Saturday 2 December 2006
at St John’s Church, Preston Village, Brighton
with the Sinfonia of Arun
leader Robin Morrish
Abbi Temple (soprano), Stephanie Seeney (contralto), Michael Goldthorpe (tenor), Andrew Thompson (bass), John Walker (harpsichord)
conducted by Stella Hull
The Christmas Oratorio
Johann Sebastian Bach
1685 – 1750
Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last 27 years of his life in Leipzig, as the Kantor of St Thomas church, a post originally offered to Georg Philipp Telemann. It was only after Telemann refused the offer that the council turned to Bach, who was then virtually unknown in Leipzig.
Once Bach had taken up the position, in 1723, he immediately found himself busier than he would like, with duties including teaching (both music and Latin), playing the church organ, managing and conducting the choir, hiring and firing musicians. All this for a very meagre salary, and yet he still was required to compose the music for both the main churches of the city.
It was from this period that almost all his choral music comes. He wrote five complete sets of cantatas, one cantata for every week of the year, at least three Passions, the Magnificat, the Mass in B minor and the Christmas Oratorio.
The Weihnachts-Oratorium, the Christmas Oratorio, is actually a set of six sacred cantatas, each depicting a different scene from Christ’s birth. Each was intended to be played on a different holy day spanning the period from Christmas day to Epiphany (6 January), and that is how it was initially performed – actually spread over two months from late 1734 to February 1735. Johann Sebastian Bach
The opening cantata, for the first day of Christmas, focuses on Mary (sung by the alto) in the period around the birth of Jesus; the second, for the second day of Christmas, the appearance of the angel to the shepherds; the third, for the third day of Christmas, the visit of the shepherds to Jesus in the stable; the fourth, for New Year’s Day, the circumcision of Jesus; the fifth, for the Sunday after New Year’s Day, the visit of the Three Wise Men; and the last, for the Feast of the Epiphany, the role of Herod. The Brighton Orpheus concert will perform the first three of the cantatas in full, with some other key movements to complete the sequence. Each cantata has its own orchestration, and mood, but all reflect joyful celebration – bells, trumpets, timpani and joyful choruses. The Leipzig congregations would know well the Lutheran hymns which punctuate the Christmas Oratorio, and in our performance the audience will be encouraged to join in these chorales, having been introduced to them at the start of the concert.