December 2012

"Jauchzet, frohlocket!" from the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248

by Johann Sebastian Bach

We've been talking about Bach since there very beginning. He was a German composer who lived from 1685 to 1750, and is my favorite composer of all time.

In 1734, he completed the Christmas Oratorio (or Weihnachts-Oratorium, in German). This was to be performed at the St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches in Leipzig to celebrate the 1734 Christmas season.

The Christmas Oratorio (pronounced or-ah-TOR-ee-o) is a collection of shorter pieces. The complete piece is in six parts and takes about three hours to perform. Each part celebrates a different part of the Christmas story. Part One describes the birth of Christ. Part Two is about the angellic announcement to the shepherds (the "annunciation" to the shepherds). Part Three is about the shepherds coming to see Jesus (the "adoration" of the shepherds). Part Four is about the circumcision and naming of Jesus (New Year's Day). Part Five is about the journey of the wisemen (journey of the Magi). Part Six is about the wisemen visiting and worshipping Jesus (the "adoration" of the Magi). We're just going to be covering the first piece of Part One today.

The Christmas Oratorio is called a parody work, because some of the music had been written previously (but with different lyrics). For example, "Jauchzet, frohlocket!" (pronounced YOWX-set froh-LAW-ket) uses music that was originally a cantata Bach wrote the previous year called "Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!" ("Sound all the drums! Resound the trumpets!"). It was written to celebrate the birthday of the Queen of Poland, Maria Josepha. This same music was given new lyrics and used as part of the Oratorio.

"Jauchzet, frohlocket!" is a piece to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. These are the lyrics that are sung (and their translation):

Jauchzet, frohlocket! auf, preiset die Tage,
Rühmet, was heute der Höchste getan!

Lasset das Zagen, verbannet die Klage,
Stimmet voll Jauchzen und Fröhlichkeit an!

Dienet dem Höchsten mit herrlichen Chören,
Laßt uns den Namen des Herrschers verehren!

Shout for joy, exult, rise up, glorify the day,
praise what today the Highest has done!

Abandon hesitation, banish lamentation,
begin to sing with rejoicing and exaltation!

Serve the highest with glorious choirs,
let us honour the name of our ruler!

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

My introduction to this piece was pretty late in life. I was aware that Bach had written a Christmas Oratorio, but I wasn't that familiar with it. I'm going to guess that sometime in the early to mid 1990s, I had come across a recording of the Christmas Oratorio. "Jauchzet, frohlocket!" is one that can quickly get stuck in your head.

To date, I've never performed it, but I'd love to.


So here is "Jauchzet, frohlocket!" from the Christmas Oratorio. Merry Christmas!

"Jauchzet, frohlocket!" from the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach (7:55)

For those interested, this recording was performed by the Choir of New College, Oxford possibly conducted by Edward Higginbottom. I'm not certain of the conductor because I can't seem to find the original physical copy of this album.

Jon's Interpretation:

This is an awesome example of late Baroque. The drums add particular power to the piece (something that is not often found in Bach's works). "Jauchzet, frohlocket!" can't be mistaken for anything other than triumphant rejoicing. I find that the main theme stays with me for a while after hearing it.

Extra Credit:

Here's a scan of the original manuscript score:

Original Manuscript Score for "Jauchzet, frohlocket!" from the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach