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January 17, 2012

Bach Cantatas (3): Feast of Epiphany (Jan. 6)

The 6th of January is the Feast of Epiphany, when the Three Wise Kings, the biblical Magi, visited the infant Jesus, i.e. the day of his first manifestation to the Gentiles.

Readings:
Isaiah 60:1–6, the heathen will convert
Matthew 2:1–12, the Wise Men From the East

Cantatas for this day:
  1. Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen, BWV 65, 6 January 1724 (BCW, CN, JN, LSG, WP, Text)

    Coro: Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen
    Chorale: Die Kön'ge aus Saba kamen dar
    Recitativo (bass): Was dort Jesaias vorhergesehn
    Aria (bass, oboes da caccia): Gold aus Ophir ist zu schlecht
    Recitativo (tenor): Verschmähe nicht, du, meiner Seele Licht
    Aria (tenor, all instruments): Nimm mich dir zu eigen hin
    Chorale: Ei nun, mein Gott, so fall ich dir


    This is an impressive, festive cantata, with a dance-like rhythm throughout. The opening chorus features a pair of dramatic horns and interesting fugal writing. "All they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense." The first recitative proclaims that it is the Christian's duty to bring his heart as a gift to Jesus and this idea is also the subject of the following bass aria with 2 oboe da cacia. The second recitative equals the gold given by the Magi to Faith, their incense to Prayer and myrrh to Patience, and this is again commented upon in the highly charged tenor aria that follows. The whole orchestra accompanies this aria. The cantata ends as usual with a chorale. (****)

  2. Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen, BWV 123, 6 January 1725 (BCW, CN, EVH, JN, LSG, WP, Text)

    Coro: Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen
    Recitativo (alto): Die Himmelssüßigkeit, der Auserwählten Lust
    Aria (tenor): Auch die harte Kreuzesreise
    Recitativo (bass): Kein Höllenfeind kann mich verschlingen
    Aria (bass): Laß, o Welt, mich aus Verachtung
    Chorale: Drum fahrt nur immer hin, ihr Eitelkeiten


    The opening movement of this cantata is one of the most beautiful pieces Bach ever wrote, a gracious melody in pastoral 9/8 rhythm that keeps turning in your head. There is an extended orchestral ritornello before the chorus enters. Beautiful, too, is the slow but expressive tenor aria, with oboe d'amore accompaniment. From the following aria for bass speaks a great loneliness. This is accompanied by flute. The last lines of the final choral are sung piano. (****)

  3. Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben 6 January 1735 (Christmas Oratorio Part VI) (BCW, CN, EVH, LSG, WP, Text)
    Chorus: Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben
    Recitative (Evangelist, tenor; Herod, bass): Da berief Herodes die Weisen heimlich / Ziehet hin und forschet fleißig
    Recitative (soprano): Du Falscher, suchet nur den Herrn zu fällen
    Aria (soprano): Nur ein Wink von seinen Händen
    Recitative (Evangelist, tenor): Als sie nun den König gehöret hatten
    Chorale: Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier
    Recitative (Evangelist, tenor): Und Gott befahl ihnen im Traum'
    Recitative (tenor): So geht! Genug, mein Schatz geht nicht von hier
    Aria (tenor): Nun mögt ihr stolzen Feinde schrecken
    Recitative (soprano, alto, tenor, bass): Was will der Höllen Schrecken nun
    Chorale: Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen


    This 6th part of the Christmas Oratorio starts with a glorious,  almost martial chorus, trumpets and drums blazing away. The story is based on Herodes trying to get the Three Kings to reveal the whereabouts of Jesus. It also describes the worship of the Three Wise Kings at the crib-side (in the choral in the middle of the cantata). The tenor aria celebrates the strength of faith. The final chorus is again outstanding. (***)