A six movement cantata, opening chorus, 2 x aria, -first for bass voice, second for soprano, alto, tenor trio, 2 x recits, soprano and bass, with closing choral.
Strings, 2 x oboe + taille, chorus and continuo, make up the band, with a surprise appearance by 3 x flauto dolce, exclusively, in movement 3.
‘The new-born child, the dearly beloved little Jesus, brings, once again, a new year, to the throng of Christians.’
A somewhat cautious, sombre and definitely sober, opening, to this instrumental-greeting, for the new-born, infant child.
A dance-like, a minuet, -and one with an echo, as pairs of bars, are repeated.
Quizzical questions, -‘who?’ and ‘what?’, seem, to be asked, by the orchestra, of this dearly-beloved, little child.
The chorale melody sets off firstly, in the soprano voice and the lower parts join in, imitatively and diminutively, using the first six notes of that melody.
Independent, thematic material, from the opening ritornello, is weaved, woven and developed.
Each of the 4 lines of choral text, are separated, by instrumental episodes, -themselves based, on that independent, thematic material and each textual line, reduces the amount of choral theme, stated in the vocal accompaniment, until, in the the last line, a totally independent accompaniment, is set in place.
Listen out for the ‘thronging-Christians’, in the basses, at 99.
‘Oh mortals, -yes you, who sin, every day. You should share in the angels’ gladness.
Their joyful shouts, that God is reconciled with you, should have communicated, to you, much sweet comfort.’
This disgruntled and angular, opening continuo bass line, -no other instruments join in, starts with an upward grumble, -one bar, continues with a rising and upwardly trending line, -two bars, with three more grumbles and a foot stamp, and then follows on, with three sequences, the last, repeated. This serious introduction ends, with two bars, of upward and downward muttering.
Impassioned, tormented and tortuous.
We all get the impression, that nobody at all, reallu wants to share in, the angels’ gladness.
The vocal line, derived, in mood and material, almost entirely, from this opening rant, is unforgiving, especially on ,…Engel Freude sein.’, sung literally through gritted teeth, even with those nice, although, ‘bitter-sweet’, musical echoes.
Phrase length’s are as uneven as those of the opening introduction, reflecting an unsettled and uncaring attitude.
The start of the middle section, 45, sees joyful shouts, -angry and still uneven, and sneering, 49 ,…versöhnet sei.
And ‘…sweet comfort’, is still very much that of a bitter-sweet attitude, although he really does try to be, a little more genuinely interested, 62-.
3/Recitativo, with instrumental chorale:
‘The angels, who have, -until now, run-away from you, as if you were cursed, now, throng the air, in a lofty choir, rejoicing, at your salvation.
God, who drove you out of your paradise, -you and the angelic throng, has allowed you, once more, -and on earth, to achieve, perfect blessedness, through His presence.
So now, give thanks, with full voices, for this long awaited, new order.’
Because nobody seems to want to share, in the angels gladness, the angels must themselves appear, to put that right.
And appear, they do, three of them and, as in the appearance of the three boys, in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, all of a sudden, a new, refreshing and vibrant sound and atmosphere, is heard and created, wiping away that old, grumbling bass sound, with new, high and literally, angelic sounds.
Darkness is turned, into light.
Enter three flauto dolce, -Bach’s highest sounding instruments, their contribution to these proceedings, heralded by a trumpet-like soprano, informing us that our previously ‘dammed’ condition, acted as a sort-of repellent to them.
But, now, the situation has changed and to words of rejoicing, because of our spectacular salvation, -soprano, and the chorale melody, beginning with its opening fifth, heard in the first movement, and played out, from those lofty choirs, -recorders, our ‘perfect-blessedness’, through his presence, is heartily declared.
With such a lofty occasion, the voice rises up, with the text, 4 and acknowledges that, ‘…blessedness, through His presence.’, with ornamentation, 11.
We are encouraged to ‘…give thanks with hearty voices…’ with a striking melisma, at 13.
4/Aria, -trio, with chorale.
(c) ‘If God is reconciled and our friend, (v)blessed are we who believe in Him. (c)How can the cruel harm us?
(v)his rage cannot rob us of our comfort, (c)Despite the devil and the gate of hell, (v)their anger will get them nowhere.
(c) The infant Jesus is our refuge, (v)God is with is and will protect us.
A dotted siciliano continuo bass, -which, as a rhythmic ostinato, continues throughout, commences with a 1 x 2 and 1 x 4 phrasing.
The alto voice, or voices, -with reinforcing violins and violas, sing the chorale words (c) and the soprano and tenor take on, the part of, musical wrap-around, imitative, expressive and sublime.
Listen out for the embellishment, starting at 20,
‘…rob us of our comfort.’
and at 30, ‘…their anger…’
where a prolonged and expressive section, ending with a sublime sequence, -36 through 38 and likewise at 53 through 55, this last time, with a slightly embellished alto chorale line, and this time, without its reinforcing strings.
‘This is a day, that The Lord Himself, has made, when He brought His Son, into this world.
O blessed moment, now fulfilled! O faithful waiting, now at an end! O belief that sees its goal! O love, that God, draws to Himself! O joy, that breaks through sorrow, and brings to Him, the offering, of our lips.’
This string halo of sound, acts as if trumpets, imitating, on this occasion, their muted sounds trumpeting these emotive words.
Our bass singer is cautious and restrained in his emotions, almost repressed, in his narration, of these truths, for example, the execution of ornamentation at 4, although he does recognise, this point in history, -and todays church calendar, as a blessed moment, his vocal leaps rising and falling according to the text, faith, love -and of course, those lips. But in all these important announcements, he does rely, on his ‘faux-trumpets’ to tease out, some sort of dots, from his eyes…so-to-speak!
‘The true year if jubilation, has arrived. Why then, are we still sad?
Cheer-up. Now is the time of singing! The infant Jesus, wards off, all our woes.’
Sadly, our angels, -flauto dolce, seem to have done their job and according to my score, seem to have bowed-out, gracefully. They make no appearance in this short, final ‘play-and-sing-along’.
Short and sweet, as it is, -and dare I say it, commonplace, albeit in an very uncommon sort-of way, please do note, that the last line of text, in Bb (major), -which, so miraculously, musically speaking, is steered, with so necessary a note as F#, back into a g-minor world-, that F#, 14, itself becomes, so much more, than just a rudder, or a helping-hand, or indeed, a stroke of genius, back into, that world, of g minor.
It becomes and is, the music, itself.
Once again, Bach is able to make ‘meat-and- potatoes’ into fare, fit, for anybody’s table.