Bach realises, as always, the stresses and strains, that musicians find themselves under,
-and particularly at this Christmas time.
In view of this, the forces here are small and chamber-like,
– oboe d’amore, flute, strings and 4 part solo/chorus,
and are evenly distributed, the chorus employed only during the final choral, the rest of this extraordinary and astonishingly beautiful cantata, comprising of only two arias and two recits.
‘Sweet comfort, as my Jesus comes.
Jesus is born now.
Heart and soul rejoice,
because my beloved God,
has chosen me, for heaven.’
Sweet comforts really are on offer, to be heard and seen, in this beautiful and peaceful ‘molt’ adagio’ opening, as the flute line, weaves a way of wonder, that is, in the nature of its enquiry, ornamented, embellished and indulged, over the Siciliano-like ebbing and flowing string accompaniment. It all becomes itself, as the text inspires the composer, to match mood, motive and meaning, to music.
Whereas the flute explores the meaning behind, singing the soprano’s words and thus thoughts, the voice shapes the immediate impact, of those words.
A profound peace envelops and subdues the spirit.
At bar 30, ‘(Vivace), self indulgent basking, in 4, gives way, to the-dance-of the-heart-and soul, in 2, so-longer lines, giving way to a momentary quickstep and ‘…freuet sich’, a semiquaver ‘happiness’, of heart and soul, flute answering voice in mutual joy.
-after all, He has chosen me, for heaven.
A useful and later violin transcription of this flute part, has been made available by Bach.
‘Rejoice heart, because pain is vanishing,
which, for so long, has oppressed you.
God has sent His beloved son,
-whom He holds highly and dearly,
into the world.
He leaves the throne, to bring to the whole world,
freedom from slavery and servitude.
What a wonderful thing!
God joins humanity
and seeks to become, the lowest and the poorest.’
This secco recit, opening, with a real sense of rejoicing, is revealing, in the way in which Bach handles the line, with reference to the text, especially the last two lines and especially the vocal leaps, bar 14, ‘…much poorer.’
‘In the humility of Jesus,
I find comfort in His poverty-wealth.
His poor state, to me, shows pure salvation and well-being,
and His wonderful hand, creates for me, garlands of blessings’
The Oboe and violin 1, unite to form a single line, but in two parts, reducing to one violin, as dynamics require.
As with the previous recit and the penultimate bar, leaps and leaping,
-and stranger cadential leaps, 4ths, 7ths,
form a big part of this combined line and I suppose poverty and wealth are impossible bed fellows on any garland, especially one made up of blessings.
These leaps continue, in the vocal part and it is a credit to Bach’s sense of orchestration, that despite two unison instruments, we are conscious of only one in contrast to the voice.
‘Precious Son of God,
you have opened wide heaven,
and because of your humility,
you have brought the light of salvation.
-and all alone,
-and out of love for us,
left the Father’s house.
We want, in our hearts, to thank you.’
Listen for ‘…the light of bliss…’, bar 4/5.
‘…out of love for us…’ seems ill set, until we realise, that we are the ones with a love, that is out-of kilter. Now listen to Bach’s setting.
‘Today and again, He opens the door,
to the beauty of Paradise.
No more does the Cherub stand before it.
To God be glory, honour and praise.’
This is a ‘classic’, yet beautiful, unique and brilliant setting and harmonization, of yet another choral melody, by Bach.
Classic, in the sense, of the presence of so many of those dotted I’s and crossed T’s, associated with academic harmony.
But consider this:
The repeated last-line is handled in a way that you may consider obvious or normally,
-notwithstanding the rising bass-line D sharp, that perhaps many of us might have spotted.
But realise, that it is Bach who has done it and these harmonic norms are only that, because we have become so accustomed, to hearing them, without a renewed consideration and respect, of the spontaneous and brilliant mind, behind them!