William Hoffman wrote (December 28, 2014):
Cantata 122, 'Das neugeborne Kindelein': Intro.
Bach’s shortest chorale Cantata BWV 122, “Das neugeborne Kindelein” (The newborn little child), for the so-called “Turning Time” from Christmas to Epiphany is defined by its four stanzas of four lines each and its general Christmas theme “celebrating the new-born Jesus, who brings both a new year and salvation to mankind,” observes Malcolm Boyd in his essay on Cantata 122 in the Oxford Composer Compansions: JSB.1 While it has the usual six movements with two each choruses, arias, and recitatives, the quarter-hour work uses the chorale melody in rare ¾ time in four of the six movements, with triple meter in all but two recitatives, and has some unusual pastoral instrumental scoring to complement the word painting and biblical text.2
While it eschews the Gospel teaching for the Sunday after Christmas involving Luke 2:33-40, Cantata 122 has all movements in g minor and sounds a cautionary note (Christ is born for the redemption of Israel, KJV), spoken to Mary after the Nunc dimmitis (34a-35): “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;  (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Like many of Bach’s Trinity Time chorale cantatas, it begins with criticism and ends in affirmation.
Bach's imaginative use of the chorale in his vocal music in chorale Cantata BWV 122 for the Sunday After Christmas. Bach composes four varied uses of the canto: Mvt. 1. chorale chorus in the minor, Mvt. 3 recitative with soprano canto played by 3 recorders, Mvt. 4. chorale adaptation (trio, soprano-tenor duet with alto canto), Mvt. 6. Plain four-part canto harmony. Not to be outdone, Bach adds a bass continuo aria with chorale text paraphrase and its opposite, (Mvt. 2) a bass accompanied recitative (Mvt. 5) set to Psalm 118:24: "This is the day which the Lord himself has made." To wit I would add: "This is the cantata which only Bach himself could have made," with texts from a versatile librettist both biblically and musically quite literate, plus a movement scheme or template probably devised by Bach.
Cantata 122: An Overview
The elements of compactness, the theme of the Baby Child, Bach surprising with the unforeseen, and sheer simplicity are found in Bach’s chorale Cantata BWV 122, “Das neugeborne Kindelein,” says Julian Mincham in his BCW Commentary, “Chapter 31 BWV 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein,” http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-31-bwv-122.htm.3 Composed for the rarer festive pivotal turning time of the new church year, on the Sunday after Christmas, December 31, 1724, Cantata 122 has four lines hymn stanzas, instead of six, enabling Bach to have a consistent theme while still finding the unusual and achieving directness and clarity with music that is otherwise quite complex.
<<Perhaps the first thing to notice about this work is its compactness. It is likely to last under fifteen minutes in performance and the longest movement is not, as we might expect, the opening chorus but the second, a continuo aria for bass. The fantasia is one of the shortest in the cycle, a fact that reflects less upon the importance of the theme than on the choice of the unusually brief chorale. It has only four phrases, each four bars long.
Consequently there will only be four choral entries in the fantasia, something that clearly limits its scale. To an extent Bach compensates by giving us a sixteen-bar opening and closing ritornello and using its material for lengthy episodes between the choral entries. The result is a concentrated movement of perfect proportion; it just happens to be more concise than usual.
The theme of the work is that of the Baby Child, brought into the world to protect and offer us salvation. Consider for a moment how this iconic image might be reflected musically; perhaps through traditional 'pastorale-type' scenes of peace and goodwill? Or through the gentleness of the Infant Child, carrying with it the mercy of God and all hopes for the salvation of mankind? It is worth giving some thought to these themes and what cultural significance they have for us personally because when we examine Bach's interpretation, we may discover it to be nothing like our expectations!
But then Bach continues to surprise his audience, almost always producing the unforeseen.
A second observation may have little significance; nevertheless it is striking how similar the very first ritornello motive is to that of C 93, the sixth of the cycle. Both are in minor keys, both in triple rhythms and both use an idea which takes the same three notes of the scale (the 5th, 6th and 5th) thence proceeding to an upward leap. The earlier fantasia develops the idea of complete trust in God----he who does so will not build his house upon sand. The fantasia from C 122 places the emphasis upon the Child Christ, renewing the year for Christians upon the earth. There remains a common underlying theme of trust in Divinity and the protection to be gained from it.
Whether Bach intended to link these movements musically across the six-month period or if it was simply a coincidence remains a matter of conjecture. But there remains the assumption that Bach was writing just as much for his God, who knows and recognises all things, as he was for man whose capacities and observational powers are rather more limited!
Considering the enormous output of composition and performances required from Bach over the Christmas period, one imagines that he might have been grateful to be faced with a less than usually demanding opening chorus. The text simply reminds us that the Christ Child has once again renewed the year. There is no overt call for celebration, no immediate requirement to offer praise or adulation. What we have is the simple statement of Christian fact which Bach sets seriously and earnestly, with a minimum of imagery and embellishment.>>
Chorale Cantata for Sunday after Christmas Day
Cantata 122 was presented at the main service of Thomas Church, on the Sunday after Christmas Day, before the sermon on the Gospel (Luke 2:33-40 (Simeon prophecy: Christ is born for the redemption of Israel), while the sermon preacher is not identified in the records, says Martin Petzoldt in BACH Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinity Sunday.4
Readings for the Sunday after Christmas Day are Epistle: Galatians 4:1-7 (Paul’s letter: Christ is sent to redeem those under the law, KJV); Gospel: Luke 2:33-40 (Simeon prophecy: Christ is born for the redemption of Israel). Complete text is the Martin Luther German translation (1545), with the English translation Authorised (King James) Version [KJV] 1611; for complete texts, see BCW Readings, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Christmas1.htm.
The Introit Psalm for the Sunday after Christmas Day in Psalm 117, Laudate Dominum omnes gentes (O praise the Lord, all ye nations, KJV), says Martin Petzoldt (Ibid.). The Gregorian chant was set as a polyphonic motet by Palestrina, Monteverdi, Praetorius, Schütz, and di Lasso, among others. It is possible that Bach may have presented one of these settings.5 Handel composed a multi-movement motet setting, HWV 237.
The Cantata 122 text is based upon the Cyriakus Schneegaß hymn (Mvts. 1, 4, 6 unaltered), and the anonymous paraphrase and free elaboration (Mvts. 2-5).
The chorale, “Das neugeborne Kindelein” is listed in Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch6 as NLGB 48 as a New Year’s chorale. The text author is Cyriakus Schneegaß (1597). Francis Browne English translation is found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale123-Eng3.htm; Schneegaß (1546-97), BCW Short Biography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Schneegass.htm. The Chorale Melody, “Das neugeborne Kindelein” (Zahn 491), originally was attributed to Schneegaß (?) (1597, source does not survive). A four-part setting of Melchior Vulpius (c1560-1615) dates to 1604 and both Gardiner and Hofmann in their liner notes (see below) attribute the melody to Vulpius. (see BCW Chorale Melodies http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Das-neugeborne.htm); Vulpius, BCW short biography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Vulpius.htm
Cantata 122 Movements, Scoring, Text, Key, Meter.7
1. Chorus (Stanza 1 unaltered), with ritornelli between the lines[SATB; Oboe I/II, Taille, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Das neugeborne Kindelein, / Das herzeliebe Jesulein / Bringt abermal ein neues Jahr / Der auserwählten Christenschar” (The new-born little child, / the dearly loved little Jesus / brings once more a new year / to the chosen band of Christians.); g minor, 3/8 minuet-style.
2. Aria da-capo (Stanza 2 paraphrased) [Bass, Continuo]: A. “O Menschen, die ihr täglich sündigt, / Ihr sollt der Engel Freude sein.” (O people, who daily sin, / you should be the joy of the angels. B. Ihr jubilierendes Geschrei, / Daß Gott mit euch versöhnet sei, / Hat euch den süßen Trost verkündigt.” (Their cries of rejoicing, / that God is reconciled with you, / have announced sweet consolation to you.); c minor, 2/2.
3. Recitative secco (Stanza 2 paraphrased) (and Chorale, Flauto I-III) [Soprano, Continuo]: “Die Engel, welche sich zuvor / Vor euch als vor Verfluchten scheuen, / Erfüllen nun die Luft im höhern Chor,” (The angels who before / shrank away from you as from those accursed / fill now the air in choirs on high); g minor, 4/4.
4. Terzet, Chorale (Stanza 3 unaltered, A [Alto] & Aria (Duet, commentary B. between vocal lines) [Soprano, Tenor]; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A1. “Ist Gott versöhnt und unser Freund” (If God is reconciled and our friend); B1. “O wohl uns, die wir an ihn glauben,” (happy for us who believe in him:); A2. “Was kann uns tun der arge Feind?” (what can the evil enemy do to us.?); B2. “Sein Grimm kann unsern Trost nicht rauben;” (His rage cannot rob us of our consolation.); d minor, 6/8 siciliano style.
5. Recitative secco (free elaboration of substance of hymn) ([Bass; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Dies ist ein Tag, den selbst der Herr gemacht,” (This is a day which the Lord himself has made, Ps. 118:24); “Der seinen Sohn in diese Welt gebracht.” (who has brought his son into this world.); B major to g minor; 4/4.
6. Chorale four-part (Stanza 4 unaltered( [SA, T, B; Oboe I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe II e Violino II coll'Alto, Taille e Viola col Tenore, Continuo): “Es bringt das rechte Jubeljahr” (The true year of celebration/jubilee comes); g minor, ¾.
Cantata 122: Christmas-Carol Image of Infant
<<BWV 122 . . . is surely about as close as he ever got to the traditional Christmas carol-like image of the infant Jesus,” says John Eliot Gardiner in his 2007 liner notes to his 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.8 “And yet the anonymous librettist bypasses the set readings for the day, and in following closely to a hymn by Cyriakus Schneegass (1597) sticks to an old tradition which conflates the celebrations for Christmas and the New Year. Bach opens with the gentlest imaginable chorale fantasia, a lyrical tune by Melchior Vulpius, the hymn text just four lines long, divided by a delicate ritornello for three oboes and strings in the form of a pastoral lullaby, yet very different from the ones we are used to in Part II of the Christmas Oratorio. What this does is to make the eruption of the cello continuo and organ all the more dramatic as a prelude to the bass singer’s exhortation, ‘Mortals, you who sin each day, you should share the angels’ gladness’. Where the low pitch and dark tone colour of the bass soloist in dialogue with the basso continuo emphasizes a mortal, earthly perspective, the soprano (whose first vocal entry mirrors that of the bass) then describes that of the angels, initially recoiling from accursed humanity. But at her words ‘erfüllen nun die Luft’ (‘now throng the air’), three recorders, the highest instruments available to Bach, begin to harmonise Vulpius’s tune. Bach’s purpose is clear: to show that the opposing realms of men and angels can and will now be reconciled. It put me in mind of Botticelli’s ‘Mystic Nativity’ in London’s National Gallery, surely one of his most inspired compositions. There, right in the foreground, are angels embracing men. Just a few years before Botticelli put brush to this canvas in 1500, Savonarola had berated the Florentines very much like Bach’s bass soloist: ‘Repent of what you have done, repent of your sins, distance yourself from the Demon, let yourself be won over by the angels, the only ones who can bring you to the Saviour’. It may be that Botticelli’s painting was intended to serve as an illustration of Savonarola’s sermon, just as Bach’s cantata could be interpreted as an aura representation of Botticelli’s painting. The Schneegass hymn returns as the filling in the sandwich of the following trio: soprano and tenor singing the text of the ‘aria’, the altos that of the chorale doubled at the octave by violins and violas. ‘This is a day the Lord Himself has made’ declares the bass (No.5), rousing the choir to celebrate ‘the true year of jubilation... now is the time to SING!’.>> © John Eliot Gardiner 2007; From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage
Cantata 122: New Year’s Impulse
Cantata 122 does not refer directly t the day’s Gospel (Luke 2,33-40) but to the beginning of the New Year, says Klaus Hofmann in his loner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS Cantata recordings.9 <<On the Sunday after Christmas the day for which this cantata is intended the traditional gospel story (Luke 2,33-40), the prescient words spoken to Mary by Simeon, filled with the Holy Spirit, and by the old prophetess, Anna at the presentation of Jesus in the temple, are read out and discussed. In 1724, however, this Sunday fell on the last day of the year, 3lst December, and the beginning of the New Year seems to have provided the impulse to select a hymn that had nothing to do with the gospel reading for that day but which, according to an ancient tradition, regarded the New Year in the context of the Christmas story. The poet who wrote the hymn text which is no longer included in hymn books was a Thuringian clergyman named Cyriakus Schneegaß (1546-1597), and the melody was by the prominent Weimar city cantor Melchior Vulpius (c. 1570-1615), who was well-known as a composer of hymns and motets. Of the original four-verse hymn, Bach's librettist has used the texts of the first. Third and fourth verses unaltered, but on this occasion did not confine himself to the reworking of the remaining (second) verse but freely expanded the content of his text, not least with a view to creating a cantata text of sufficient length.
Upon hearing the first bars of the cantata, Bach's Leipzig audience will scarcely have expected to hear a hymn verse; the first movement begins rather in the manner of a minuet, gracious and rather playful with its slightly ornamented echo effects. The choral section then joins onto the minuet with surprising ease. The hymn tune - which, despite its joyful text, is in the minor key - appears as a broad cantus firmus in the soprano, while the lower parts (alto, tenor and bass) imitate and decorate the beginnings of the lines at a faster pace in a setting that is extremely agile and rich in coloratura writing. The minuet-like introductory ritornello keeps making its presence felt in the relatively extensive interludes between the lines.
Despite its fundamentally positive message about the angels' joy and the reconciliation of God and mankind, the bass aria that follows, 'O Menschen, die ihr täglich stündigt' ('O mankind, which commits sins every day'; second movement), the text of which is a reworking of the second verse of the hymn, strikes a strict, almost sombre note. A notable feature of the first part of the da capo ais the recurring, pathos-laden appeal 'O Menschen' ('O mankind') with the memorable motif of a rising fourth and descending octave in the continuo. The entire movement is based on the continuo theme heard at the beginning and on its basso ostinato variation, above which the vocal line sometimes roams freely and sometimes develops in conjunction with the ostinato motifs.
The dark coloration of the bass aria allows the soprano recitative that follows (third movement) to appear in a brighter light - and this may well have been Bach's intention. The text draws our attention upwards, away from the world of men. 'Die Engel' ('The angels') - m allusion to the Biblical Christmas story - 'erfüllen nun die Luft im höhren Chor' ('now fill the air in a lofty choir'). And to some extent Bach allows an angelic choir to join in the recitative in the fofm of the original hymn tune, played by three recorders in the highest register of the Bachian orchestra. Such a wondrous sound could surely never have been heard before in Leipzig.
The next movement. too. 'O wohl uns / Ist Gott versühnet' ('If God is reconciled... / O happy are we'; fourth movement) has a surprise in store. Like the bass aria, it begins with a continuo theme, carries on in the manner of a basso ostinato. Here, however, the vocal part is arranged as a tercet. The alto (supported by violins and viola) sings the third strophe of the hymn, textually unchanged but now in 6/8-time, while the soprano and tenor join in with a thematically independent, imitative duet on a freely composed text. The lines of text in this duet, although connected by the rhyme scheme, do not maintain a conceptual continuity but instead offer a commentary on the lines heard from the alto. The words 'O wohl uns, die wir an ihn glauben' ('O happy are we who believe in Him') thus refer to the first line of the text. 'Ist Gott versühnet und unser Freund' ('If God is reconciled and is our friend'), whilst the words 'sein Grimm kann unserm Trost nicht rauben' ('His anger cannot rob us of our comfort') correspondingly allude to the second, 'Was kann uns tun der ärge Feind' ('What can the wicked enemy do to us?').
By comparison with the bass aria (second movement), the recitative 'Dies ist ein Tag, den selbst der Herr gemacht' ('This is a day / That the Lord Himself has made' (fifth movement) shows the soloist in a different light. Embedded in a solemn string accompaniment, he now declaims - in a text that has a strongly emotional character - the impassioned calls of a faithful Christian who believes himself to be fortunate and who sees his expectations realized with the incarnation of God. The final strophe of the hymn (sixth movement), as always in a simple four-part setting, forms a joyful conclusion in ¾ time; it calls upon us to renounce sadness and encourages us to be jubilant and sing in the light of the promise: 'Das Jesulein wendt alles Leid' ('Little Jesus puts aside all sorrow'). © Klaus Hofmann 2004
Other BCW commentaries include Julian Mincham’s notes on the trio arias in the chorale cantata cycle and Peter Smaill’s comment on the triple rhythms in Cantata 122, found in Cantata 122, BCML Discussions, Part 3, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV122-D3.htm.
<<Julian Mincham wrote (June 29, 2009): [To Evan Cortens] Within a contextual overview I cannot let this pass without drawing attention to the fact that this cantata contains one of only three trios in the 53 works of the second cycle (the others being BWV 38 and BWV 116). However in those cantatas the three voices have roles of equal significance. In this the trio (Mvt. 4) might well be thought of as a duet between sop and tenor with the alto doubling the upper strings in an unadorned statement of the chorale melody. This is a layout possibly unique in the output. A further interesting point of detail is that the alto (the traditional voice of the spiritual) joins the other two voices as an 'equal' partner only in the final section which links the end of the chorale to the closing ritornello. Is Bach using the very musical structure here to encapsulate a symbol of unity? The chorale has finished, the angels are absent but Christians remain united under the shield of Baby Jesus and the protection of God.
It may also be worth drawing attention to the powerful Mvt. 2, the bass aria (if only because of the possibility of it being overlooked by some who have expressed disinterest in such continuo arias in previous postings). This is one of those movements in which Bach seems to have been inspired by a single word of text seizing the listener's attention from the very first line----'sündigt'---sinning. The melodic contours remind us of other of Bach's arias concerned with sin and Satan (see for example the tenor aria from BWV 107). The octave20drop followed by the three repeated notes (taken directly from the chorale) form the strongest of possible rhetorical statements---the warning voice of the preacher---or possibly that of God Himself!
(Also note the copious use of Schweitzer's three note 'joy' motive (!!) which, if it has any such associations becomes here a grinning mockery of itself).
The conciseness of the opening fantasia (Mvt. 1) (unusually, although not uniquely containing only four choral phrases) should not distract us from noting the different choral writing for the three lower voices, the first three directly derived from motives in the chorale phrases they support and the last rising more optimistically and with continuous semiquavers suggesting the Christian throng.
And finally has anyone noticed the similarities in the opening motives of this with the fantasia of BWV 93 presented some months earlier? Accidental?--or a deliberate reference?
Short and compact though it may be this cantata is packed full of fascinating musical detail. I have just touched upon the surface of it.>>
<<Peter Smaill wrote (June 30, 2009): [To Julian Mincham] One of the fascinations of this beautiful work is the relatively rare use of triple rythmn for most of the Cantata (I write from memory) which together with the occurence of the trio (if such it be) may suggest an allusion to the operation of the Trinity. Sometimes the use of triple rythmn at Christmas is perhaps more linked to the need for pastoral effect, such as the compound rendering of "Von Himmel Hoch" at the end of the second part of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), a chorale normally in simple time.
If my recollection of this phenomenon is not faulty then any other observations of this technique in other Cantatas would be welcome and perhaps add to a picture of the (occasional) hermeneutic use of time signatures in Bach.
1 OCC: J. S. Bach, ed. Boyd, Malcolm (Oxford University Press: New York, 1999: 132f).
2 Cantata 122, BCW Details & Discography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV122.htm
3 Mincham, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2014; Home Page, http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/index.htm.
4 Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: Sunday after Christmas Day, Commentary, 251-253; Cantata 122 Schneegaß chorale text and Cantata 122, text; 260-263; Cantata 122 Commentary, 262-268).
5 BACH'S MOTET COLLECTION: Otto Riemer, "Erhard Bodenschatz und sein Florilegium Portense" Schünigen: Kaminsky,1927; ML 410 B67R4.
6 NLGB, BACH'S HYMN BOOK: Jürgen Grimm, "Das neu [?] Leipziger Gesangbuch des Gottfried Vopelius (Leipzig 1682),"Berlin: Merseburger, 1969. ML 3168 G75.
7 Scoring, Soloists: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass; Four-part chorus; Orchestra: 3 transverse flutes, oboe da caccia, 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 violins, viola, continuo with organ. Score Vocal & Piano [1.19 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV122-V&P.pdf, Score BGA [1.55 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV122-BGA.pdf; References: BGA: XXVI (Cantatas 120-129, Alfred Dörffel, 1878), NBA KB I/3.2 (Cantatas for Sunday after Christmas Day), Bach Compendium BC A 19 |, Zwang: K 104. Provenance, Thomas Braatz wrote (December 31, 2001); BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV122-Ref.htm.
8 Gardiner notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Gardiner-P16c[sdg137_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Gardiner-Rec3.htm#P16.
9 Hofmann notes, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Suzuki-C26c[BIS-CD1401].pdf; BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Suzuki-Rec2.htm#C26.
To Come: Cantata 122; Part 2, Motets and Chorales for the First Sunday after Christmas Day and the pivotal turning time between Christmas and Epiphany.