This ‘oboe’ orchestra, with chorus and continuo, is not really, out of the ordinary, save for the fact that this continuo, warrant’s more extra bassline support, than at first might seem appropriate, at least one violone/bass and possibly a bassoon, or two, as well, to support the thick string writing and, I suppose, more importantly, mark, this extremely important and perhaps prophetically Messianic bassline.
‘Come now, Saviour, of the gentiles, known and recognised, as the virgin’s child. All the world, stands, amazed, that God, has ordained, for Him, such a birth.
This is one of Bach’s greatest opening movements.
Handelian, in flavour, it has, about it, the stature, of greatness, a long fanfare, of music and sound, heralding, the arrival of something, that is far greater, than itself.
It achieves this, with a long 2-in-a-bar, or a 6 -4 time signature, that must be fast enough, to energize, rather than solidify and yet, considerate enough, to allow those, upwardly, energizing semiquavers, oboes, x2, to do just that, and not become, just grace notes.
Long long phrases, that need, for their sustenance, meaningful breathing, to keep the pressure up, of the intensity.
This tempo, is all the more crucial and critical, when it comes, to the finely crafted and thematic, bass-line, where, semiquaver passages, seem to become, eventually, endemic.
Those, upward semiquavers, oboes, are counterbalanced and counteracted, by broad, downward arpeggios and reiterated notes, strings.
The first two bars, lack any earthly support, being, heavenly inspired, -albeit, of a serious nature and intent.
How much more then, that the colossal bass entry, bar 3, will make us, all the more sit, bolt upright, in our chairs.
And, not only that, but we realise, that this bass line, is nothing less, than the opening notes, of the choral melody, soon, to be taking our breath away, at 22.
The deciding factor here, is tempo and more importantly, metre. -i.e. a 2-in-a-bar, that neither drives nor drags.
As the bass overwhelms us, bar 3, it is a concertante sound, full string semiquavers, first violins, that seizes on the nub of these words, words of imminent and absolute arrival.
However, the brilliance, of concertante writing, must not blind us to the more important, 2-in-bar, the detail here will look after itself, if we allow the, in-out mechanism, of breath and breathing, to rule.
Independent choral parts, contribute, to the ecstasy, of mood, that is to be experienced, by a truely amazed world.
Then, like all arrivals, it has happened, and the silence, that is left, is sometimes, difficult, to follow.
‘Marvel, people, at this great mystery. The highest ruler appears, to the world. Here, the treasures of heaven, are revealed. Divine manna is ordained, for us. O wonder. Chasteness, is quite unblemished.’
Luckily, this silence, is broken, not by a musing recit, but by a musical aria, confident Siciliano.
This is music of faith, in action, faith that rejoices, in the object, of its faithfulness, marvelling in the fact that a faithful attitude brings to this mystery, something final.
And there is a finality about it, fighting stuff, rejoicing not only in the victory, but the spoils.
There seems to be no mystery, in the bounce that takes off, tripping us along, not in presumption, but certainty and the tenor soloist encourages us to do, what the music has already done, marvel, at the mystery, which, in any case, seems un-mysterious, the appearance of the highest ruler and the revelation, of the treasures, of heaven.
Bar 138, is exactly where divine manna, is ordained, for us, here and now and bar 164, is where the wonder, of unblemished chasteness, is celebrated.
A subdominant arrival, at 180, seems strange.
Is this somewhat unexpected musical surprise, designed to generate, in us, that similar, unexpected surprise, in finding out, that this chasteness, really is, quite unblemished?
‘From God’s great majesty, and throne, His only begotten son, proceeds, The hero, from Judah, appears, to run His course, with joy and to redeem us, the fallen ones. O bright, gleaming and wonderous grace.’
The appearance, of this hero, is obvious, bar 4, as is His course, to run, bar 5.
Listen, for the bright gleam, 7 and the ‘…wonderous sign, of grace.’
‘Fight, conquer, mighty hero! Be strong for us, in the flesh, strive, to strengthen, the power in us, the feeble ones.’
The singel undertaking here, that of fighting, is reflected, in the single unison sound, of continuo and strings.
Repetitive phrases, further hi-light and reiterate, the mission, bars 1-2, 3-4 and 5 and 6.
And that, single unison sound, continues, despite the independent bass voiced, that Bach places above it. Again, it is fighting stuff and unrelenting.
The feebleness, of these ‘…feeble ones…’ is reflected, in the harmonic scheme that Bach adopts, from 52, b minor is weakened by the C natural, 55, although the key is re-established by the A sharp, 57, only to be badly destabilised, by the next C sharp, this time, catastrophically altered and reduced, to just a plain C, at ‘…schwachen.’
Finally, bars 68/69, really do take out of the proceedings, any remaining stuffing.
‘We honour this glory and now draw near to your crib/cradle, praising you, with lips and voices, of gladness, for what you have prepared, for us. Darkness did not trouble us, as we saw, your unending light.’
This is a cradle song, a lullaby, for the crib, of The Saviour and could haves as easily, been scored, for recorders, fluty as it is.
Listen to the respectful attitude that the music speaks, as this crib is approached, bar 2 and the astonishment of those, ‘…voices and lips, of of gladness’, at what has been prepared, bar 4, through 5, the cadence, coming after the realization.
An appreciation, of the ‘…unending light…’, is born out, of a consciousness, of this darkness, hence a minor cadence, to finish on, is born, out of some really deep understanding, of what revelation, actually means.
‘Praise be, to God the father, Praise be, to God, His only son, Praise be, to God, the holy ghost, always and eternally.’
This doxology, is set simply and superbly. Notice the beautiful and well crafted tenor part.
But there are clues, to aspects, of the text, that the composer, consciously or not, is hi-lighting. Notice particularly, the E based chord, final bar, on ‘eternally’.