“Christmas Oratorio” – Johann Sebastian Bach‏

by richibi

"Nativity" - Piero della Francesca

Nativity (1470 – 1475)

Piero della Francesca


on the first day of Christmas, which
is to say December 25, 1734, the first
cantata of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio“,
“The Birth”, was presented at the
Nikolaikirche, or the Church of St
, in Leipzig

it was followed by five other cantatas,
each corresponding to its own
elaboration of the holy event

the Annunciation to the Shepherds, December 26, 1734
the Adoration of the Shepherds, December 27, 1734
the Circumcision – if you can believe it – and Naming of Jesus, January 1, 1735
the Journey of the Magi, January 2, 1735
and the Adoration of the Magi, January 6, 1735

the cantatas are usually played in
groups of three, or in their entirety,
to more easily accommodate too
either long, or short, performances
– the cantatas last only about 25
minutes – though Leipzig, and other
neighbouring communities might
still adhere to their more reverent
original position

an oratorio, of course, is an opera
without sets or costumes, usually
associated with religious services,
and, quite specifically, mostly, with
Bach’s, of whose manifestly prolific
output an astonishing 209 still

a cantata is a work for voice and
instrumentation in several
movements, or contrasting musical
episodes, in Bach’s liturgical ones,
four voices, usually, cover the
ranges, soprano, alto, tenor and
bass, they tell the story, while the
choir stand in for the angels

this performance, conducted by the
eminent Nikolaus Harnoncourt, is
from the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig
itself, the Oratorio‘s very cradle,
its stunning altarpiece, flanked by
two mighty Christmas trees, is

incidentally the soprano and the
alto voices are taken over here by
cherubs, in the obvious guise of
prepubescents, you can tell by
their missing wings

their more stentorian counterparts,
tenor and bass, are aptly authoritative,
arresting, you’ll feel utterly blessed

here’s the text in English


psst: merry, incidentally, Christmas