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 fourth part of the Christmas Oratorio starts in the now familiar fashion with a fine opening chorus (a parody of BWV 213/1) which is, perhaps, lower key than that which one might expect from the text. It does fit well, though, with the general mood of the cantata, which is one of reflection of the preceding events. In fact, the only narrative within the cantata, the first recitative, is that telling us that Christ is brought forth for circumcision. Reflective bass recitative then introduces a section of recitative with interlinear chorale singing sopranos. The famous echo aria that follows was parodied from BWV 213/5, where Hercules was talking things over with Echo and really, however beautiful it is here, its structure really does make more sense in its original setting. More recitative intermingled with chorale is followed by a lively and upbeat aria (parodied from BWV 213/7) in which the tenor pledges himself to the glory of the Lord. The cantata finishes with a very fine chorale setting with full orchestral accompaniment.
Copyright © 1999, Simon Crouch.