ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: Christmas Cantatas
By Frank Nakashima
Johann Sebastian Bach
Cantatas Nos. 36, 132
Born in Eisenach in 1685 into a continuing dynasty of musicians, Johann
Sebastian Bach was orphaned in 1695 and went, with his older brother Jacob, to
live with their elder brother Johann Christoph Bach, organist at Ohrdruf. He
continued his schooling there until 1700, acquiring his early skill as an
organist and, it may be presumed, as an expert on the construction of the
instrument. From Ohrdruf he moved to Lüneburg as a chorister, employment that
allowed his continuing education. After employment as a musician at the court
in Weimar in 1703, he next held positions as an organist at Arnstadt, then at
Mühlhausen and then again at Weimar, now as court organist. He remained in
Weimar until 1717, holding the position of Konzertmeister from 1714 and
moving in 1717 to Cöthen as Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold of
Anhalt -Cöthen. He only left after the Prince's marriage to a woman without
musical interests made a position that had been very congenial to him now very
much less so. In 1723 he took what seemed to him socially inferior employment
as Cantor at the Choir School of St Thomas in Leipzig, with responsibility for
the training of choristers and the provision of music for the principal city
churches. He remained in Leipzig for the rest of his life, but was able to
broaden his musical activities when, in 1729, he also took over the direction
of the University collegium musicum, founded earlier in the century by
Telemann. Whereas in his earlier years there had been need for organ music,
Cöthen, with its Pietist court, called principally for secular music. Leipzig
demanded a quantity of church music, largely satisfied in the first years that
Bach was there, but the collegium musicum itself allowed a return to the
secular instrumental music that had been a principal preoccupation of the
In Leipzig there was a requirement for sixty cantatas in the church
year, covering Sundays, except in Lent and part of Advent, and major feast
days. For his first cycle, for 1723-4, Bach had recourse on occasions to
earlier work. The second cycle, for 1724-5, brought the development of the
unified chorale cantata, while the third cycle, written between 1725 and 1727,
uses a variety of forms. In these first years in Leipzig he is said to have
completed five cycles of cantatas, but of these a number is now lost. Later
cantatas were presumably written to fill gaps in the complete annual cycles and
there were, of course, occasions when Bach used the work of other composers in
the course of his duties. In the Lutheran Hauptgottesdienst (principal
service) in Leipzig, which started at seven in the morning and would finish at
eleven, the cantata was the main musical item, generally following the Credo
and preceding the hour-long sermon. The text would be related to the gospel
reading of the day.
The cantata Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36, was written for
the first Sunday of Advent 1731 and is an arrangement of a secular birthday
cantata of 1725, with an original text by Christian Friedrich Henrici, known as
Picander, adapted by him or by Bach. The extant sources offer two versions, the
earlier copied by Bach's pupil Johann Philipp Kirnberger and here recorded. The
cantata is scored for oboe d'amore, strings and continuo, with four voices, all
used in the opening movement. Here the voices often enter in imitation one of
the other, while the instruments provide an introduction and a series of ritornello
passages in which the oboe and violin are prominent. The second movement, Die
Liebe zieht, is set for tenor with oboe d'amore obbligato and continuo in
the form of a B minor da capo aria, the first of the three sections
repeated to frame a central section in a contrasted key. The D major bass aria,
Sei mir willkommen, is set with strings and continuo and the fo1lowing A
major da capo soprano aria, Auch mit gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen, has
a solo violin obbligato in 12/8 metre. The cantata ends with the chorale verse Wie
bin ich doch so herzlich froh.
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn, BWV 132, is an earlier work, written
during Bach's period of service in Weimar for the fourth Sunday in Advent in
1715. It is scored for oboe, strings and continuo, with four voices and
consists of three arias, separated by two recitatives. The text is by Salomo
Franck, employed at the Weimar court as a librarian and secretary. The lively
opening A major da capo aria, Bereitet die Wege, is for soprano and in
Italian style. A tenor recitative leads to the E major bass aria Wer bist
du, with obbligato solo ce1lo. There is a change of mood in the following
alto recitative, which leads to a B minor alto aria, Christi Glieder, ach
bedenket, with an elaborate solo violin obbligato. The final chorale,
missing in the earliest source but included in the published text, is from a
sixteenth-century hymn by Elisabeth Creutziger.
The chorale Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is by Martin Luther,
based on the fourth-century Advent hymn, Veni Redemptor gentium. The
chorale itself is followed by a three-voice fugue, BWV 699, for organ, based on
it and a more elaborate and extended derivative, BWV 659. The second, for organ
manuals and pedals, forms part of the third part of the Clavier-Übung, published
in Leipzig in 1739.
The cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61, written at
Weimar in 1714 for the first Sunday of Advent, takes a text by Erdmann
Neumeister, soon to move from Leipzig to the Jacobikirche in Hamburg as pastor.
Neumeister wrote nine cycles of cantata texts and introduced into the form the
operatic devices of recitative and da capo aria. The presence in the surviving
autograph of notes by Bach on the order of service in Leipzig has led to the
supposition that the cantata was first performed in Leipzig in 1714, or, as
others maintain, at some later date, perhaps 1722. Scored for a string section
with two violas and continuo, with four voices, the work opens with an A minor
French overture, the chorale heard from voice after voice over the
characteristic dotted rhythms of the form, followed by a fugal setting of des
sich wundert alle Welt. The overture ends with a brief return to the dotted
rhythms of the opening. A tenor recitative leads to the C major da capo tenor
aria Komm, Jesu, komm, in 9/8 metre with violins and violas in unison in
a two-part accompanying texture. The following bass recitative, setting words
from the Book of Revelations, has a dramatic pizzicato accompaniment,
reflecting the text. It is succeeded by a G major soprano aria accompanied by
the cello and organ. The final Amen, from the chorale Wie schön
leuchtet der Morgenstem, allots the chorale melody to the soprano, with the
three lower voices doubled by the violas and cello, while the violins add their
own element of contrapuntal imitation.
The artistic choices on this recording are a reflection of the current
debate on the performance style of the choral works of J. S. Bach. Perhaps one
of the most interesting (and informed) discussions on the subject took place on
the pages of the British magazine Early Music (November 1996-November
The argument was not a new one - some sixteen years had elapsed since
the American musicologist Joshua Rifkin had revolutionized attitudes by
recording Bach's B minor Mass with single instrumentalists and a small
consort of eight singers. However the debate became intense as the English
conductor Andrew Parrot sided with Rifkin. On the opposing camp stood the Dutch
conductor Ton Koopman, whose new recording cycle of the cantatas prompted the
debate, argued bravely on the merits and scholarship behind the use of the more
standard chamber orchestra, chamber choir and solists.
On reflecting on the different points of view, Aradia has decided on the
1. From the surviving part-books it is apparent that Bach divided his
singers into concertists or ripienists. The concertists part books had all the
music-solos and ensemble, whereas the ripienists had only the ensemble music.
Thus, a consort of singers where the soloists (concertists) sing throughout and
are joined by the other singers (ripienists), is more in keeping with Bach's
convention than the modem concept of soloist and choir. This is reflected in
our performance of Cantata No. 61: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland.
2. The ripieno group was often regarded as optional. Hence we
have performed the Cantatas Nos. 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor and
132 Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn, with one singer to
apart in the "Chorus" and chorale movements. Seen in the context of
"chamber" music, with the other movements featuring solo singers,
this seems a very appropriate choice.
3. We have followed the same principles in the choice of
instrumentation. All the cantatas are performed with single strings.
This choice of performance style, must, in the end be a subjective one.
But we hope that we can persuade the listener by the power of our performance,
which has been in no way restricted by academic attitudes.
Music Director, Aradia Ensemble
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36
Ring out joyfully to the stars on high
Schwingt freudig euch empar zu erhabnen Sternen, ihr Zungen, die ihr
itzt in Zian fröhlich seid!
Doch haltet ein! Der Schall darf sich
nicht weit entfernen,
es naht sich selbst zu euch der Herr der Herrlichkeit.
Ring joyfully out to the stars on high,
you voices, be joyful in Sion!
Yet stay! The sound must
the Lord of glory himself draws near you.
2. Aria (tenor)
Die Liebe zieht mit sanften Schritten
sein Treugeliebtes allgemach.
Gleich wie es eine Braut entzükket,
wenn sie den Bräutigam erblikket,
sa falgt ein Herz auch Jesu nach.
Die Liebe usw.
Love draws with gentle steps
his beloved by degrees.
As it delights a bride,
when she sees her bridegroom,
so a heart too follows after Jesus.
Love draws etc
3. Aria (bass)
Sei mir wil1kammen, werter Schatz,
die Lieb und Glaube macht dir Platz
vor dich in meinem Herzen rein,
zieh bei mir ein!
Welcome, beloved treasure,
love and faith make a place for you,
in my pure heart,
dwell then with me!
4. Aria (soprano)
Auch mil gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen
wird Gottes Majestät verehrt.
Drum schal1et nur der Geist dabei,
sa ist ihm salches ein Geschrei,
das ihr im Himmel selber hört.
Auch mil gedämpften usw
Even with hushed, weak voices,
shall God's majesty be honoured.
With them the spirit only rings out around
with such a cry
that he hears it in Heaven.
Even with hushed etc
Wie bin ich dach sa herzlich froh,
daß mein Schatz ist das A und O,
der Anfang und das Ende.
How deeply glad I am
that my beloved is Alpha and Omega,
the beginning and the end.
Er wird mich doch zu seinem Preis
aufnehmen in das Paradeis,
des klopf’ ich in die Hände.
He will redeem me, raise me up
in whose hands I live.
komm du schöne Freudenkrone, bleib nicht lange!
Deiner wart'ich mit Verlangen.
come, fair crown of joy, do not delay!
I await you with longing.
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn!, BWV 132
Make ready the ways, make ready the path
1. Aria (soprano)
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn!
Bereitet die Wege
und machet die Stege
im Glauben und Lieben
dem Höchsten ganz eben
Meßias kömmt an!
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn! usw
Make ready the ways, make ready the path!
Make ready the ways
and make smooth the road
in faith and life
for the highest,
the Messiah comes!
Make ready etc
2. Recitativo (tenor)
Willst du dich Gottes Kind
und Christi Bruder nennen,
so müssen Herz und Mund
den Heiland frei bekennen!
Ja Mensch! dein ganzes Leben
muß von dem Glauben
Soll Christi Wort und Lehre
auch durch dein Blut versiegelt sein,
so gib dich willig drein!
Denn dieses ist der Christen Kron und Ehre!
In des mein Herz bereite
dem Herrn die Glaubensbahn,
und räume weg die Hügel und die Höhen
die ihm entgegen stehen!
Wälz ab die schweren Sündensteine,
nimm deinen Heiland an,
daß er mit dir im Glauben sich
If you will be called God's child,
your heart and mouth must freely
acknowledge the Saviour!
Yes, man, your whole life
must bear witness of faith.
The word and teaching of Christ
must also be sealed through your blood,
so willingly give yourself to that end.
For this is the crown and honour of Christians.
Then, my heart, make ready
the path of faith for the Lord,
and clear away the rocks and hills
that stand in his way!
Roll aside the heavy stones of sin,
accept your Saviour,
that he may be united with you in faith.
Wer bist du? Frage dein Gewißen
da wirst du sander Heuchelei
ab du, a Mensch, falsch ader treu
dein rechtes Urteil hören müssen.
Wer bist du? Frage das Gesetze,
das wird dir sagen wer du bist,
ein Kind des Zorns in Satans Netze,
ein falsch und heuchlerischer Christ.
Who are you? Ask your conscience,
then you without deceit
O man, must hear, true or false,
a right judgement.
Who are you? Ask the law
that will tell you who you are:
a child of wrath in Satan's toils
a false and hypocritical Christian.
4. Recitativo (alto)
Ich will, mein Gatt, dir frei herausbekennen,
ich habe dich bisher nicht recht bekannt!
Ob Mund und Lippen gleich
dich Herr und Yater nennen,
hat sich mein Herz dach von dir abgewandt!
Ich habe dich verleugnet mit dem Leben!
Wie kannst du mir ein gutes Zeugnis geben?
Als. Jesu, mich dein Geist und Wasserbad
gereiniget van meiner Missetat,
hab'ich dir zwar stets feste Treu versprochen,
Ach! aber ach! der Taufbund ist gebrochen.
Die Untreu reuet mich!
Ach Gatt, erbarme dich!
Ach hilf, daß ich mit
Treue den Gnadenbund im Glauben stets erneue.
I will, my God, freely acknowledge you,
I have hitherto not rightly known you.
Though mouth and lips both
call you Lord and Father,
yet my heart has strayed from you.
I have disowned you in my life.
How can you bear good witness for me?
Since, Jesus, your spirit and baptism,
have cleansed me of my misdeeds,
I have made certainly a firm promise to you,
I repent of my falsehood.
Ah, God, have mercy on me.
Ah, help that I with unaltered loyalty
may ever renew the bond of grace in faith.
5. Aria (alto)
Christi Glieder, ach bedenket,
was der Heiland euch geschenket
durch der Taufe reines Bad!
Bei der Blut und Wasserquelle
wurden eure kleider helle,
die befleckt von Missetat.
Christus gab zum neuen kleide
raten Purpur, weiße Seide,
diese sind der Christen Staat.
You limbs of Christ! Ah think
what the Saviour has bestowed on you
through the pure water of
With blood and water
your clothes will shine bright
once stained with misdeeds.
Christ gave new clothes
red, purple and white silk,
these are the raiment of Christians.
Ertödt uns durch dein Güte
erweck uns durch dein Gnad,
den alten Menschen kränkte,
daß der neu leben mag
wohl hie auf dieser Erden
den Sinn und all Begehrden
und Gedanken hab'n zu dir.
Let us die through your goodness,
waken us through your grace.
Let the old man sicken
that the new may live
well on this earth,
with senses and all desires
and thoughts on you.
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61
Now come, Saviour of the peoples
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,
der Jungfrauen Kind erkannt,
des sich wundert alle Welt,
Gott solch Geburt ihm bestellt.
Now come, Saviour of the peoples,
the Virgin’s child,
the wonder of the whole world.
God decreed such a birth for him.
Der Heiland ist gekommen,
hat unser armes Fleisch und Blut an sich genommen,
und nimmet uns zu
O allerhöchstes Gut, was hast du nicht an uns getan?
Was tust du
nicht noch tiiglich an den Deinen?
Du kommst und läßt dein Licht
mit vollen Segen scheinen.
The Saviour is come
and has taken on himself our poor flesh and blood
and accepts us in
O all-highest Goodness, what have you not done for us?
What do you not do daily for your own?
You come and let your light
3. Aria (tenor)
Komm, Jesu, komm zu deiner Kirche
und gib ein selig neues Jahr!
Befördre deines Namens Ehre,
erhalte die gesunde Lehre
und segne Kanzel und Altar!
Komm, Jesu, komm usw
Come, Jesus, come to your church
and grant a blessed new year.
Make greater the honour of your name,
Keep teaching sound
and pulpit and altar blessed!
Come, Jesus, come etc.
4. Recitativo (bass)
Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür und klopfe an.
So jemand meine Stimme hören wird
und die Tür auftun, zu dem werde ich eingehen
und das Abendmahl mit ihm halten, und er mit mir.
See, I stand at the door and knock,
if anyone will hear my voice
and open the door to me,
I shall go in and sup with him and he with me.
5. Aria (soprano)
Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze,
Jesus kömmt und ziehet ein.
Bin ich gleich nur Staub und Erde,
will er mich doch nicht verschmähn,
seine Lust an mir zu sehen,
daß ich seine Wohnung
O wie selig werd'ich sein.
Öffne dich usw
Open, my whole heart,
Jesus comes and enters in.
I am only as dust and earth,
yet will he not disdain me,
his pleasure to see
that I become his dwelling.
Oh how blessed shall I be!
Open, my whole heart, etc
6. Amen (chorus)
Amen, amen, amen!
Komm, du schöne Freuenkrone,
bleib nicht lange!
Come, fair crown of joy,
come and do not delay!
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BACH, J.S.: Christmas Cantatas