Oratorio Concert Filharmonia Narodowa

Go to content
Oratorio Concert
Stephen Layton, fot. Keith Saunders

Bach’s Weihnachts-Oratorium is still regarded as a rather unusual incarnation of its genre (which at the same time testifies to the considerable terminological freedom that existed in the 18th century). It is not an integral work like the Passions, but rather consists of six independent cantatas, performed over a period of more than two weeks. At the same time, the cantatas form a continuum conveying (according to the Gospels of St Luke and St Matthew) the whole story of the birth of the Saviour up to the Epiphany. The printed libretto of the six cantatas is interesting proof of the overall concept of the cycle – its title page reads: ORATORIUM, / Welches / die heilige Weyhnacht / über / In beyden / Haupt-Kirchen / zu Leipzig / musicieret wurde. / Anno 1734 (“The Oratorio which was performed at Christmas in the two main churches of Leipzig, 1734”). The cantatas were written specifically for three holidays (25, 26, 27 December – these are the parts that we will hear during the concert) while the successive parts are intended for New Year’s Day (the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ), the first Sunday after New Year’s Day and Epiphany (6 January). Another interesting feature of Weihnachts-Oratorium is the fact that it is an example of a parody-type composition, whereby an earlier musical piece or its fragments are recycled in a new composition. The main sources of the choruses and arias (the recitatives were composed originally, and of course the chorales were selected by Bach especially for this oratorio) are two secular cantatas – the “drammi per musica” Laßt uns sorgen BWV 213 for the birth of Prince Friedrich Christian, the son of Augustus III, and Tönet, ihr Pauken BWV 214 for the birthday of his mother, Maria Josepha; both from 1733.