Christmas Oratorio, J. S. Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach composed several oratorios throughout his long and prolific career, but none can compare to his Christmas Oratorio. Made up of six parts, also commonly played separately, it is the German composer’s most often performed sacred work, and it is a staple of the Christmas season’s musical heritage. This year, a special concert including the first three parts of the ‘Weihnachtsoratorium’ takes place at St Paul’s Within the Walls Church, where Bach’s elevating music meets the beautiful sacred mosaics and the inimitable history of Rome’s very first Protestant church. The performance takes place on the last Sunday of the year and starts at 6:30 pm.
For some of the parts of the Christmas Oratorio, Bach used earlier secular compositions of his. Thanks to the incorporation of non-sacred motifs and elements, the oratorio sounds fresh and bold, lending it longevity and continued appeal with generations of audiences. The composer wrote his Christmas Oratorio in 1734. It was first performed during that year’s Christmas season, one part for each of the important dates between Christmas Day and the Epiphany, at Leipzig’s two preeminent churches – St Thomas and St Nicholas. Thus began the long and celebrated life of one of Bach’s greatest sacred compositions.
Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is a great example of narration driven by music. Instead of following the Gospel, the composer arranged the storyline according to the different musical parts he had assembled together, and he let the keys and instrumentation of each part take the storytelling lead. The cycle begins and ends in glorious D Major, with momentary escapades to F, G, and A major in the middle parts. The performance of parts I, II and III at St Paul’s Within the Walls Church features St. Paul’s Camerata, a chamber ensemble of woodwinds, strings, harpsichord and timpani, as well as the ResAltera Vocal Ensemble and soloists under the direction of the award-winning choral conductor Tom Hammond-Davies. There is no better way to celebrate the Christmas season than to immerse yourself in the divine music of Johann Sebastian Bach!