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March 25, 2012

Bach Cantatas (16): Feast of Annunciation (Mar. 25)

The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (Mariae Verkündigung) is celebrated on 25 March. It is the celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus the Son of God. 25 March is nine full months before Christmas.

This feast typically fell in the time of Lent when Leipzig observed tempus clausum and music was not performed in the churches. However, when this day coincided with Palm Sunday, the ban was lifted. One such occasion occurred in 1725 and another in 1736. We have only one complete cantata left, however, the masterly BWV 1, dating from 1725.

Isaiah 7:10–16, prophecy of the birth of the Messiah
Luke 1:26–38, the angel Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus


  • Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 1, 25 March 1725

    Coro: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
    Recitativo (tenor): Du wahrer Gottes und Marien Sohn
    Aria (soprano,oboe da caccia): Erfüllet, ihr himmlischen göttlichen Flammen
    Recitativo (bass): Ein irdscher Glanz, ein leiblich Licht
    Aria (tenor, violins): Unser Mund und Ton der Saiten
    Chorale: Wie bin ich doch so herzlich froh

    ("How beautifully the morning star shines"). Bach first performed this cantata on 25 March 1725, which in that year was also Palm Sunday. The text of the cantata, however, only refers to the Annunciation and not to the Entry into Jerusalem. It is a so-called choral cantata, here based on the choral "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" by Nicolai. The "morning star" is a symbol for Christ. The elaborate orchestra has been reinforced with horns and this is one of Bach's happiest cantatas - fittingly so, when we consider the subject matter. In the opening chorus, the sparkle of the morning star is illustrated by two solo violins. The sopranos sing the chorale melody while the other parts weave a fugal web around it. It is a great fantasia in which the future birth of Christ, and the journey of the three kings who follow the star to Bethlehem, is set to a lively dance rhythm. This opening chorus is one of the most inspired movements Bach ever wrote. Also the soprano aria with oboe da caccia obligato has a dance-like character. The bass recitative refers to the "morning star" ("a joyful radiance") and is followed by an extended da capo tenor aria, accompanied by two violins to express the "tones of strings" the text refers to. As finale, the hymn returns in a festive setting, with a rather independent part for the second horn.

(1) New Year's Day (2) New Year I (3) Epiphany (4) Epiphany I (5) Epiphany II (6) Epiphany III (7) Epiphany IV (8) Feast of Purification of Mary (9) Septuagesima (10) Sexagesima (11) Quinquagesima (Estomihi) (12) The Consecration of a New Organ (13) The Inauguration of the Town Council (14) Oculi (15) Wedding Cantatas (16) Feast of Annunciation (17) Palm Sunday (18) Easter Sunday (19) Easter Monday (20) Easter Tuesday (21) Easter I (Quasimodogeniti) (22) Easter II (23) Easter III (24) Easter IV (25) Easter V (26) Ascension Day (27) Ascension I (28) Pentecost Sunday (29) Pentecost Monday (30) Pentecost Tuesday (31) Trinity Sunday (32) Trinity I (33) Trinity II (34) Trinity III (35) St. John's Day (36) Trinity IV (37) Visitation (38) Trinity V (39) Trinity VI (40) Trinity VII (41) Trinity VIII (42) Trinity IX (43) Trinity X (44) Trinity XI (45) Trinity XII (46) Trinity XIII (47) Trinity XIV (48) Trinity XV (49) Trinity XVI (50) Trinity XVII (51) Trinity XVIII (52) Trinity XIX (53) Trinity XX (54) Trinity XXI (55) Trinity XXII (56) Trinity XXIII (57) Trinity XXIV (58) Trinity XXV-XXVII (59) Advent I-IV (60) Christmas Day (61) Second Day of Christmas (62) Third Day of Christmas (63) Sunday after Christmas