Johann Sebastian Bach
Christmas Oratorio
(BWV 248)
[Includes 41 page Sheet Music Insert]

By Ignace Bossuyt
Translated from the Dutch by Stratton Bull
December 2004
Leuven University Press
ISBN: 9058674215
185 pages, 6 " x 9 "
$99.50 Paper Original

Every year during the Christmas period, the six-part Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach is performed either in part or in whole at concert venues the world over. Over recent decades, this composition has enjoyed increasing popularity, approaching or even equaling the appeal of the same composer's St. Matthew and St. John Passions.

However, despite this increase in familiarity listeners have yet to become acquainted with the work in detail. The bible story found in Luke and Matthew, telling of the birth of Christ, the adoration of the shepherds, the wrath of King Herod and the arrival of the Wise Men from the East may well be known, but how many listeners have considered carefully the added texts of the Chorales, the recitatives and the arias, or taken the time to ponder the connection between the reflective interpolations and the original story? The present text is intended to provide the inquisitive listener with a guide to exploring the many layers of meaning found in Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

The first section offers a general sketch of the specific context in which this composition was created, during Bach's time as cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig at the end of 1734, shedding light on the work's liturgical function and taking a closer look at the biblical and broader religious themes; this is supplemented by an introduction to its general musical structure and the use of musical material from earlier cantatas (the technique of 'parody'). As preparation for the subsequent discussion of the six parts of the Oratorio in turn, this first section will also focus on the contemporary textual and musical components of the oratorio genre, of which Bach's composition is a prime example.

Ancorae Steunpunten voor studie en onderwijs, Vol. 19

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