with Aki Matsui, soprano; Damien Guillon, alto; James Gilchrist, tenor (Evangelist); Zachary Wilder, tenor (arias); and Christian Immler, bass.
Aki Matsui replaced Hana Blazikova, who had to return that morning to her home in the Czech Republic, before that country would close its borders.
Already 1/3 into their European tour with Bach’s Passion according to St. John, Bach Collegium Japan was faced with cancellations due to European countries trying to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. With a live stream from Cologne, Germany, already on their schedule, they decided to go ahead with the live-stream, without audience, and stay in Cologne for a few more days, and record a CD of the St. John Passion there for BIS records.
Find the German texts with English translations here, and the score, in two parts: part 1 here, and part 2 here.
I urge you to support all musicians suffering enormous loss of income during this difficult time. Donate at least the money you would otherwise have spent on tickets to their performances, but if you can, give more. Take care of each other, please take social distancing seriously, keep going for walks if allowed, check in on your elderly neighbors, and wash. your. hands.
Also: please realize that these musicians were already on tour, but at this point, please don’t copy their idea, and keep your musicians and staff safe by letting them stay home and practice true social distancing.
Wieneke Gorter, March 15, 2020, updated March 21, 2020.
2020 update: If can afford to financially support the artists, please consider purchasing your favorite recording. Just click on the Amazon or iTunes link at the end of the paragraph that describes the recording.
In 1725, between Easter and Pentecost, Bach set nine cantatas in a row to beautiful poetry by Christiane Mariana von Ziegler: Cantatas 103, 108, 87, 128, 183, 74, 68, 175, and 176. Read more about this multi-talented female librettist, arts benefactor, and fellow Lutheran “preacher” in this post.
The first cantata in this series is Cantata 103: Ihr werdet weinen und heulen, for the third Sunday after Easter in 1725.
My favorite overall recording of this cantata is by Herreweghe, with vocal soloists Damien Guillon, Thomas Hobbs, and Peter Kooij, and Jan Van Hoecke on flauto piccolo. Listen to their opening chorus here on YouTube. Listen to the entire recording by Herreweghe here on Spotify. If you like this recording, please purchase it on Amazon or iTunes.
However for the best energy and intensity in the tenor aria, I prefer Mark Padmore on the Gardiner recording. Listen to their interpretation of the tenor aria here on Spotify. If you like this recording, please purchase it on Amazon or iTunes.
Robin Blaze’s singing and Dan Laurin’s playing in the alto aria on the Bach Collegium Japan recording is exceptional, and perhaps more moving than Damien Guillon’s on the Herreweghe recording. Listen to that aria here on Spotify. And it is a good problem for me, not being able to choose between countertenors 🙂 If you like this recording, please purchase it on Amazon or iTunes.
Find the texts & translations here, and the score here.
Two noteworthy things about this cantata are the dramatic change from sadness to joy, and the use of the sopranino recorder, or “flauto piccolo” in the opening chorus and the alto aria.
The sadness on this “Jubilate” Sunday is because of the Gospel story for this Sunday: Jesus announces to his disciples that he is going to leave them, and that they will go through a period of hardship during which the rest of the world will mock them. Other cantatas Bach wrote for this Sunday are Cantata 12 Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen and Cantata 146 Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal. But in the alto recitative (fourth movement), the turning point is announced: “dass meine Traurigkeit in Freude soll verkehret werden” (that my sorrow will be turned to joy). Bach makes a big deal here of illustrating the word “Freude” and then does that again, even more exuberantly in the tenor aria that follows: there the illustration of the word “Freude” is six measures and almost 100 notes long.
In both cases, Bach used the sopranino part to illustrate the word “Morgenstern” (Morning Star) in the text, creating an extra constellation over the highest notes of the sopranos with the even higher notes of the recorder. It is not completely clear why Bach uses the sopranino this time, in Cantata 103. There are theories that the instrument is meant to illustrate the “mocking” of the outside world. But, as Bach always paints the entire story of a cantata already in the opening chorus, I think he perhaps might have used the recorder to convey the message of “there will be joy at the end” in the otherwise very sad opening chorus. But who knows, his reason for using the instrument might simply have been that the virtuoso player was in town again, since it was around the time of the big Easter Trade Fair that Bach was writing this music.
Whatever the reason, it is very likely that there was only one person in 1725 among Bach’s colleagues who could play this. When Bach performed the piece again in later years, he changed the accompanying instrument in the alto aria to violin. There are also parts for a transverse flute. Herreweghe, Koopman, and Suzuki use a sopranino recorder in the alto aria, while Gardiner uses violin, and Ponseele (on the Il Gardellino recording) uses transverse flute.
To learn more about this cantata, you can now (2020) watch the excellent introduction (“Workshop”) by Rudolf Lutz of the J.S. Bach Foundation here on YouTube. The J.S. Bach Foundation just added English subtitles this video, so it is now also accessible to those who don’t understand German.
On the Road to Emmaus by Duccio, 1308-1311. Museo del’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy.
After the rewritten St. John Passion on Good Friday (read more about this in my post from this past Friday) and the “recycled” birthday cantata with new recitatives for the Easter-Oratorio (read more about this in yesterday’s post), Bach was now, in 1725, getting ready for performances of three new cantatas that form a beautiful sub-group within the cantatas of the 1724/1725 cycle.
Cantata 6 Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden for Easter Monday (Bible story: Jesus appeared before two of his disciples while they were walking on the road to Emmaus).
Cantata 42 Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, for the first Sunday after Easter (Bible story: while a small group of his disciples are inside a house in Jerusalem, with all the doors and windows locked, Jesus appears in their midst).
Gardiner believes that in Bach’s ideal plan, these cantatas were actually meant for the Easter season in 1724, not in 1725. In his book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,” he explains why cantata 6, 42, 67 and 85 share more characteristics with other 1724 cantatas, and were thus probably planned for that year. When Bach got behind with cantata composing because of the Passion according to St. John in 1724, he must have tabled the ideas for 6, 42, and 85 for 1725, and only wrote 67 in 1724.
My favorite recording of Cantata 6 Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden is by Herreweghe, recorded live at a concert on June 12, 2014 in the Eglise Saint-Roch in Paris. Find the recording (audio only) here on YouTube.
Soloists are Dorothee Mields (soprano), Damien Guillon (countertenor), and Peter Kooij (bass).
I don’t know if it is because the oboes already announce the chorale melody in the instrumental part of this opening chorus, or because of the overall Advent sparkle, but I have always found the first movement of Cantata 62 Nun komm der Heiden Heiland one of the most beautiful of all Bach’s cantata opening choruses. I especially cherish the Herreweghe recording from 1997. Find that recording here on YouTube. Soloists are Sibylla Rubens, soprano; Sarah Connolly, alto; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass. This cantata also features an impressive recitative and aria for bass.
I remember an anecdote from my mom’s time as a member of the Twents Bachkoor, somewhere in the early 1980s. Bass soloist Harry van der Kamp showed up for an Advent concert, thinking he was coming to sing the other cantata with the same Nun komm der Heiden Heiland title, Cantata 61, which includes a beautiful recitative for bass (discussed on this blog here), but nothing really challenging for bass otherwise. He found out during the warm-up rehearsal that it was in fact 62. He did a fabulous job and part of my admiration for him stems from witnessing that as an audience member during that concert.
In the bass recitative, listen for Bach’s musical illustration of the words “laufen” (walking — upwards sequence), “Gefall’ne” (fallen — 7th down), and “heller Glanz” (bright luster — a sparkling highest note).
Find the text of Cantata 62 here, and the score here.
Bach wrote this cantata for the first Sunday in Advent in Leipzig in 1724, as part of his series of chorale cantatas of 1724/1725. For nine and a half months, starting on June 11, 1724, he would write every cantata according to this same template: the opening movement is a chorale fantasia on the first stanza of an existing Lutheran hymn or chorale, with the tune appearing as a cantus firmus. The last movement has the last stanza of the same hymn as text, in a four-part harmonization of the tune. The text of those choral, outer movements was used verbatim, while the text of the solo, inner movements was paraphrased, but still based on the inner stanzas of the same hymn.
I have been following all these chorale cantatas in the order they were written in 1724 on this blog. If you missed it, you can start reading here. If you subscribe to this blog (on the left-hand side of this text when reading on a desktop computer, or at the bottom of this text when reading on a smartphone) you will receive an email every time I have posted a new story.
There is also a wonderful live performance by Herreweghe of this cantata on YouTube, albeit with different soprano, alto, and tenor soloists (Grace Davidson, soprano; Damien Guillon, countertenor; Thomas Hobbs, tenor), but again with Peter Kooij singing bass, and again Marcel Ponseele playing first oboe. It was recorded in the St. Roch Church in Paris in 2015 and you can find it here on Youtube. The camera direction in the beginning is a bit strange: perhaps the TV director didn’t know the piece or didn’t have the score in front of her/him, because the camera is on the altos when the sopranos have an entrance, and on the back of the basses and tenors when the altos have an entrance, but later on it gets better, and it is a wonderful selection of Advent and Christmas cantatas they present there in that concert.
The CD recording from 1997 is part of a very good album, which also includes the two other Advent cantatas: Cantata 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor from 1731 (more about this in the next few weeks) and Cantata 61 Nun komm der Heiden Heiland from 1713 (discussed here on this blog). Please consider supporting the artists by purchasing this album in its reprint from 2014. Or purchase the box from 2010, which also includes two CDs with Christmas cantatas.
Susanne Rydén. Photo by Elin Ericsson/Sveriges Radio.
About a decade ago, I first heard the soprano aria from Cantata 115 sung live in a concert. It took my breath away. The next day, I started looking for recordings of the aria, and decided that my favorite was the one by Susanne Rydén with Bach Collegium Japan, with Liliko Maeda on transverse flute, and Hidemi Suzuki on violoncello piccolo. I purchased only that movement on iTunes and played it many times. However, I never listened to the rest of the cantata …
It took me until this past week to realize that the entire cantata is beautiful, also contains a fabulous alto aria, and …. that this year, Herreweghe released a recording of it, with Dorothee Mields singing the soprano aria and Damien Guillon singing the alto aria. For those of you who know how much I love Dorothee Mields (read more about that here) you will understand I now had a problem: Susanne Rydén or Dorothee Mields? I feel that within the framework of the rest of the movements of Herreweghe’s recording, Mields’ interpretation of the soprano aria fits perfectly, is very moving, and extremely well done. But as a stand-alone aria, I still love Susanne Rydén’s the best, because of the quality of her voice on that recording, and because her ability to blend so perfectly with the flute.
For the entire cantata, I recommend Herreweghe’s 2017 recording. This recording is not available on YouTube, but you can find it here on Spotify. Please consider supporting the artists by purchasing the entire album here on Amazon.
Find the German texts with English translations here and the score here.
Herreweghe is the best at giving the music direction, always focusing on the phrasing. In addition to all of that, there is a wonderful expansiveness, freedom in the sound and the musical lines present in almost all of the movements. Also, Peter Kooy’s singing in the bass recitative/arioso is much more lively and adventurous than on the Bach Collegium Japan recording, and then there’s of course counter-tenor Damien Guillon. I was smiling the whole time when I first listened to his aria. How he can move from a low, full note to a clear, spot-on high note is just so good.
If you would like to hear more beautiful music for this Sunday, or are wishing for a more upbeat soprano aria, there is a terrific rendition of the soprano aria from cantata 89 Bach wrote for this same Sunday in 1723 here on Youtube, sung by the incomparable Nuria Rial with the J.S. Bach Foundation.
Wieneke Gorter, November 11, 2017, updated November 15, 2019.
Excerpt from the manuscript of the alto part for cantata 33 (copied out by Bach’s student Johann Andreas Kuhnau), Leipzig Bach-Archive.
It is now the 13th Sunday after Trinity — time for the story of the Good Samaritan. For a sublime cantata that stays close to that Gospel text, read my earlier post about cantata 77 Bach wrote for this Sunday in 1723.
When Bach receives the libretto for cantata 33 Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ in 1724, it is -except for one line- not related to the Bible story at all. Maybe he already knows this, since he himself was probably responsible for selecting the chorale to serve as the basis for this cantata: a hymn of penitence from 1540, asking Christ to be freed of the pressing burden of sins. The part of the libretto that probably moves him the most* is this:
Wie furchtsam wankten meine Schritte,
Doch Jesus hört auf meine Bitte
Und zeigt mich seinem Vater an.
Mich drückten Sündenlasten nieder,
Doch hilft mir Jesu Trostwort wieder,
Dass er für mich genug getan.
How fearfully were faltering my footsteps,
but Jesus listens to my entreaties
and bears witness for me to his Father.
The burden of my sins weighed down heavily on me,
but Jesus’ word of comfort reassures me
that he has done enough for me.
Wie zittern und wanken
Der Sünder Gedanken,
Indem sie sich untereinander verklagen
Und wiederum sich zu entschuldigen wagen.
So wird ein geängstigt Gewissen
Durch eigene Folter zerrissen.
How tremble and waver
the sinners’ thoughts
while they bring accusations against each other
and on the other hand dare to make excuses for themselves.
In this way a troubled conscience
is torn apart through its own torments.
Bach is in general also still working on how to get more drama and text illustration into the music of his cantatas without it coming across as too operatic. So after a delicate opening chorus (Gardiner describes this as “an antique ring” in which the ornate beauty of the orchestral setting almost eclipses the inner gem of the hymn setting) and a powerful bass recitative, he writes this alto aria on the moving text. Click on the link to hear the amazing interpretation by countertenor Damien Guillon and the instrumentalists of Belgian ensemble Il Gardellino. Nobody delivers such a fantastic combination of completely “getting” the text and wonderful, seemingly effortless singing. And listen to how he pronounces the consonants r-ch-t-s in the word “Furchtsam” without any concession to the vowel sounds.
When the libretto finally comes to the only quote of the Good Samaritan story: “I may love my neighbour as myself” in the fifth movement, Bach takes the opportunity to write a striking “love duet,” completely with parallel thirds and sixths that were used for amorous duets in Venetian operas of the time. If you thought that the famous soprano-alto duet from cantata 78 came out of the blue, here is the artist’s study for it, one week before 🙂
Listen to the entire cantata, performed by Bach Collegium Japan (with Robin Blaze, countertenor; Gerd Türk, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass), here on Spotify. Find the text here, and the score here.
Wieneke Gorter, September 8, 2017
*of course I don’t know for a fact that this was the part of the libretto that moved Bach most. It is the text that moves me most, and of course that is partly because of Bach’s beautiful setting of it.
**and of course I don’t know this for a fact either, but it is the first thing I wrote down when I listened to this cantata, without having read Gardiner’s notes, which state that this alto aria from cantata 33 “bears a striking kinship in mood, subject-matter, and even melodic outline” to the soprano aria from cantata 105. So I am not alone in noticing this.
Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple by Jacob Jordaens, circa 1650. Musée du Louvre, Paris.
After the stunningly beautiful music of cantata 94 from last week, it is a bit hard for me to go back to a “regular” chorale cantata: cantata 101: Nimm von uns Herr, du treuer Gott. But then again, maybe the beauty and lightness of last week’s cantata is the key to understanding this week’s …
I was not familiar with this cantata, because for this Sunday in the liturgical year, the 10th after Trinity, my mother would probably have played the more impressive 46 (written in 1723, its opening chorus later used for the Qui Tollis of the Mass in B minor – see my discussion of it here) or 102 (written in 1726, its opening chorus later used for the Kyrie of the Missa Brevis in g minor – see a short discussion at the end of this post).
There is a nice live recording of cantata 101: Nimm von uns Herr, du treuer Gotton YouTube by the Gesualdo Consort, part of a well-constructed program of Bach works based on the Vater Unser melody (Luther’s German version of the Lord’s Prayer). However, this performance doesn’t include trombones doubling the vocal parts in the opening chorus. If you would like to hear that important feature of this cantata, you can listen to Bach Collegium Japan’s recording of the opening chorus here.
Please find the text and translations here, and the score here.
Why does Bach take a starker approach for this Sunday in 1724 than in those other two years? One reason might be that in 1724, he is more strongly bound to his commitment of using a chorale tune as basis for the cantata than he is to the Gospel text for this Sunday (Jesus predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and him driving the merchants from the Temple). And the chorale for this Sunday is terror-inspiring: written during a time of the plague in 1584, on the melody of Luther’s Vater Unser.
If we go back to last week’s cantata, we should realize how frivolous it was of Bach to compose such a lighthearted cantata, featuring the flute, an ultra-secular, and French instrument! And this only to show off a University student, who didn’t even attend the St. Thomas School! It might very well have upset his employers, and afterwards they might have urged him to write something more appropriate next time, something inspiring devotion in the members of the Leipzig congregations, instead of treating them to the stuff he used to write at the court in Köthen. We will never know, but we can imagine.
So, while not directly quoting the Gospel of Jesus banishing the merchants from the Temple, but perhaps inspired by that story nonetheless, Bach goes back to the basics, the core of the Lutheran faith. And we know that whenever the hymn is based on a melody written by Luther himself, Bach shows the utmost respect for that, and often uses references in his music to remind the congregations of the timeless character of the music and of the dogma.
To reinforce the timeless character, he uses the “old” ensemble of cornetto and trombones to double the vocal parts in the opening chorus — the same way he did this for cantata 2 and cantata 25. Bach pushes the doctrine down everyone’s throat even more, or as Gardiner says, he “subjects his listeners to a twin-barrelled doctrinal salvo” when he not only presents the 1584 chorale melody in all but one movement of the cantata, including in the recitatives, but also quotes Luther’s hymn Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot (These are the holy Ten Commandments) in the instrumental opening of the first movement.*
To further rub in the need for penitence, Bach presents strong dissonances on the words “schwere Straf und grosse Not” (grave punishment and great distress). Also, in the terrific Bass aria**, Bach instills horror in his audience when he makes an abrupt move from E minor to C minor on the word “Warum” of the sentence “Warum willst du so zornig sein” (Why wilt thou be so angry). Gardiner calls this a “Mahlerian swerve” and says “Not even Purcell, with his penchant for a calculated spotlit dissonance, was capable of matching this when setting the same words in his anthem “Lord, how long wilt thou be angry.”
In 1726 Bach wrote cantata 102 Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben! for this same Sunday, the 10th Sunday after Trinity. It is a terrific composition. Bach was proud of it too, because he later re-used it in the Missa Brevis in F Major (BWV 233) and the Missa Brevis in g minor (BWV 235). Listen to Il Gardellino’s recording of it here on YouTube, with Damien Guillon, countertenor; Marcus Ullman, tenor; and Lieven Termont, bass. Especially the aria Aria Weh der Seele, die den Schaden (perhaps better known today as the soprano aria Qui Tollis from BWV 233) by countertenor Damien Guillon and oboist Marcel Ponseele is to die for.
Wieneke Gorter, August 18, 2017.
* It is not the first time he quotes this hymn in an opening chorus either, see my post about cantata 77 here.
** This bass aria is the best movement of the piece in my opinion, and probably also the reason why the leader of the Gesualdo Consort, Harry van der Kamp, himself the bass soloist, programmed this cantata in the first place.
There are many Bach cantatas for New Year’s Day, or the Feast of the Circumcision and naming of Jesus. Apart from the fourth cantata of the Christmas Oratorio I discuss here, those are: BWV 190 from 1724, BWV 41 from 1725, BWV 16 from 1726, and BWV 171 from 1729. They are all impressive, usually with trumpets and timpani in the orchestra, but rarely get performed anywhere. I hope that will change sometime.
Today is also the first Sunday after Christmas. If that day did not fall on Third Christmas Day, Bach would write a cantata for that too, as you can see in this overview. It means there is an overwhelming treasure trove of cantatas to choose from today.
The ones I like best are cantata 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein (for the first Sunday after Christmas in 1724) and the fourth cantata from the Christmas OratorioFallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben (for New Year’s Day or the Feast of the Circumcision and naming of Jesus in 1735).
Listen to Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein on YouTube. It’s only 14 minutes long, but contains so many jewels. With soprano Vasiljka Jezovsek (stunning performance in the recitative), alto Sarah Connolly, tenor Mark Padmore, and bass Peter Kooij. I love every part of this cantata, but as a child I was most excited about the choruses: they still sounded like pretty Christmas music, but talked about the New Year!
Find the text of cantata 122 here, and the score here.
For Herreweghe’s interpretation of the 4th cantata from the Christmas OratorioFallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben you have two options: There is a beautiful CD recording from 1989, which you can purchase here. Soloists on this recording are soprano Barbara Schlick, tenor Howard Crook, and bass Peter Kooij.
There is also a wonderful DVD recording from 2013, with soloists Dorothee Mields, countertenor Damien Guillon (not singing in part 4), tenor Thomas Hobbs, and bass Peter Kooij. I can highly recommend watching this. This DVD is available at ArkivMusic, Barnes and Noble, and can also be streamed on Amazon Prime.
Find the text of cantata 4 from the Christmas Oratoriohere, and the score here.
I love this part of the Christmas Oratorio the best, because of the moving bass-soprano duet, the trio sonata disguised as a tenor aria with two violins, the famous echo-aria for soprano, and of course because it has horns in the orchestra! The presence of horns in the orchestra is the reason this cantata is often skipped in concert performances of the Christmas Oratorio. The entire oratorio is a bit too long for a regular concert program, there are no horns required in any of the other five parts, and natural horn players are expensive and hard to find, so presenters can save on production costs by not hiring any horn players at all.
By the way: Bach never intended for the Christmas Oratorio to be performed as a whole. He wrote each cantata for the six consecutive church Holidays in 1734/1735: First Christmas Day, Second Christmas Day, Third Christmas Day, New Year’s Day (or Feast of the Circumcision), Sunday after New Year, and Epiphany, and the separate cantatas were performed during the church services on those days. The music for the oratorio was largely based on existing choruses and arias from secular works. In this case of the fourth cantata, the opening chorus, soprano aria, and tenor aria all come from BWV 213 Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen aka Hercules at the Crossroads written in 1733 for the 11th Birthday of Prince Friedrich Christian, son of the Elector of Saxony.
I wish you a good 2017!
Wieneke Gorter, December 29, 2016, links updated December 28, 2019.
In Bach’s time, there were three Christmas Days. In many countries in Europe there are still two Christmas Days. In the Netherlands, a country so small that you can easily travel to all your relatives within a day, people are expected to visit one side of the family on Christmas Day, and the other side on Second Christmas Day. Or at least that is how I remember it.
Of course, you could continue listening to the Christmas Oratorio, via the links for either Harnoncourt’s recording or Herreweghe’s recording I gave you yesterday. The second cantata is a charming one, evoking the pastoral scene of the shepherds on the field. But this composition has never grabbed or moved me the way the first or fourth cantata of the Christmas Oratorio do. The cantata I am eager to share with you today is cantata 40 Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes, written for Second Christmas Day in 1723.
The interpretation I grew up with is Leonhardt’s recording from 1974, with countertenor René Jacobs, tenor Marius van Altena, and bass Max van Egmond. There is a good live recording by Herreweghe of this cantata from a concert in Paris in 2015. You can watch this here on YouTube. Soloists are Damien Guillon, alto; Thomas Hobbs, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass.
This cantata is really Christmas for me. I don’t know exactly why: perhaps because on Second Christmas Day we didn’t have to go to church, so I associate it with a more relaxed, unscheduled day. Perhaps because of the horns in the orchestra in the opening chorus and the tenor aria (I have a soft spot for horns or trombones in Bach cantatas), because of the impressive “Höllische schlange” (Snake of Hell) bass aria (yes, I have a soft spot for bass arias too), or because of the closing chorale that is so pretty, going up so high on the text Wonne, Wonne über Wonne! Er ist die Genadensonne. (Delight, delight upon delight! He is the son of mercy.) I sang this cantata in a Bach cantata reading group mid November this year, sitting directly behind the horns, standing next to one of my best friends, and I couldn’t believe my luck I got to sing this closing chorale.
Wieneke Gorter, December 26, 2016, updated December 24, 2019.
Growing up in the Netherlands, my sister and I did not expect gifts at Christmas, and certainly not under the tree. We had already received our gifts on the eve of St. Nicholas, December 5. At the dinner with relatives on Christmas Day, we would maybe receive one book, or a small piece of jewelry. It would be well coordinated between mother and grandmother that this would amount to only one present per person, and it would be next to our plate when we arrived at the extremely well-dressed Christmas dinner table.
However Christmas Morning was something we immensely looked forward to. The Christmas Morning breakfast was the most wonderful breakfast of the year, even better than the Easter breakfast. We would have crispy rolls from the oven, artisan sliced ham, boiled eggs, cheese, jams, and of course the sweet breakfast sprinkles American kids can’t believe Dutch kids get to eat for breakfast. And Kerststol, or Christmas Stollen, a fruit bread with an almond paste filling.
There was an unwritten rule that my parents would set out the breakfast (including my father carving a bell or Christmas tree out of the butter) and us kids would stay in bed until my mom would sound the special alarm. And the special alarm was: Harnoncourt’s recording of the opening chorus of Part One of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at full volume, the sound of the timpani rocking the whole house. I usually play the Herreweghe recording in my own house nowadays. You can find that here on YouTube.
In 2012, Herreweghe’s performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Brussels was recorded and released on DVD. It is a beautiful registration, and has some of my favorite soloists: Dorothee Mields, soprano; Damien Guillon, alto; Thomas Hobbs, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass. For my readers in Germany, and countries not to far from there, you can buy the regular DVD here, or the blu ray version here. For readers in the USA, if you have Amazon Prime, you can stream it here.
Read more about the history of Christmas in Europe and the USA in this extremely interesting article and join me again tomorrow for a cantata for Second Christmas Day.
Wieneke Gorter, December 24, 2016, links updated December 24, 2019.