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December 28, 2015

Bach Cantatas (62): Third day of Christmas

The Third Day of Christmas (December 27) is in the Lutheran, Anglican and Catholic calendars the Feast of St. John the Evangelist (St. John Day), one of the first disciples and later one of the "pillars" of the Jerusalem church. He is traditionally considered the author of the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John and possibly also the Book of Revelation and lived to a high age.

Readings for the Third Day of Christmas:
Hebrews 1:1–14, Christ is higher than the angels, or
Eccles. 15:1-8, Wisdom embraces those that fear the Lord;
John 1:1–14, Prologue, also called Hymn to the Word, or
John 21:15-24, Jesus commands Peter to feed his lambs.


  • Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget, BWV 64, 27 December 1723
    Chorus: Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget
    Chorale: Das hat er alles uns getan
    Recitative (alto): Geh, Welt, behalte nur das Deine
    Chorale: Was frag ich nach der Welt
    Aria (soprano): Was die Welt in sich hält
    Recitative (bass): Der Himmel bleibet mir gewiß
    Aria (alto): Von der Welt verlang ich nichts
    Chorale: Gute Nacht, o Wesen

    ("Behold, what a love has the Father shown to us") The text of this cantata (which brings the faithful back to harsh reality after their copious Christmas dinner) does not so much refer to the readings as stress the fact that the believer does not have to be concerned about the "world" any more when loved by God in the way which Christmas shows. The opening chorus is set in fugal motet style; an archaic-sounding choir of trombones doubles the voices. Besides this chorus, the cantata contains three chorales in plain four-part harmonizations, all of them familiar to Bach's Leipzig community. The first one is a hymn of gratitude for what God has done for us. It is followed by an alto recitative, addressing the flimsiness of earthly riches, accompanied by scales in the continuo "rising to heaven." The second chorale questions worldly values and is followed by a soprano aria on the same theme, in the style of a gavotte, in which a virtuoso solo violin represents the "worldly things" which must dissipate like smoke. The bass recitative makes a firm statement about the sureness of heaven, after which the alto aria, accompanied by the oboe d'amore, stresses that the believer "desires nothing from the world" (but the complex rhythm of the aria may convey "the difficulty of staying on the path to heaven"). The cantata closes with the third and final chorale, a setting of the fifth verse of Johann Frank's "Jesu, meine Freude," which says farewell to all things material.

  • Ich freue mich in dir, BWV 133, 27 December 1724
    Chorus: Ich freue mich in dir
    Aria (alto): Getrost! es faßt ein heil'ger Leib
    Recitative (tenor): Ein Adam mag sich voller Schrecken
    Aria (soprano): Wie lieblich klingt es in den Ohren
    Recitative (bass): Wohlan, des Todes Furcht und Schmerz
    Chorale: Wohlan, so will ich mich

    ("I rejoice in you") Chorale cantata from the second Leipzig cycle, based on the chorale in four stanzas "Ich freue mich in dir" (1697) by Caspar Ziegler. The text has no reference to the readings nor to the feast of John the Evangelist, but expresses the joy of the individual believer about the descent of God in the form of the child Jesus. The opening chorus is in the form of a chorale prelude with the choir singing the lines of the chorale, interspersed with attractive orchestral interludes and oboe d'amore melismas. The alto aria is again accompanied by oboes d'amore, here used almost like trumpets, singing about the happiness of having seen God face to face. The tenor recitative ends by quoting from the chorale in both words and music "Wird er ein kleines Kind und heißt mein Jesulein." The soprano aria has a fine string accompaniment and a gentle lilt, like a lullaby, and continues expressing joy in the same vein, only more gentle. The cantata is closed by a four-part setting of the last chorale stanza, which could almost have been a Christmas carol.

  • Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt, BWV 151, 27 December 1725
    Aria (soprano): Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt
    Recitative (bass): Erfreue dich, mein Herz
    Aria (alto): In Jesu Demut kann ich Trost
    Recitative (tenor): Du teurer Gottessohn
    Chorale: Heut schleußt er wieder auf die Tür

    ("Sweet comfort, my Jesus comes") Miniature cantata without opening chorus from  1725. Bach chose a text by Georg Christian Lehms (1684-1717), who was inspired by the epistle to the Hebrews, "Christ is higher than the angels." The mellifluous opening aria for soprano features the oboe d'amore as well as the flute. It is a gently swaying lullaby expressing joy at the birth of Jesus; the flute part is highly embellished. This is truly angelic music. The bass recitative moves from celebration to a recognition of the lowliness of Jesus' status. The melancholic, chromatic alto aria (finding comfort in Jesus' humbleness) with prominent oboe d'amore expands this idea. In contrast to the bass, the tenor recitative again moves back from humility to celebration. The final movement is a setting of the final stanza of "Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich", a chorale with words and melody by Nikolaus Herman published in 1560.

  • Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen 27 December 1734 (Christmas Oratorio Part III) BWV 248/3
    Chorus "Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen"
    Recitative (Evangelist, tenor) "Und da die Engel von ihnen gen Himmel fuhren"
    Chorus "Lasset uns nun gehen gen Bethlehem"
    Recitative (bass) "Er hat sein Volk getröst't"
    Chorale "Dies hat er alles uns getan"
    Duet (soprano, bass) "Herr, dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen"
    Recitative (Evangelist, tenor) "Und sie kamen eilend"
    Aria (alto) "Schließe, mein Herze, dies selige Wunder"
    Recitative (alto) "Ja, ja! mein Herz soll es bewahren"
    Chorale "Ich will dich mit Fleiß bewahren"
    Recitative (Evangelist, tenor) "Und die Hirten kehrten wieder um"
    Chorale "Seid froh, dieweil"
    Chorus "Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen"

    ("Ruler of Heaven, hear our babbling") The third part of the Christmas Oratorio sees the shepherds eventually arriving in Bethlehem. It starts with a fine, glorious chorus, borrowed from BWV 214/9, with trumpets and drums. The first recitative by the Evangelist sets the scene and this is followed by a lively chorus "Let us now go towards Bethlehem." A further recitative is followed by a contemplative chorale and then a gentle duet (taken from BWV 213/11) for soprano and bass accompanied beautifully by a pair of oboe's d'amore. The evangelist continues telling of the shepherds finding the child and spreading the news. The alto then sings "Mary's aria" (the only original aria in the Christmas Oratorio), a gentle reflection on the miracle that has just taken place, accompanied by solo violin. The cantata then draws to a close with the pattern recitative-chorale-recitative-chorale, after which the opening chorus is repeated.

(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