Bach clearly designed the six cantatas of the Christmas Oratorio to be a unified cycle but it seems fair to include them in this survey on two grounds: As far as original performance is concerned it was presented as six separate cantatas, one each on the festival days at Christmas and the New Year; Also, the vast majority of the musical material was parodied from cantatas. One may present a further argument, of course: These are very fine works and it gives me the excuse to write about them!
The third part of the Christmas Oratorio sees the shepherds eventually arriving in Bethlehem but first, to introduce them, another fine chorus; this time borrowed from BWV 214/9. Absolutely glorious stuff! The first recitative sets the scene and the lively turba style chorus (not a parody) following sees them take the decision to go to Bethlehem. A further recitative is followed by a chorale and then a gentle duet (taken from BWV 213/11, where it is somewhat more erotic!) accompanied beautifully by a pair of oboe's d'amore. The evangelist tells us that they have seen the child and that they spread the news of His arrival. Mary's aria, which follows, is thought to be the only original aria in the Christmas Oratorio; it is a gentle and beautiful reflection on the miracle that has just taken place accompanied by solo violin. The cantata draws nearly to a close in relatively low key fashion with the pattern recitative-chorale-recitative-chorale, both chorale settings being straightforward. The opening chorus is then repeated as if a grand da capo.
Copyright © 1999, Simon Crouch.