This 3 x oboe orchestra, with d’amore and da caccia option, is joined by 2 x flutes and 3 x tromba + timps.
The 4-part chorus is joined by ripieno soloists and the whole is supported by a bassoon strengthened continuo.
‘Let our mouths be full of laughter
and our tongues, of singing,
for The Lord has done great things for us.’
There is something of the 4th orchestral suite in this opening and the format of the French-overture, allows for contrast and coherence.
Is it really true, that on the many occasions that Bach robbed his own bank,
– perhaps doing so, scratching around early in the morning and in a blind panic-
that he really did so, in the spirit of anything-will-do?
And yet, I hear, in these opening moments and on top of the obvious splendour of occasion, ceremony and wonder, a blurring, an overlap, a hint, bar 2, of a ‘b’ min + an ‘A’, all smudging, very slightly, the brilliance of this D major event, one, which we are told, is the singular event in human history.
Without the human vocal element, as yet, we have to believe that the second half of this text, the ‘…done great things…’, was,
-as he rifled through a ton of paper, looking for that right-hook-,
whizzing around in his mind and spirit and this music does reflect, as best as it can, something of those great things, that laughter and praise must respond to, a momentary blurring of reality and the slipping in, to the consciousness of the world, something new, different and life changing.
Laughter dominates this dancing gigue, in ways praise-ful and laughable as choirs and sections, dip and slip, in and out, of the orchestral texture, sometimes strings, sometimes wind, ripieno and antiphonal moments abound, the pitting of one, piano and forte, against the other.
All this, in many ways, is mere Christmas froth and bubble.
But still, the fact remains, ‘The Lord has done great things, for us.’
‘Thoughts, senses and meditations soar aloft,
Consider what God has done:
He has become human,
that we may become, children of heaven.’
Two flutes, are our mode of heavenly transport, heavenward and this opening music is strangely subdued for such a subject of wonder, thoughts-senses-meditations and they need time to slip into our understanding. This bipartite aria has no da-capo. The message is clear, clearly delivered and hopefully, clearly received.
‘Lord, there is nobody like you.
You are great, in name and deeds.’
This too, strangely subdued, string phrases, figurations, grasping, reaching upwards, at the heights, reinforcing and elevating, this text of praise
Lord, what and who, are these children of humanity,
that you seek, so painfully, to bring to them, salvation?
Worms that you curse,
especially, when Hell and Satan, are about them,
and yet, your son,
-through whom their soul and spirit, out of love,
they call, their inheritance.’
Again bipartite, the tone is austere and the oboe d’amore, rather mechanically, swinging between duple and triple time, whereas the voice, remains, duple and docile, at all times, perhaps demonstrating the stability and certainty of salvation, as opposed to the waywardness, of humanity.
‘Glory be to God on high,
peace on earth,
and goodwill to all human-kind.’
Bach is stealing from himself again, this time, from the interpolations, in his original setting of the Magnificat.
A duet, with continuo only accompaniment and a setting that is not what we might expect, undulating, understated, beautiful, angelic and all executed, in a child-like manner, with imitative, florid running passages, that trip along, in praise and glory, over a constant rising and falling quaver support.
At ‘peace’, bar 24, expect nothing less,
-but beware, its not what your are expecting.
Enjoy a few static moments, a 12/4 bar, of meditative contemplation.
Truly choral, this spectacle, for shepherds, of the angelic host, is underpinned, by a framing bass line, that forms a proscenium arch, to their, literally, stunning vision.
‘Wake up, veins and limbs,
sing those songs of joy,
that are pleasing to our God.
-strings, of deep devotion,
should prepare and offer to Him,
such praise, that delights both the heart and the soul.’
‘Wake-up’ is apt, especially after the sort of visionary experience that the average shepherd might find unusual,
-and possibly even disturbing-
in the previous number.
Here and now, we have now to try to place our feet firmly on the ground, but, as Bach’s concertante-style string writing, lifts the arpeggio-like trumpet into the heights and us, with him, we realise, that those strings of deep devotion, placed in our hearts and plucked in the previous duetto, are now stretched to deep capacity and indeed, it is the case that at bar 31 and beyond, the phrases do indeed stretch to eye watering lengths, made worse by their unpredictability, first this and then that, and then, even after all of that and the end does indeed seem neigh, 50-51, an extension, 52-53.
‘Alleluia and praise be to God,
-we sing from the bottom of our hearts,
for God has, today, made such joy,
that we shall not, any time soon, forget it.’
Austerity continues, brightening, at bar 7, ‘Denn Gott hat heut gemacht…’ and finishing, with a long, upward arched phrase, of joy, not forgotten.