Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists in a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 to begin their year long Cantata Pilgrimage.
Part I ‘For the First Day of Christmas’
Part II ‘For the Second Day of Christmas’
Part III ‘For the Third Day of Christmas’
Part IV ‘For the Feast of the Circumcision’
Part V ‘For the First Sunday in the New Year’
Part VI ‘For the Feats of Epiphany’
The Christmas Oratorio
Sir John Eliot Gardiner chose to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach in his own inimitable style: with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists he undertook an extended concert tour to perform the composer’s entire known output of sacred cantatas at churches and concert halls all over Europe. The tour began at the Herderkirche in Weimar, where on 23rd and 27th December 1999 all six parts of the Christmas Oratorio were performed and recorded.
Bach’s “Oratorio Performed Musically During the Holy Christmas Season in Both Principal Churches in Leipzig” – as the inscription on the printed libretto states – was written at the end of the year 1734/35. The “oratorio” is in fact a grouping of six cantatas and Bach intended the individual works to be performed on six separate feast days between Christmas and Epiphany. But in calling the piece an oratorio, is it possible that Bach perhaps intended a complete performance at a later date? This is unlikely. As the celebreated Bach scholar Albert Schweitzer wisely remarks, there is little to be gained by performing the entire oratorio in a single evening, since “the weary listener would be in no state to appreciate the beauty of the second part.” A more plausible theory, perhaps, is that it was easier to sell a compilation of cantatas rather than individual copies. But Bach’s real motives will probably remain hidden.
From wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christma…
The Christmas Oratorio (German: Weihnachtsoratorium) BWV 248, is an oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach intended for performance in church during the Christmas season. It was written for the Christmas season of 1734 incorporating music from earlier compositions, including three secular cantatas written during 1733 and 1734 and a now lost church cantata, BWV 248a. The date is confirmed in Bach’s autograph manuscript. The next performance was not until 17 December 1857 by the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin under Eduard Grell. The Christmas Oratorio is a particularly sophisticated example of parody music. The author of the text is unknown, although a likely collaborator was Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander).
The work belongs to a group of three oratorios written towards the end of Bach’s career in 1734 and 1735 for major feasts, the others being the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) and the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249). All include a tenor Evangelist as narrator and parody earlier compositions, although the Christmas Oratorio is by far the longest and most complex work.
The oratorio is in six parts, each part being intended for performance on one of the major feast days of the Christmas period. The piece is often presented as a whole or split into two equal parts. The total running time for the entire work is nearly three hours. In a similar fashion to Bach’s other oratorios, a tenor Evangelist narrates the story.
The first part (for Christmas Day) describes the Birth of Jesus, the second (for December 26) the annunciation to the shepherds, the third (for December 27) the adoration of the shepherds, the fourth (for New Year’s Day) the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the fifth (for the first Sunday after New Year) the journey of the Magi, and the sixth (for Epiphany) the adoration of the Magi.