): “Hier seh ich mit Vergnügen / Das Schweißtuch abgewickelt liegen.);” I see here with pleasure / the veil lies unwound.); G Major; 4/4.
7 Aria free da-capo [Tenor] (Peter) [Flauto dolce I/II, Violino I/II, Fagotto e Continuo]: A. “Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer, / Nur ein Schlummer, / Jesu, durch dein Schweißtuch sein.” (Gentle should be the sorrow of my death / only a slumber, / Jesus, through your veil.); B. “Ja, das wird mich dort erfrischen / Und die Zähren meiner Pein / Von den Wangen tröstlich wischen.” (Yes, that will refresh me there / and the tears of my suffering it will wipe comfortingly from my cheeks.); G Major; 4/4 polonaise or bouree style.
8. Recitativo secco [Soprano, Alto; Fagotto e Continuo]: “Indessen seufzen wir / Mit brennender Begier:” (Meanwhile we sigh / with fervent yearning”; Arioso in canon, “Ach, könnt es doch nur bald geschehen, / Den Heiland selbst zu sehen!” (Ah, if only it might soon happen / to see the saviour himself!); b minor to A Major; 4/4.
9. Aria da capo [Alto] (Mary Magdalene) [Oboe d'amore, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo]: A. Saget, saget mir geschwinde, / Saget, wo ich Jesum finde, / Welchen meine Seele liebt!” (Tell me, tell me quickly / Tell, where may I find Jesus / whom my soul loves!); B. “Komm doch, komm, umfasse mich; / Denn mein Herz ist ohne dich” (Come then, come, embrace me, / for my heart is without you); Adagio recitativo, “Ganz verwaiset und betrübt.” (quite orphaned and distressed.); A Major; 4/4 gavotte style.
10 Recitativo secco [Bass] (John) [Fagotto e Continuo]: “Wir sind erfreut, / Dass unser Jesus wieder lebt, / Und unser Herz, / So erst in Traurigkeit zerflossen und geschwebt / Vergisst den Schmerz / Und sinnt auf Freudenlieder; / Denn unser Heiland lebet wieder.” (We are delighted / that our Jesus lives once more / and our heart / before so dissolved and suspended in sadness / forgets its sorrow / and thinks of songs of joy; / for our saviour lives once more.); G to A Major; 4/4.
11. Chorus two-part French Overture [SATB; Tromba I-III, Tamburi, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo]: Introduction 4/4, “Preis und Dank / Bleibe, Herr, dein Lobgesang. / Höll und Teufel sind bezwungen, / Ihre Pforten sind zerstört. / Jauchzet, ihr erlösten Zungen, / Dass man es im Himmel hört.” Allegro fugato 3/8, “Eröffnet, ihr Himmel, die prächtigen Bogen, / Der Löwe von Juda kommt siegend gezogen!” (Open up, you heavens, the splendid arches, / the Lion of Judah comes drawn in victory!); D Major; gigue style.
12. Chorale plain, optional [SATB; Tromba I-III, Timpani, Oboe I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe II e Violino II coll'Alto, Oboe III e Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Darum wir billig loben dich / Und danken dir, Gott, ewiglich, / Wie auch der lieben Engel Schar / Dich preisen heut und immerdar.” (Therefore we rightly praise you / and thank you, God, for ever / just as the dear host of angels also / praises you now and forever.); “Und bitten dich, wollst allezeit / Dieselben heißen sein bereit, / Zu schützen deine kleine Herd, / So hält dein göttlichs Wort in Wert.” (And we pray that you may be willing at all times / to order them to be prepared / to protect this little flock of yours / so that it holds in reverence your divine word.); C Major; 4/4.

Easter Oratorio Text, Parody Criticism

The reasons for the luke-warm acceptance of Bach’s Easter Oratorio can be traced to the chronological development of the musmaterials through the process of self-borrowing, the inherent deficiencies of its parody libretto, and its critical reception history, suggests Thomas Braatz in his BCW 2010 monograph, Bach’s "Easter Oratorio, BWV 249: An Examination of Its Sources and Development” ( Braatz focuses on the c. 1738 autograph score and the set of parts compiled between 1725 and 1749. He begins with an examination of the development of the original libretto parody (new-text underlay) and subsequent alterations, beginning with the re-texting of the original model, the pastoral birthday tribute, BWV 249a. The difficulties of adapting the text to a different occasion, albeit a secular special occasion to a sacred service liturgy are explored, while the original music of the highest quality was virtually preserved unchanged. Early scholars, without knowing of the music’s secular origins, were highly critical of its text’s deficient worth and dignity (Philipp Spitta) and suggested that its text be rewritten (Albert Schweitzer), observes Braatz (p. 5). Friedrich Smend (1893-1980), who found its original text,5 concluded that the Easter Oratorio was an exception to the successful parodies of the Mass in B Minor and the Christmas Oratorio.

The set of parts, with cover title by Emmanuel, begins with the 10 original instrumental parts of BWV 249a that Bach utilized (copyist Johann Andreas Kuhnau), followed by slightly later vocal parts with characters designated for BWV 249 first performance 1725 (Bach Digital,, additional instrumental parts c. 1738 (, and the additional chorus parts after 1743, with the added 3rd trumpet c.1748-49 for the final performance ( The score in Bach’s hand is dated to 1738 (

The instrumental origins of the opening movements also are examined by Braatz. Until recently, Bach scholars thought the first three movements constituted an instrumental Brandenburg-like concerto with Köthen origins. However, the initial music does not resemble the Köthen concerto style and may be the overture to a lost orchestral suite overture or actually was composed in early 1725. Currently, the perspective is that the music of the three arias has dance-like characteristics of a French suite, as well as the closing chorus, which is a French overture, and all have a structure and phrasing that was newly composed by Bach in 1725. Further, as Alfred D Dürr has pointed out, the structure (and character) of this brief, closing bi-partite prelude-and-fugue dance-style pastorale-gigue movement “is modeled on that of the Sanctus, BWV 232III, composed shortly beforehand (Christmas 1724) and later incorporated in the B Minor Mass.”

Bach in Cantata 134 for Easter Tuesday 1724 made a virtual parody, including the original recitatives, preserving the original instrumental parts, as also with BWV 184 for Pentecost Tuesday 1724 and BWV 194 for Trinityfest 1724, this last from a lost orchestral suite. In a similar fashion, Bach in 1735 in the final Part 6 of the Christmas Oratorio preserved the instrumental parts from an earlier sacred cantata for use as a cantata for the Feast of the Epiphany, adding only the three Evangelist’s recitatives.

Braatz’s scholarly study of the Easter Oratorio concludes with an Appendix explaining the parody process and contrafactum, as well as important commentaries of Spitta, Schweitzer, and Smend. In addition are extensive, documented sources and footnotes, only alluded to in other recent studies.

Easter Oratorio Closing Plain Chorale

There is no scholarship or Bach evidence to show that the Easter Oratorio could have concluded with a German plain chorale, observes Braatz, particularly since the 45-minute work in form is a contemplative, pictorial Italianate work. A Novello modern edition uses Bach’s harmonization of Paul Eber’s 1554 setting of the German Te Deum, “Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir (Lord God, we all praise you), anonymous melody 1551, with Eber’s concluding Stanzas 11 and 12 (see above, music, The Bach harmonization in C Major closes chorale Cantata BWV 130, for the Feast of St. Michael, 29 September 1724, based on the Easter text of Peter von Hagen “Weil unser Trost, der Herre Christ, an diesem Tag erstanden ist.” This Easter setting is based on Diethard Hellman’s Preface to “J. S. Bach Oster Oratorium,” Carus Edition (Stuttgart 1992), observes Neil Jenkins, Novello edition editor.6

The melody to "Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir" (anonymous Geneva Psalter 1551, Psalm 134, Ecce nunc (Behold now, bless the Lord), is discussed at BCW, The chorale melody is used as the Christian Doxology, "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow." In this form the melody is often referred to as the "Old 100th (Psalm 100, Jubilate Deo, Be joyful to the Lord). Bach also set the melody as plain chorales, BWV 326, 4/4 in B-flat Major, and BWV 327, ¾ in D Major set to the associated text, "Für deinen Thron tret ich hiermit" (Before your throne I appear herewith) of Bodo von Hodenberg 1646. Ludwig Erk's C. F. Peters edition of Bach chorales (1850) lists a spurious plain-chorale setting of "Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir," BWV Anh. 31, with two obligation trumpets in D Major (B. F. Richter No. 130, ?AII/4 Breitkopf). The composer, using a variant melody in quarter notes, is unknown.

BWV 249 History From 1725

“The process leading to the emergence of BWV 249,” based upon the extant performing parts, beginning in 1725 with the instrumental parts from BWV 249a, observes Masaaki Suzuki in his BIS recording (Ibid.). << Production Notes. Principles behind the performance of BWV 249. . . . Despite the fact that Bach’s own manuscript of the full score and the original parts are extant, the process that led to the work’s creation is not altogether clear. Exactly which version should we perform when dealing with a work that shows evidence of having undergone such extensive changes? As in the case of the St. John Passion, the same doubts arise when studying each different performance. . . . It is impossible to reconstruct any performance by Bach but his last one, in 1749. There is therefore no alternative but to perform it using all the extant parts in order to get as close as possible to a final score.

According to Klaus Hofmann, this work originally featured only four roles, but the names of these roles were erased when a fair copy was made of Bach’s full score manuscript in 1738, and the music came to assume more of the quality of ordinary church music. The unnamed vocal parts were created some time during the 1740s when the third movement was arranged for the first time for four-part choir, and we therefore paid no heed to these role names in connection with the present performance. This is the same as the approach generally adopted to the Passions, in other words expressing the message of the Bible from a generalized standpoint rather than through accompanied by specific allocation of roles.

The process leading to the emergence of BWV 249:

1) 1725: The work was first performed on 23rd February as BWV249a in the form of a congratulatory secular cantata for Prince Christian von Sachsen-Weissenfels. (The first performance of the second edition of the St. John Passion, BWV245, was given on 30th March. The first performance of BWV249 took place on 1st April. BWV4, Christ lag in Todes Banden, was performed on the same occasion [at the University Church].) It was performed again on 3rd April [Easter Tuesday], probably after the sermon. The parts of BWV249a were used unchanged on these occasions, as is evident from the fact that a recorder part has been written into the oboe part. (These parts would normally have been created separately in Leipzig.)
2) ca. 1738: Completion of a new manuscript of the full score in the composer’s own hand. The parts for the second violins and bassoon were completed at around the same time. (The bassoon part includes the marking pizzicato, indicating that it was used by a cellist as well as a bassoonist.) This is the first full score manuscript to bear the title ‘Oratorio’. The names of roles (Mary the mother of James, Mary Magdalene, Peter, John) are discarded.
3) ca. 1743-46: Completion of new vocal parts, and the third movement is changed from a duet to a piece for four-part choir. The second movement also incorporates a change from the oboe to the flute.
4) 1749: (Performance of the fourth edition of the St. John Passion, BWV 245, given on 4th April.) Re-performance of BWV249 on 6th April. A new part for third trumpet was created on that occasion.
© Masaaki Suzuki 2005

Bach’s Historia, Parody, Dance Elements

The development of the oratorio genre, particularly Bach’s involvement in the historia type in his major feast day oratorios and oratorio Passions, and his use of self-borrowing parody in his three extant oratorios, with the pervasive element of dance style in the Easter Oratorio, are described in Dr Nia Lewis’ liner notes to the Matthew Halls Retrospect Ensemble 2010 recording.7 <<Seemingly employed to celebrate the central religious festivals in Leipzig's chief churches during 1734-5, Bach's three oratorios fulfill the same role within the Lutheran liturgy as a cantata. Numerous attempts have been made to explain their position within the Oratorio genre, but in actual fact they are each unique works of varying magnitude and structure, and do not conform to a set model or blueprint. The Christmas Oratorio is undoubtedly Bach's best-known Oratorio — it is more often recorded, performed and written about than either the Easter or Ascension Oratorio — and is a monumental work consisting of six individual cantatas, each celebrating different feastdays of the Christmas calendar. The Easter Oratorio was Bach's first foray into this genre; it is likely that the work was performed on Easter Sunday, 1735, and it comprises a two-movement instrumental Sinfonia, followed by alternating choruses, recitatives and arias. This Oratorio was most closely created in the image of the Italianate oratorios of the eighteenth century: it is without an evangelist figure, biblical passages, or chorales. Instead it utilises an entirely poetic text (often attributed to Picander) which is organised in rhyming verse, and is delivered by four characters, Mary Mother of James, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. . . . While these three works are disparate in style and structure, they nevertheless conform with Johann Gottfried Walther’s broad definition of the Oratorio as ’the musical conception of a sacred history’! Bach's treatment of the genre has also been allied to postulations made by Erdmann Neumeister during his lectures at Leipzig University in 1695, that the Oratorio is ’a literary genre mixing Biblical verses, aria texts and chorales.’

A common feature of all three oratorios is that they are parodies of earlier works, adapting music that Bach used previously in other contexts. The Easter Oratorio has a particularly complex genesis; in its first guise, the chorus and aria material appeared as a congratulatory cantata (Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen BWV. 249a) celebrating the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxony-WeiBenfels on the 23rd of February 1725. On the 1st of April of the same year, and with a new text and additional recitatives, the work was performed as an Easter Cantata. Subsequently, on the 25th of August 1726, it was revived in honour of another birthday, this time that of Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming (Die Feier des Genius, BWV 249). It was only upon a revision of the score, sometime in the early-mid 1730s, that the work was entitled ’Oratorium'. Christoph Wolff suggests that further minor changes to the Easter Oratorio were made in either 1749 or 1750; this was some of the last work carried out by Bach. . . .

It is Georg Friedrich Handel who has become most famed for this type of self-borrowing, but parody is also common in the music of Bach, and questions have been raised concerning the artistic and practical motivations behind his use of this compositional technique. A possible explanation is the issue of time-management; in order to fulfil the remit of his position as Kantor, even Bach may have had to take short cuts. Perhaps the quick turn-around between the birthday cantata BWV 249a and the reworked Easter Cantata, which appeared just a few weeks later, would support this. J. C. Bach later alluded to such harsh realities in his own life, stating that ’my brother (C. P.E. Bach] lives to compose, I compose to live! Malcolm Boyd has also suggested that Bach may have hoped to ’give greater permanence to an occasional composition, and for this reason the ephemeral homage and birthday cantatas for the nobility were frequently fitted out with fresh texts.’ . . .Embedded in the scholarship that surrounds Bach’s parodies is the issue of whether works which began life with a secular subject can truly be adapted to express the central tenants of a sacred text. In 1946 Leo Schrade described ’a conflict between the sacred and the secular’ in Bach’s music, and this has subsequently been a hotly contested aspect of his output. Bach has been lauded as ’The Fifth Evangelist! and it has been strongly argued by the nineteenth-century scholar Philipp Spitta that his ’secular occasional compositions were not genuinely secular; as such they scarcely fulfilled their aim, and the composer only restored them to their native home when he applied them to church uses! As a counter to this, Jaroslav Pelikan postulates that Bach could be seen in another light: ’would it be more accurate to demythologize this legend and to see in him a secular modern man who did what he had to do, or more precisely what he was paid to do, including chorales and church cantatas, but for whom the music was the thing and the text was incidental?! . . .

Upon comparing the texts of BWV. 249a and the Easter Oratorio, BWV. 249, the issue of any ’conflict' between the religious or profane subject matter becomes subsidiary to the Affekt of the text itself. The two texts regularly share very similar themes, which Bach sets persuasively; this is perhaps most clearly apparent in the central movement of the Easter Oratorio, the tenor aria 'Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer’, accompanied by a delicate texture of ebbing recorders, muted violins, and throbbing bass line. Albert Schweitzer praises this movement as ’one of the most beautiful sacred lullabies that Bach ever wrote! Of course, in its original guise it was a secular lullaby, using a text that likewise draws upon images of sleep; in both settings of the text the word ’slumber’ or 'sleep’ comes to rest on a long pedal note. Marcus Fabius Quintilian, the Roman rhetorician who most exhaustively drew parallels between the arts of speech and music, writes ta thought can be ’expressed through the oration in such fashion that it is perceived as though it were seen rather than heard,’ by using the rhetorical figure hypotyposis; here, we are made to experience the stasis of slumber through Bach’s setting of the word.

Similarly, in the fifth movement of the two works, an aria for soprano and obbligato flute, images of circles are conveyed by Bach's setting of the text; in BWV 249a the text describes ‘welling’ emotions, while in the Easter Oratorio, Mary Mother of James refers to ’laurel wreaths’. The rhapsodic and sinuous flute melody predominantly consists of eddying cirulatio figures, whereby the theme rises and falls in a sine-wave pattern; throughout the Baroque era this rhetorical figure was a symbol of perfection, representing — in a literal sense — circular concepts. But most pertinently in the case of Mary's aria, this figure symbolises eternity, infinity, and ultimately, God.

Another feature that pervades the Easter Oratorio is the influence of dance models on many of the movements; it has previously been suggested that the first three movements of this work could originally have been composed as a concerto. Konrad Küster has further proposed that these movements are part of a multi-movement orchestral suite. In this context, No. 5 could be interpreted as a minuet, No.7 as a bourrée, No. 9 a gavotte, and the final chorus, No.11, a gigue. The appropriateness of using dance movements within a religious work has been questioned in the past; Spitta, for example, wrote that while the first aria of BWV. 176, in the style of a gavotte, is ’charming as a piece of music,’ it is nevertheless ’quite unsuited to its text.” However, dance forms, like the various figures of rhetoric employed by Bach, actually enhance the Affekt throughout this work. Johann Mattheson's Der vollkommene Capellmeister (1739) gives a full account of the Affekt created by the metrical hierarchies of each dance-type: the fast-slow-fast structure of the opening three movements captures the contrast that can be achieved by employing different dance forms. Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne, in their study of Bach's use of dance music, describe the first and third movements of this work as Gigues: Mattheson writes that the ‘English gigue’ is ’characterized by an ardent and fleeting zeal’ and that the '’Italian Gige’ proceeds ’in a flowing and uninterrupted manner: perhaps like the smooth arrow-swift flow of a stream! Flanked by the exuberant energy of No.1 and No.3, the second movement is a plaintive Adagio — a performance direction which for Mattheson indicates distress — for oboe accompanied by strings. Reminiscent of his Keyboard Partitas BWV. 825-30, also written in Leipzig, Bach adopts the dotted rhythms of a French sarabande to complement the free and ornamental solo melody. . . .

Regardless of profane origin of much of the music that constitutes these two works [Easter and Ascension Oratorios], Bach sets the text of his oratorios with all the skill of a great orator. He must surely have been aware of the plaudits offered to the power of music by Luther himself: ‘I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone... even that transcends the greatest of the most eloquent, because of the infinite variety of its forms and benefits. We can mention only one point (which experience confirms), namely, that next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.’ Perhaps most significant, though, are Bach’s own notes in the margin of his Abraham Calov Bible, whereupon reading 2 Chronicles 5:1 1-15, ’How the Glory of the Lord appeared After Beautiful Music,’ he added ’NB. Where there is devotional music, God with his Grace is always present.’ © Dr Nia Lewis, 2010 (Translations from Johann Sebastian Bach: The Complete Church and Secular Cantatas. Translated by Richard Stokes and reproduced with permission from Long Barn Books.).

Commentary: Bach’s Easter Oratorio was conceived and performed at least four times as a utilitarian, generic parody that also served again as self-borrowings for two other secular occasions. A possibly initial composing narrative is possible, based on various practices. In early 1725, Bach directed Picander to write a libretto, providing him with a template of the form with the movement types in symmetry. These constituted a conceptual, topical outline of a pastoral work with four characters in dialogue, similar to his Köthen serenades but with elements of the fashionable drammi per musica which Picander would create in the tributes to the visiting Saxon Court throughout the 1730s.8 At the same time, Picander compiled and published a Passion oratorio libretto that has madrigalian texts found in the St. Matthew Passion.

Bach’s Easter Oratorio was not only the central work in a Johannine trilogy of the Passion, Resurrection, and Farewell Discourse of 1725, but laid the groundwork for his sacred trilogy of feast day oratorios presented in 1734-35. It is no mere coincidence that on Good Friday 1734, Bach broke with the Leipzig tradition of annual historia narrative oratorio Passions and presented Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel’s poetic, contemplative, harmonized Passion oratorio, “Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld.” Following the Ascension Oratorio in May 1735, Bach presented one and possibly two annual cycles of Stölzel’s two-part chorale-based cantatas.

Meanwhile, on the same Good Friday 1734 in Dresden, court and noted opera composer Johann Adolph Hasse began performing oratorios, points out Markus Rathey in Bach’s Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama Liturgy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016: 142). Emulating the fashionable court music and seeking the honorary title of court composer since 1733 when he submitted his petition and the Missa: Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 232a, Bach finally in 1735 was awarded this distinction.

The impetus for his creative vocal music had begun about 1713 when Bach with a libretto from Weimer Court poet Salomo Franck had composed his first “modern” cantata, the secular, so-called Hunting Cantata 208, described as “Tafelmusik” (table-music) for the Birthday of the Duke of Saxe-Weißenfels, February 23, “Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!” (What pleases me is above all the lively hunt!). With its 15 movements involving four symbolic characters and possibly beginning with a sinfonia later found as Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, the Hunting Cantata BWV 208 was the model for Bach’s Shepherds Cantata, BWV 249a, another landmark conceived a dozen years later for the same celebratory occasion. Six weeks after the premiere of his Easter Oratorio, Bach borrowed the bass aria (no. 4), “Du bist geboren mir zugute” (You have been born for my benefit) in the 1724 Pentecost Tuesday Cantata BWV 68, “Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt” (God so loved the world, John 3:16), from the Pan aria, “Ein Fürst ist seines Landes Pan!” (A prince is the Pan of his country!) in the Hunting Cantata, now set to a new text by Mariane von Ziegler.


1Easter Oratorio Details and Discography, BCW Score BGA, References: BGA: XXI/3 (Wilhelm Rust, 1871), NBA KB II/7 (Paul Brainard 1981), Bach Compendium BC D 8, Zwang K 115. NBA KB 11/7, Appendix B (p. 99), a reconstruction of BWV 249a (without recitatives), see also NBA KB I/35 (Weissenfels cantatas, Alfred Dürr, 1964) and Bach Compendium BC G 2, BCW Details,
2 Martin Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 692).
3 Gardiner BWV 249 notes, BCW[SDG-CD-booklets%20SDG719].pdf, video,
4 Hofmann/Suzuki BWV 249 notes, BCW[BIS-CD-1561-SA_booklet].pdf; BCW Recording details,
5 Smend, Bach in Köthen, edited & revised with annotations by Stephen Daw, English translation John Page (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing, 1985: 119). BWV 249a, see: Smend ed., postscript to first, performing edition (Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag BA 1785, 1943), recitatives by Hermann Keller; BWV 249a recording, Helmut Rilling 1967, BCW details,; BWV 249a German text, BCW; Z. Philip Ambrose English text,; BWV 249a monograph, Alfred Dürr, original liner notes in Rilling recording (Ibid.) and revised in Cantatas of J. S. Bach (Ibid.: 805-809).
6 Jenkins discusses the chorale usage in his 2003 “Programme Notes and Prefaces,” to the Novello edition, He also provides a new English translation of a new text to fit the melody, two verses of the old Easter hymn, “The strife is o’er, the battle won.” In addition, Jenkins has a “History and Origins” of the Easter Oratorio. A recording using the BWV 130/6 setting of Wolfgang Gönnenwein is listed at BCW
7Matthew Halls notes, BCW[Linn-SACD].pdf; BCW Recording details,
8 See William Hoffman 2008 “Bach’s Dramatic Music: Serenades, Drammi per Musica, Oratorios,” BCW:

To Come: Easter Oratorio Theological, Biblical, Dramatic Themes

William Hoffman wrote (March 15, 2017):
Easter Oratorio, BWV 249, Part Two

As the central part of the Johannine trilogy of Jesus Christ on earth, Bach’s Easter Oratorio portrays in simple human terms the basic Christian tenet of faith, his resurrection and their eternal life, found between his Passion and death on the one hand, and his Farewell Discourse of Christian life through the Holy Spirit to his disciples on the other. Bach’s simple, harmonized text grounded with Johannine allusions focuses on the contemplative thoughts of the select four followers, disciples of Jesus, the two Marys, Magdalene and the mother of the apostle James (Maria Jacobi or wife of Clopas), and the apostles Peter the denier and John the lover of Jesus. This static drama at the empty tomb is a meditation on the meaning of Easter, following a medieval folk tradition. Beyond this human simplicity is the deeper meaning of the event described in Lutheran theological and biblical terms, the fulfillment of the incarnation of the Christus paradox of the Son of God and Son of Man, truly embracing both in a dialectic manner.

In an even broader sense, this 45-minute pastoral narrative is the embodiment of his divine nature, the watershed of Bach’s Christological cycle of major works, beginning with the conception and incarnation found in the Magnificat anima mea (My soul doth magnify the Lord), BWV 243, Mother Mary’s canticle of praise to God and human destiny, as well as Martin Luther’s German vernacular counterpart, Cantata BWV 10 “Meine Seele erhebt den Herren,” and the six-part descent in the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, through the major earthly events, and ending with the Johannine lifting up in the Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11 – signifying and completing the sacred Great Parabola – to the entire summation and affirmation of Bach’s and the Christian’s faith found in the “Great” Mass in B Minor, BWV 233, completed at the end of Bach’s life.

Dramatic and liturgical underpinnings of this sequence of chapters on the life and meaning of Jesus Christ that Bach created chronologically is explored in-depth in Markus Rathery’s Bach’s Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama Liturgy (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2016). Included in this first study is a biographical and musical “Timeline,” as well as a listing of multiple “Parody Models” in the oratorios and the Mass in B Minor. found in the works’ context within the liturgy and the church year. Within the dramatic element in Bach’s major works -- which only recently has been explored -- Rathey shows how the theology of love in Bach’s world, buttressed in the Gospel of John, plays a significant role in Bach’s major works, particularly as manifest in the love songs and amorous duets which have a long and rich history in theology, literature and music.

While Bach’s finest music progressed through three decades of composition, he explored together old and new musical styles in a changing world. Increasingly he utilized the process of borrowed music with new text substitution, creating new dimensions with meaning for contemporary church services. This was the coming Age of Enlightenment, and Bach participated in learned discourse through his music. For example, as Rathey points out (Ibid: 6) the lesser-known, joyous Easter and Ascension Oratorios, while not contributing directly to this philosophical discourse, have a significant position concerning the relationship between “Seeing and Understanding” the Bach’s world in Chapter 6. Both theologians and philosophers engaged in discussions from the perspective of the relationship between traditional Christian faith/belief and increasing empiricism and rationalism, between emotion and intellect. While these “oratorios are not designed as a contribution to this philosophical discourse, they do represent a position within the ongoing discussion,” Rathey observes.

Beginning with the Easter Oratorio in 1725, Bach explored the musical text in a non-dualistic manner, embracing both the meaning and relationship of the empirical observations and perceptions of the world through the senses, particularly sound, and simultaneously the understanding and comprehension of reality as belief revealed in truth. Theologians ranging from orthodox to Pietist “harshly criticized” the rationalist views of philosopher Christian Wolff (1679-1759), whose Theologia Naturalis of 1736/7 sought “to reconcile faith and divine revelation on the one side and rationalist and empiricism on the other,” says Rathey (Ibid.: 141). The oratorios presented in the mid to late 1730s interact “with popular topics such as seeing, understanding, rationality, and divine providence” within the theological and philosophical zeitgeist, or spirit of the times. The oratorios ask the fundamental questions, “What do we see?,” “How do we perceive reality?,” “Where do we look for Jesus Christ?”, and “How do we interpret what we see?” “In the Easter Oratorio it is the women who find the empty ‘Schweißtuch’ (sudarium, shroud) and who criticize the men for not seeing and not understanding” what is happening, says Rathey (Ibid.: 142

The opening instrumental music sets the stage with celebration followed in the slow movement with a “more subdued mood,” suggesting the “depiction of the desolation of the disciples on Easter Mourning,” says Rathey (Ibid.: 147). The atmosphere is comparable to the beginning of Cantata BWV 12, “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” (Weeping, lamentation, worry, apprehension), says Rathey, in “both cases a mood of longing and mourning.” Cantata 12 was composed for the 3rd Sunday after Easter (Jubilate) in Weimar in 1714 and reperformed in 1724 in Leipzig. This chorus Bach adapted through contrafaction as the “Crucifixus” in the “Credo” of the B Minor Mass in the late 1740s. In contrast, the festive vocal movement (no. 3) of the Easter Oratorio “encourages the listeners to (spiritually) hasten to the grave.”

Bach set the stage for the four characters in recitative dialogue (no. 4) to consider “the relationship between empirical observation and rational reasoning,” says Rathey (Ibid.: 149). The first female voice (Mary Megdalene) chides the disciples for their ‘kalter Männer Sinn’!” (cold minds of men), that they lack the love owed their Savior, with the second female voice (Mary, mother of James) adding, “Ein schwaches Weib muß euch beschämen!” (A weak woman puts you to shame). This is a recurring theme in sermons and devotional texts, Rathey observes, that “point out the exceptional fact that women (who were still considered intellectually weaker) were the first two witness the resurrection,” citing the writing of theologian Heinrich Müller, found in Bach’s library that also includes a study of Matthew’s Passion account showing the so-called satisfaction theory of atonement for Jesus’ sacrifice.

In an aria (no. 5) by James’ mother Mary addressed to the Holy Spirit, Seele, deine Spezereien / Sollen nicht mehr Myrrhen sein” (My soul, your spices / should no more be myrrh), her anointing spices instead become a laurel of joy in a consoling prayer. Still, the two men in recitative (no. 6) “again fail to comprehend the meaning of the empty tomb,” still wondering where the Saviour’s body is. He has risen from the dead says, Mary Magdalene. Peter notices the empty shroud cloth and sings his lullaby (no. 7) likening his death to slumber with the cloth to wipe is tears but in an other recurring theme, citing Müller, who says, “they have to be taught by women that Christ is risen.” “Thus wisdom of the world is turned into foolishness in order to show that divine foolishness is [still] wiser than mankind.”

Peter’s aria, “Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer, / Nur ein Schlummer” (Gentle should be the sorrow of my death / only a slumber; a polonaise or bouree), is the Lutheran theological analogy of death as sleep, still prominent in Bach’s time and a pietistic expression of Jesus’ residing in the believer’s heart. This metaphor central to Lutheran eschatology was a substitute for Luther’s rejection of Catholic Purgatory as the place where the dead go before judgment, observes Rathey, citing a Müller Easter sermon. This concept is best illustrated in the closing chorus from the St. John Passion, “Ruht Wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine” (Rest well, ye holy limbs), Rathey points out (Ibid.: 152), which is another lullaby in triple meter (possibly a menuet).

Finally, the two women are able in their closing duet recitative (no. 8), “Indessen seufzen wir / Mit brennender Begier” (Meanwhile we sigh / with fervent yearning), to express a “desire for the presence of Christ,” says Rathey, “a longing most poignantly. The following alto aria (no. 9, Mary Magdalene), explores this longing further, “ beginning, “Saget, saget mir geschwinde, / Saget, wo ich Jesum finde” (Tell me, tell me quickly / Tell, where may I find Jesus). This is a love aria, accompanied by the oboe d’amore and sung by an alto, “Bach’s preferred voice for aria that express the longing for the presence of Jesus,” notably in the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, Rathey observes, particularly “Schlafe, mein Liebster”(Sleep, my love).

The bass, John, has the last word in the recitative (no. 10), “Wir sind erfreut, / Daß unser Jesus wieder lebt” (We are delighted / that our Jesus lives once more). The disciple who loved Jesus at the foot of the cross expresses joy that has overcome the fear of loneliness. This is followed in typical celebratory fashion with a full chorus of the followers of Jesus (no. 11) praising the “divine victory over hell and Satan.” It celebrates the risen Christ as the “Lion of Judah,” who victoriously defeats his enemies.” It also is another Johanine allusion to the contrasting, joyous central section of the alto aria, “Es ist vollbracht,” (It is accomplished, John 19:30), in the St. John Passion. The statement is one of the Seven Last Words of Christ From the Cross and is found only in John’s gospel, as a sign of Christ’s victory. Four years later, Bach set the same statement to open and close the bass vox Christi aria (no. 4) in Cantata BWV 159, “Sehet! Wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem” (See! We are going up to Jerusalem, Luke 18:31), with its affirmation and closing, “Welt, gute Nacht!” (World, good night!, 1 Jon 2:17), an iconic expression of farewell to the world and acceptance of death. Cantata 159, set to a Picander text, was composed for the Sunday before Lent, Quinquagesima Estomihi and composed as a prologue to the St. John Passion.

Commentary: In its textual and musical allusions to the St. John Passion, Bach’s Easter Oratorio as it was conceived in 1725 resembles a concise Gospel harmonization similar to Johannes Bugenhagen’s Die historia des leydens vnd der Aufferstehung vnsers Herrn aus der vier Evangelisten (Wittenberg: 1530), with a Johannine emphasis. For the plot, characters, and themes, Bach begins with the brief Markan Resurrection account, 16:1-8. Here the two Marys go to Christ’s tomb on Easter Sunday to annoint the body in Jewish tradition, find the tomb empty, and are told by a young man (angels in the other versions) that Christ is risen. They are instructed to tell the disciples and Peter that Christ goes to Galilee where he can be seen. To this basic account in the first Gospel, Bach conflates the Johannine story, Chapter 20, in which Mary Magdalene finds the empty tomb and runs away, coming upon Peter and John, suggesting that his body has been removed from the sepulchre “and we know not where they have laid him” (KJV). The two disciples run to the sepulcher, John arriving first and seeing only the burial linen clothes inside, followed by Peter who sees the napkin (burial shroud) outside the tomb. “Then the disciples went away again unto their own home” (John 20:10).

At this point in John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene weeps at the sepulcher and is asked by two angels inside why she is weeping. She turns around and sees a man she supposes is the gardener, who calls her “Mary,” and she replies “Master.” Here Bach portrays the story in the manner of a theological dialectic as established by Martin Luther in his Theology of the Cross, that Jesus Christ is truly man and truly God at the same time, while Bach’s music is heard by the congregation who are, simultaneously, saints and sinners.

Symbolically, in his St. John Passion oratorio, Bach borrowed two dramatic episodes from Matthew’s synoptic account of the Passion: Peter weeping bitterly after his denial of Christ (Matthew 26:75) and the rending of the temple veil and earthquake (Matthew 27:51. The shroud cloth that Peter finds in John’s story as revealed in Bach’s Easter Oratorio (historia) is an allusion to Peter’s weeping bitterly after his denial earlier in John’s account (John 18:27). John in his the middle section of his aria (no. 7), says: “Jesu, durch dein Schweißtuch sein / Ja, das wird mich dort erfrischen / Und die Zähren meiner Pein / Von den Wangen tröstlich wischen.” (Jesus, through your veil / Yes, that will refresh me there / and the tears of my suffering / it will wipe comfortingly from my cheeks.). This could explains why Bach took this episode and added it to the Johannine account where Peter simply denies Christ three times outside the palace of the high priest Caiaphas (John 18:27), followed by Jesutaken to Pilate’s hall of judgement for the central Joahnnine inquisition and trial. The second insertion, the rending of the temple veil, reinforces the veil image in the Easter Oratorio while the subsequent earthquake at Christ’s death emphasizes the Johannine Christus Victor achievement described in another Heinrich Müller Easter sermon, observes Rathey (Ibid.: 156f).

Thus Bach in his Italianate Easter Oratorio satisfied both the Lutheran orthodox and pietist groups’ perspectives on the Leipzig Town Council in 1725. At that time, Bach preceded his Easter Oratorio with a second version of his St. John Passion, substituting the two Johannine Christus Victor opening and closing choruses, “Herr, unser Herrscher” and “Ruht voll, ihr heiligen Gebeine,” with two chorale choruses decidedly emphasizing the synoptic satisfaction concept of sacrificial atonement, “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross” (O Man, bewail thy great sin), and “Christe, du Lamm Gottes,” the German Agnus Dei. This change, probably conceived at the same time as the Easter Oratorio during the preceding Lenten season, suggests that Bach simply intended to emphasize the use of chorales in his second version of the St. John Passion as part of his second, chorale cantata cycle which Bach ended abruptly with Cantata BWV 1, “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern,” for the Feast of the Annunciation, which fell on Palm Sunday, March 25. It is possible that the pietist faction on the Town Council objected to the dilution of the Christus Victor emphasis in this version of the St. John Passion. Subsequently, Bach in his third version of this Passion setting in 1728 or 1732 deleted the sacrificial choruses as well as the two synoptic references to Peter weeping bitterly and the veil-rending and earthquake, giving this setting a pure-Johannine Gospel character. In the final, fourth version of this Passion setting, Bach reverted to the original setting of 1724, retaining the two synoptic insertions. In 1739, Bach probably planned this version but the council objected and Bach replied that “if an objection were made on account of the text, it had already been performed several times” (Bach Dokumente II, no. 439).

Bach’s Johanine Passion, Easter Theology

Bach’s Easter Oratorio has “a unique dramatic character,” “bridging between the directly dramatic nature of the St. John Passion and the meditative character of the cantatas to follow,” observes Eric Chafe in J. S. Bach’s Johannine Theology: The St. John Passion and the Cantatas for Spring 1725 (Oxford University Press, 2014: 394ff). The text “draws on elements of the resurrection story as told by all the Gospels” while only John recounts the presence of Peter and John. The latter has no aria but the only recitative for a single “character” (no. 10), “summarizing the meaning” of the work.

The other three characters have arias referring to “a well-known event or attribute associated with that character”: Maria Jacobi “refers to the anointing of Jesus after his burial, as told by the Synoptic Gospels,” Peter “speaks of his weeping, as well as the folded burial cloth whose significance he is the first to realize in John’s narrative,” and Mary Magdalene “poeticizes love in a religious context.” The first two arias introduce the Johannine dialetic characteristic of his Gospel, Chafe observes: “An event or object associated with Jesus’s suffering and death is reinterpreted in terms of its spiritual benefit for the believer,” such as the anointing of Jesus for burial and Peter’s weeping that become a laurel instead of spice as the “emblem of victory,” and the tears wiped “tröstlich” (comfortingly) from his cheeks, “a familiar image of the time with widespread eschatological associations derived from Revelation 7” (apocalyptic symbols), says Chafe (Ibid.: 395). In particular, this chapter was depicted in engravings of the time as “the faithful entering the heavenly Jerusalem, says Chafe (Ibid.: 399f), citing Müller’s Himmlischer Liebeskuß (Heavenly Love-Kiss).

The theme of love, associated with Mary Magdalene, is central to the meaning of the Passion, especially as told by John; hence the St. John Passion’s first chorale, “O große Lieb,” which is the response of the faithful to Jesus’s protection of the disciples,” while in the Easter Oratorio, Bach shifts this emphasis to the two female characters, says Chafe. Here, Mary Magdalene in the first recitative (no. 4), pronounces love as a “debt” owed to Jesus by the two male disciples who initially show only the ‘kalter Männer Sinn’!” (cold minds of men). The Easter Oratorio progresses from the typical Lutheran atmosphere of austere prophetic law to joyous Gospel teaching, found in many Bach Trinity Time cantatas. In the concluding recitative (no. 10), John in his only solo sheds his sense of collective defiance found in his Passion account and brings fourth the hortatory character of victory first articulated in the opening chorus, “Kommt, eilet und laufet” (Come, hasten and run), Cafe observes (Ibid.: 397).

The tonal design of parabolic descent and ascent, a Bachian concept Chafe espouses in much of his writings, in the Easter Oratorio “derives from the interaction of the joyful Easter message and the concerns of the faithful in the present.” This Gospel dialectic emphasized in the sinful woman who anoints Jesus, sometimes thought to embody Mary Magdalene, “was widely associated with the strength of faith patience – that is spiritual strength as opposed to physical weakness,” says Chafe (Ibid.: 398). The key shift takes place in Peter’s aria (no. 7), “Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer, / Nur ein Schlummer” (Gentle should be the sorrow of my death / only a slumber), where he recognized the burial cloth at the tomb with his own bitter weeping in the Passion, where torment is recognized and modulates to trust and affirmation. Following Peter’s lullaby is the women’s duet arioso in canon, reintroducing the Johannine theme of love, here in a different manner, says Chafe (Ibid.: 401). Beyond the immediate dramatic situation in the oratorio, the theme “reaches out to the contemporary believer, suggesting an eschatological perspective”: “Ach, könnt es doch nur bald geschehen, / Den Heiland selbst zu sehen!” (Ah, if only it might soon happen / to see the saviour himself!), found in Bach’s cantatas on death, particularly BWV 161 for the 16th Sunday after Trinity and the Feast of the Purification and BWV 27 for Trinity 16. The theme of seeing Jesus is particularly prevalent in the Farewell Discourse cantatas to texts of Mariane von Ziegler from Jubilate Sunday (3rd after Easter) to Ascension Day, Chafe points out. “The dual portrait of Jesus as Christus Victor and Good Shepherd, the latter linked unmistakably with Trost and love, “provides an important key to the spring 1725 cantata sequence overall,” Chafe concludes (Ibid.: 404).

Commentary: While many Bach scholars suggest that Picander, as author of many of the original parody choruses and arias in the three extant oratorios, as well as Bach’s most-favored parodist, probably was their librettist, none of their texts were published in Picander’s collected editions of poetry. The answer may be that Picander, who only published the texts of his 1728-29 cantata cycle, probably approved by the Town Council, refrained from publishing the oratorio texts on the grounds that Bach might make changes in subsequent performances, subject to Town Council approval. While the printed text of the Christmas Oratorio of 1734-35 is extant, no published text of the Easter or Ascension Oratorios is extant. Neither is there the text of a Bach Pentecost Oratorio.

Easter Oratorio Italian Tradition

<<Bach’s Easter Oratorio points to the Italianate Arcadian style. His first venture into the feast day oratorio realm relates directly to Handel's "La Resurrezione" (1708 Rome), and also has connections to Schütz's summa< Resurrection History> (1623 Dresden), and Antonio Caldera's sacred oratorios <Maddalena ai piedi di Christo> (1697-98 Venice, 1713 Vienna) and <ThePassion of Jesus Christ> (1716, Vienna) [source: <<Much earlier, Heinrich Schütz's first venture into historia or oratorio was a summa or harmony of the four Gospel accounts of the three-day 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 Nicolaus Adam Strungk's “Christ ist erstanden” 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, nit just during Lent. 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 Pamphilli and Ruspoli. 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 performed at 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 style 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 Jacobi (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 has pointed 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).>>

Easter Oratorio Major Issues

Major topics involving Bach’s Easter Oratorio are explored in Christoph Wolff’s "Under the Spell of Opera: Bach’s Oratorio Triolgy.”1 The topics include liturgical function, oratorio form, adaptation and changes, and a devotional trilogy. Bach’s oratorios were presented like the musical sermon cantatas at the St. Thomas and St. Nikolaus churches in Leipzig during the main service and vespers, before the sermon, on the feast days. Why Bach did not plan a three-part Easter oratorio for the three-day feast, like the Christmas Oratorio, probably was due to the brevity of the Easter Sunday Gospel, Mark 16:1-8, says Wolff (Ibid.: 3).

Bach’s motivation for composing oratorios may in part have been to preserve occasional secular works through parody as sacred liturgical pieces. In the case of the Easter Oratorio, his first in 1725, “it seems plausible that adapting an occasional work of substantial proportions, performed out of town for a secular event, into a festive liturgical repertoire piece was premeditated by the composer and was nether an accident nor an emergency solution<’ Wolff says (Ibid.: 7). Like his three oratorio Passion settings of John, Matthew and Mark, Bach subjected his sacred operatic oratorios to updating or textual changes. In the Easter re in the late 1730s and about 1743, Bach titled this original cantata “Oratorium Festo Paschatos,” removing the names of the four characters and expanding their opening and closing ensembles to full choruses, thus changing the character of the work from theatrical to devotional music, says Wolff (Ibid.: 9), in his German sacred oratorio tradition.

The core music of Bach’s three oratorios are made up of choruses and arias parodied from drammi per musica, seen as miniature operas in the Dresden tradition, in cases of “premeditated reuse of materials to create a permanent repertory piece,” observes Wolff (Ibid.: 10). In these, the original mythological characters were transformed into biblical characters in the Easter Oratorio or symbolic representations of Christological characters in the Christmas Oratorio with similar human virtues, qualities, and emotions. As Bach pursued his request for the honorary title of Saxon Court composer following the submission of the Missa: Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 232a, of the B-Minor Mass in1733, he systematically composed celebratory drammi per musica for the visiting Saxon Court as Leipzig music director, then selectively turning them into oratorios of devotional music, concludes Wolff (Ibid.: 12).

Easter Oratorio Text, Meaning

The libretto of the Easter Oratorio unfolds spiritually rather than sequentially, observes Michael Marissen in Bach’s Oatorios: “The Parallel German-English Texts with Annotations” (Oxford University Press, 2008: 134ff). “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 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 citicize the libretto for being unsatisfying by the dictates if formal reason would be historically uninformed.”

The initial chorus incipit, “Kommt, eilet und laufet” (Come, hasten and run) are commands addressed to the Lutheran congregation, as are the commands at the opening of the St. Matthew Passion, “Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen” Come, you daughters [of Zion], help me to lament,” Marissen observes. The same also applies to the chorus beginning of the Ascension Oratorio, “LobGott in seinen Reichen” (Praise God in his kingdoms), which is based directly on Bugenhagen’s account (Marissen, Ibid.: 139).

The “Sudarium” is explored in depth in Marissen (Ibid.: 136, Footnotes 9 and 10). “Schweißtuch” means “Schweiß” = “sweat” and “Tuch” = “cloth,” he observes. It refers to the death-sweat and symbolizes that in his Passion, “Jesus not only bleeds [through his wounds, scourging, and crown of thorns] but also sweats for his people,” says Marissen. Its reference in the Easter Oratorio follows with Peter’s observation to John and Mary Magdalene in their recitative (no. 6): “Hier seh ich mit Vergnügen / Das Schweißtuch abgewickelt liegen);” I see here with pleasure / the veil lies unwound). The librettist, probably Picander, also could have been mindful of Luke’s Passion account (22:44) at the Mount of Olives where in Jesus’ “sweat was like drops of blood” and Jesus’ labor “points to Jesus’ entire Passion,” says Marissen. Other references to the sudarium, Marissen notes, include the body of Lazarus (John 11:44) and the long history of the legend of “Veronica with the Shroud of Turin.”

In Peter’s aria that follows (no. 7), he concludes: “Und die Zähren meiner Pein / Von den Wangen tröstlich wischen” (and the tears of my suffering / it [the sudarium] will wipe comfortingly from my cheeks). This is a reference, says Marissen [Ibid.: 137], to Revelation 21:4 (KJV): In Heaven, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

Mary Magdalene’s aria (no. 9), as a Johannine love song, refers to “Jesus, “Welchen meine Seele liebt!” (whom my soul loves!), which is a reference to the biblical “Song of Songs” (3:1): “All night long on my bed / I looked for the one my heart loves,” Marissen points out. In their summation of the Easter Oratorio, the four characters as the chorus (no. 11) conclude: “Der Löwe von Juda kommt siegend gezogen!” (the Lion of Judah comes drawn in victory!), which is a reference to Revelation 5:5), “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed . . . .”

Finally, in a later version of the Easter Oratorio, the aria of Maria Jacobi concludes: “Mit dem Lorbeerkranze prangen, / Stillt dein ängstliches Verlangen” (with the splendour of the laurel wreath / will your anxious longing be satisfied). The original 1725 version says: “Sich mit Lorbeerkranze schmücken / Schicket sich vor dein Erquicken” (adorning yourself with laurel wreaths / befits your being recalled to life, Marissen trabslation).

Addendum: In the 1749 version of the St. John Passion, presented three days before the final version of the Easter Oratorio, April 6, Bach made more extensive changes in three arias in his Passion, texts quoted and translated by Marissen (Ibid.: 132). Most notable was the revision of the soprano da-capo aria (no. 9), beginning, “Ich folge dir gleichfalls mit freudigen Schritten” (I follow you likewise with joyful steps), which became, “Ich folge dir gleichfalls, mein Heiland, mit Freuden” (I follow you, my Savior, with joy”), then unchanged, “Und lasse dich nicht” (and do not leave you), and closing with “Mein Leben, mein Licht” (my life, my light), which was changed to “Mein Heiland, mein Licht” (my Savior, my light). The B section was completely revised through parody, from “Befördre den Lauf / Und höre nicht auf, / Selbst an mir zu ziehen, zu schieben, zu bitten” to “Bring me on my way / and do not cease / to pull, push and urge me on) to “Mein sehnlicher Lauf / Hört eher nicht auf / Bis daß du mich lehrest” (My ardent pursuit / will not cease / until you teach me to suffer patiently). The substitution of the references to “mein Heiland” (My Savior) and “geduldig zu leiden” (suffer patiently) are Johannine and more pietist in emphases, as is the opening incipit of following Jesus joyfully.

The tenor arioso (no. 19), “Betrachte, meine Seel, mit ängstlichem Vergnügen” (Consider, my soul, with anxious delight), substituted with a tenor aria, “Zerschmettert mich, ihr Felsen und ihr Hügel” (Crush me, you rocks and you hills, Matthew 27:51) only in the second version of 1725, had its middle section changed in 1749 from “Wie dir auf Dornen, so ihn stechen, / Die Himmelsschlüsselblumen blühn! / Du kannst viel süße Frucht von seiner Wermut brechen” (how for you from the thorns that pierce him / heavenly flowers blossom! / You can gather so much sweet fruit from his wormwood) to “Siehe hier auf Ruten, die in drängen / Vor deine Schuld den Isop Blühn / Und Jesu Blut auf dich zur Reinigung versprengen” (look here at the rods that crush him / [and at] the hyssop blooming for [the healing of] your guilt, / and sprinkling Jesus’ blood on you for your purification). The crown of “thorns that pierce him” is changed to birch “rods [Pilate’s scourging, John 19:1] that crush him.” The heavenly flowers that bear sweet fruit from his wormwood [a word play of wood as the figurative food of the cross and “wormwood” as sorrow, says Marissen, Ibid: 114] is changed in 1749 to hyssop (John 19:29) healing guilt while Jesus’ blood is sprinkled for purification. Hysop in German is considered a healing plant, says Marissen (Ibid.: 132). The purification could refer back to the Marian Feast of Purification with its Gospel reference to the Lukan Feast of the Purification with Simeon’s prayer, nunc dimmitis (Lord, let your servant depart in peace (2:29-32), symbolizing acceptance of death through salvation.

In 1725 both the original tenor arioso (no. 19) and its succeeding da-capo aria (no. 20), “Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken” (Ponder well how his back bloodstained), both text borrowings from the Brockes Passion ( were replaced by the tenor aria, “Zerschmettert mich,” but restored in the pure-John Gospel 1728/32 third version. The original aria text, “Erwäge,” is still found in most performances today, comparing Jesus’ scourged back to a storm (our sins deluge) which passes and leaves a beautiful rainbow as God’ grace. The 1749 text, completely different, says: Mein Jesu, ach! dein schmerzhaft bitter Leiden / bringt tausend Freuden, / es tilgt der Sünden Not, / ich sehe zwar mit vielen Schrecken / den heilgen Leib mit Blute decken / doch muß mir dies auch Lust erwecken, / es macht mich frei von Höll und Tod.” The English translation (Z. Philip Ambrose) is: A. “My Jesus, ah, thy painful bitter sadness / Brings countless gladness, / It quells the pain of sin. B. I see in truth with greatest terror / The holy body now blood-covered, / But even this my joy must waken, / It makes me free from hell and death.” The later, more pietist-like version, offers a contrast between Jesus’ sadness and blood-covered body and the believer’s gladness that free him from hell and death, also referred to in the closing chorus of the Easter Oratorio where the gates of hell are destroyed and the gates of heaven simultaneously opened, through which “the Lion of Judah comes drawn in victory!

Commentary: Various Bach scholars have suggested that the 1725 version of the St. John Passion may have caused objections from the Pietist faction on the Leipzig Town Council, reaffirmed in 1739 and causing Bach to cancel its performance and stop revising the score, but resolved in 1749 when Bach again, as in 1725, presented a pairing of this Passion followed by the Easter Oratorio in its devotional version. Thus, just a little more than a year before his death, while he was completing his B-Minor Mass, Bach, as perhaps his penultimate performances, presented this essentially Johannine account of Christ’s death and resurrection. His last documented performance was the Town Council CaBWV 29, “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir” (We thank you, God, we thank you, Psalm 75:1), the opening chorus from which Bach made a double contrafaction in his “Great Catholic Mass”: the Gratias agimus tibi and the concluding Dona nobis Pacem. Throughout his Leipzig tenure, Bach probably provided annual performances of the Passion on Good Friday and the Town Council installation in late August. Thus Bach, given all of his conflicts with the Town Council pietist faction, had the last word! Having completed his Christological Cycle of major vocal works fulfilling his calling of a “well-regulated church music to the glory of God,” the Leipzig cantor and music director was ready to meet his God and thumb his nose -- perhaps his cheeks -- at his vexing antagonists.


1 Christoph Wolff in J. S. Bach and the Oratorio Tradition, ed. Daniel R. Melamed; Bach Perspectives 8, American Bach Society (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2011: 1-12); German version, “Johann Sebastian Bachs Oratorien-Trilogie und die große Kirchenmusik der 1730er Jahre” in Bach-Jahrbuch, Vol. 97 (Leipzig: 2011: 11-25).

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 4, 2017):
Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 - Revised & updated Discography

Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 "Kommet, eilet und laufet" (Easter Oratorio "Come, hurry and run") was composed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig for Easter Sunday of 1725. The oratorio was performed 3 more times in Leipzig on the same event: in 1738, between 1743-1746 and in 1749. The oratorio is scored for soprano, alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes, oboe d'amore, bassoon, 2 recorders, transverse flute, violins & continuo.

The discography pages of Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 on the BCW have been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (45):
Recordings of Individual Movements (53):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options as part of the recording details. When you click a link to video/audio, a new window will open above the discography page and the video/audio will start to play.

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios & 2 videos of Oster-Oratorium. A short description below the audio/video image is linked to the full details at the discography pages.

I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this cantata. If you are aware of a recording of Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.

You can also read on the BCW the recent discussion of the cantata in the BCML (4th round):


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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Last update: Wednesday, October 18, 2017 08:27