Bach to the familiar

I found this excellent performance of Cantata 191 from the J. S. Bach Foundation ( on YouTube. Each month, one of Bach’s over 200 cantatas is performed in the town of Trogen, Switzerland.

On Christmas Eve at LCH, there will be two fifteen-minute cantatas presented with orchestra in the half-hour before the late night Festival Choral Eucharist. The first will be Uns ist ein Kind geboren, BWV 142 (translation, Unto us a child is born) and was formerly thought to be by Bach, but is now attributed to Johann Kuhnau, Bach’s predecessor at St. Thomas. It consists of eight movements: three choruses, arias for bass, tenor and alto, and one alto recitative. The soloists will be Georgine Stark, Renson Madarang and Keane Ishii.

The second cantata will be Cantata 191, Gloria in excelsis Deo, and you may immediately recognize it as nearly the same music as the Gloria from Bach’s B-Minor Mass which we performed last spring (aka Carl Crosier’s Swan Song). Carl Crosier had deliberately chosen this cantata for this reason — so that there would be fewer new notes to learn this Christmas. T. Herbert Dimmock calls this cantata “one of Bach’s most exhilarating, virtuosic pieces, features three trumpets and timpani in blazingly uplifting music.” It is Bach’s only sacred cantata that is not in German, but in Latin, and consists of only three movements.

In fact, scholars are stymied as to why Bach wrote this cantata. Apparently it would have been extremely unusual to present a Latin cantata at St. Thomas Leipzig in Bach’s time. Some have speculated it was commissioned for a political occasion, like the signing of the Treaty of Dresden.

On Bach’s manuscript is the inscription: J.J. Festo Nativit: Xsti. Gloria in excelsis Deo. à 5 Voci. 3 Trombe Tymp. 2 Trav 2 Hautb, which means he intended it for Christmas. The “J.J.” stands for “Jesu, juva” or “Jesus, help.” The first movement was specified to be sung before the sermon, and the next two movements after the sermon.

Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will. Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, As it was in the beginning and now and always and in the age of ages, Amen.

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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  1. Pingback: The period orchestra | Another Year of Insanity

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