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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Wie schön leuctet der Morgenstern (How brightly shines the morning star)

Cantata 1

  • Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • Epistle: Isaah vii. 10-15 (Behold, a virgin shall conceive)
  • Gospel: Luke i. 26-38 (Gabriel salutes Mary)
  • Rating: 1*

This is surely one of the happiest of the cantatas (appropriately, given the subject matter of the church service) and certainly one of my personal favourites. The opening chorus, based on a chorale melody that Bach uses repeatedly (six times in the cantatas and twice in the organ chorale preludes), is very reminiscent of the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion in texture, despite lacking the double choir. The sopranos (trebles) take the chorale melody while the other parts weave a fugal fantasia around it. Toward the end of the chorus the basses have the sort of line that makes you remember why you love singing so much! A short recitative leads into the first of two really catchy arias. This first has a real hook in the oboe da caccia line. The second requires a very mobile tenor voice to negotiate the sharp corners: When it's done well it's glorious, when it's done badly it's a mess. The final chorale reminds you what the tune was in case you'd forgotten it.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.