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 fifth part of the Christmas Oratorio opens with a chorus that is not directly traceable as a parody and opinion seems split as to whether there was a lost model for this movement. Whatever, the music survives in this fine and lively piece. The first recitative introduces the Wise Men and the following recitative/chorus sees them asking where to find Jesus and receiving the answer "in my breast". This piece is thought to be a parody of a movement from the lost St. Mark Passion BWV 247 (whose text survives, but not the music) and reconstructions of the latter work call upon this movement (and sometimes elsewhere in the Christmas Oratorio) for guidance in the de-parody. A chorale is followed by a recitative which leads into a simple bass aria asking for the enlightenment of the radiance of Christ. Two recitatives follow; the first scolding the people for their fear, the second relating Herod's receiving of counsel upon Christ birth. The following trio, probably a parody but whose parody model is lost, sees the soprano and tenor asking when salvation will come; answered by the alto telling them that it is here now. Simple, not outstanding perhaps, but effective. A final recitative praising Jesus leads into the closing, starightforward chorale setting.
Copyright © 1999, Simon Crouch.