Bach: The Cantatas

Bach Cantatas

– Christmas Monday – 26th December 2022 – J.S.Bach cantata BWV 121 – ,Christum wir sollen loben schon’ –

Dec 25, 2022

An single oboe d’amore + strings and continuo, form the orchestra, along with 4 soloists and 4-part chorus.
A usual cornetto and-three-trombones-choir, reinforce the vocal parts in the opening and closing numbers.


‘To Christ, we should sing this splendid praise,
-the son of Mary, that spotless maid-
as far as the gentle sun shines,
reaching all the way, to the ends of the world.’

This archaic, antiquated, but imitative and beautiful choral motet, leads off with the tenor voice, followed by altos and basses, finally voiced, in double time, by the sopranos, with their cornetto accompaniment, the whole of course, underpinned and reinforced, with brass weight.

The energized, agitated and independent bass line, impresses upon us, the simple fact, that our newly energized faith, must be active, motivated and focused, towards our life source.


‘You, creature, exalted by God,
seek not to understand, but just marvel.
God would gain the salvation of flesh, through flesh,
-how great is the creator of all things and how despised and mean you are-
In order to save you, from ruin and perdition.’

The phrase structure cannot be ignored, as two lots of 3 bars, are followed, by two, of 1 bar and rounded off, with one of 3 bars + a minim and the message is surely, that any understanding, in the world of spirit, can never be anything more, than uneven. The better way, is simply just to marvel.

Oboe and voice dovetail and balance each other, as best they can and within the world they seek to address.

At 52, three phrases of 3 bars, settle us,
-and them,
into the recognition of creator greatness,
-as opposed to human meanness
and the final phrase, with its quaver upbeat, seems a little less uneven, as ruin and perdition, are banished.


‘This boundless, essence of grace,
has not chosen heaven for His dwelling place.
This grace knows no bounds.
Small wonder then, that sense and reason,
-here on earth,
fail to comprehend such things as grace, poured into such a pure heart.
God has chosen a pure body, as a temple for His honour,
so that He may face and turn, towards humanity, in such a wonderous way.

This secco recit is serious and profound, in its declamation of this narrative and continues to be so, in a rather pedestrian way, way, until we get to last line, where the last four notes fail to alight on an expected f sharp minor ending, being transported, Beethoven-like (C.F 9th symphony, bar 842) to a blissful C major.


‘John leaped for joy in the womb,
when he recognised you.
Now that you are held by the arm of faith,
my heart would like to leave this world
and run, fervently, towards your crib.’

This warming string-romp, is a leap of faith, gavotte-like, with an upbeat, towards the third beat. The continuo provides a dancing partner, to this leaping Baptist, in the shape of a balanced support structure that echo’s and anticipates.

They are joined by a third dancer,19, the bass voice, weaving around and about, as it pleases, enjoying itself. And as it does, reflecting on the joys of leaping and of recognition, 35 through 53.

A more serious and sombre tone is adopted, 71, where off beat strings, 82 through 83, 91 through 92 and 100 through 103, give us the impression, that this fervent running, toward the crib, is no leaping matter at all.


‘How does my heart behold you, in your crib?
It cries with almost shaking and sealed lips,
as it presents its grateful offering to you:
God, immeasurable,
takes the form, of a servant and of poverty.
Since He has done this for us,
we must join the choir of angels,
in singing a jubilant song of thanks and praise.’

This secco recit, is clear in its representation of this text, as it rises ,
-7, ‘immeasurable’, and rises,
-10, ‘angels’, and rises,
-11, ‘jubilant’, in keeping with the words.


‘Honour, praise and thanks to you,
The Christ,
-born of a spotless and pure maiden-
together with the father and the spirit,
from now on and through-out eternity.’

The fulness of this text, is reflected and mirrored, in a rich mellowness of low brass and strings.

A double suspension, bar 2/3, heightens our awareness, of the sort of thanks that should be given and an arrival, in D major, bar 6, reveals a side to purity, that we may not have approached, quite in this way before.
The third line’s thrilling approach to the ‘Holy-Ghost’, via a similar suspension, bar 7, -benign this time- and a rising bass part, with its falling ‘C natural’, at 9, leads in to a long prepared cadence, on F sharp major.

The last-line phrase, long, ‘now’ and for an ‘eternity’, gets stuck,
-via a bassline C sharp, B, A sharp twist-
on the dominant chord, of it own making and name.


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