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Cantata BWV 91
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ
Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Discussions in the Week of December 7, 2014 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (December 11, 2014):
Cantata BWV 91, 'Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ': Intro.

Bach’s first original cantata for Christmas Day (1724), “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (All Praise to Thee, O Jesus Christ), based on Luther’s popular early (1523) four-line, seven-verse spiritual song, is a short work of 19 minutes. It has a plan similar to chorale Cantata 61, Luther’s “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland,” first presented three weeks earlier for Advent Sunday beginning the new church year. Bach followed the usual symmetrical scheme of opening chorale fantasia chorus introduction and overview in the same style and closing with a congregational four-part hymn (both stanzas unaltered), then two internal recitatives and two arias set to paraphrased poetry. The major differences are two concertante celebratory French horns and drums in the choral movements, and the introduction of the second stanza unaltered, troped into the soprano recitative, to reinforce the message of the simple birth, a technique Bach had not used since the earlier Trinity Time chorale cantatas four months earlier. Where Cantata 62 chorus and both arias used dance styles, only the central tenor aria is in ¾ time.1

Chorale Cantata BWV 91, “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (All Praise to Thee, O Jesus Christ), was first performed on Christmas Day, December 25, 1724, before the sermon of Superintendent Salomon Deyling at the early main service at the Nikolaikirche, says Martin Petzoldt in BACH Commentary, Vol. 2, Advent to Trinity Sunday.2

Readings for Christmas Day are the Epistle: Titus 2:11-14 (The grace of God has appeared to me) or Isaiah 9:2-7 (Unto us a child is born); Gospel:Luke 2:1-14 (The birth of Christ and Annunciation of the Angels); complete text, Martin Luther, English translation Authorised (King James) Version [KJV] 1611; for complete texts, see BCW Readings for Christmas Day, The Introit Psalm for Christmas Day is Psalm 92, Bonum est confiteri (It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, KJV), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 83). There are motet setting of Palestrina, di Lasso, and Schütz that Bach may have performed.

Cantata 91 stimulated many other original Christmas Day works of Bach, including settings in Latin and had at least five performances. It was composed in Leipzig, 1724 (earlier version); Leipzig, 1733 (later version of the score and revision of voices in Mvts. 5 & 6): 1st performance: December 25, 1724 - Leipzig (earlier version); 2nd performance: December 25, 1731 or 1732 - Leipzig (earlier version); 3rd performance: December 25, 1733 - Leipzig (later version); ; 4th performance: December 25, probably after 1740 - Leipzig (earlier version); 5th performance: December 25, 1746 or 1747 - Leipzig (later version).

Cantata 91 Text is by Martin Luther (Mvts. 1, 2, 6, unaltered) with an Anonymous librettist (Mvts. 3-5) paraphrased. The text shows a great variety of contrasts supported by the music. Francis Browne’s English translation is found at BCW; Luther (1483-1546), BCW Short Biography, As for the nature of the text collaboration, Harald Streck's 1971 dissertation on the verse art in the poetic texts of Bach's cantatas suggests that at the beginning of Christmas 1724 through the Lenten season, when Bach abandoned weekly composing of chorale cantatas, Group 3 lyricist took over, producing 10 libretti while Group 1 lyricist, who had written the text to Cantata 62 for Advent Sunday, December 3, 1724, wrote only BWV 124 for the First Sunday after Epiphany (January 7, 1725), and Bach's final chorale cantata, BWV 1, for Annunciation/Palm Sunday, March 1, 1725.3

The original Luther chorale Text: “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (1524), EKG 15, is found in Francis Browne’s English translation, BCW,; Chorale Melody (CM): “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (Zahn 1947); Composer: Anonymous (1370) or Martin Luther (1524). The hymn was first printed in Johann Walter’s collection of 3- to 5-part settings of chorale melodies entitled Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn” (1524, Wittenberg). The melody is similar to the Christmas “Vom Himmel” hymns. “This chorale belongs to the type of ‘expansions’ of “Leisen’ and other German spiritual songs from the late Middle Ages.”* This often involves a few lines in non-Bar repeat form, sometimes with a closing phrase, here “Kyrieleis” (Kyrie eleison) or “Allelujah” The other types Luther used were Latin hymns, Latin antiphons, and folk songs. “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” was composed for Christmas by Luther, as were “Christum, wir sollen loben schon” (Chorale Cantata 121, Christmas 2, 1724), ”Vom “Himmel Hoch,” and Vom Himmel kam der Engle Schar.” *Details of the melody and text are found at BCW, as were “ (Melody & Text, Use of the CM by Bach, Use of the CM by other composers).

The text and music to the hymn “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” has medieval origins, as Klaus Hofmann observes in his extensive liner notes below. “The first stanza of this hymn was known long before the Reformation and was frequently sung on Christmas Day as the people’s response to the [Latin liturgical] sequence Grates nunc omnes,” cited in Luther’s Works, Vol. 53, Liturgy and Hymns.4 The sequence is related to the nativity and attributed to Notker Balbulus of St. Gall (d.912) and sanctioned by Luther. The earliest source is a low-German manuscript from about 1370. The ending refrain Kyrioleis marks it as a Leise.

The sequence was translated into German as “Dancksagen wir alle” and is found in many Lutheran hymnals, including Bach’s hymnbook, Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) of 1682. It is listed near the end of the Christmas section as Nos. 39a and b to text variants with “b” published in Erfurt in 1527. The sequence then attributed to St. Gregory and translated into German by Ersamus deals with incarnation and redemption.

In the NLGB the sung sequence is found just before the SATB Latin hymn Virga Jesse flourit (Jesse’s stem has blossomed, No. 40), which Bach used as a Christmas interpolation in his 1723 version of the Latin Magnifcat, BWV 243/21. The NLGB No. 41 is the Latin chant Responsorium on the Nativity of Christ, Verbum caro factum est (And the word became flesh, HDEKM I,1 235/236).

Christmas Day in Leipzig

William Hoffman wrote (February 21, 2009): BWV 91: Fugitive Notes, Christmas in Leipzig: Creativity& Mystery5 <<In contrast to Weimar, Bach's cantata production at Christmas in Leipzig was a time of great creativity, equated perhaps only with his Passion production on Good Friday.

Douglas Cowling has revealed a full accounting of the Musical Sequence for Christmas Day. In the brief period of Advent, Bach produced not only cantatas for the six Christmas season services over 12 days but also Latin works, organ chorale settings, and perhaps motets. It was the most vital manifestation of his creative calling to produce rich, varied, well-regulated music for the church year.

He accomplished this in the first three years of his Leipzig tenure. In the mid 1730s, he contributed a fourth major outpouring for the Christmas season, the Christmas Oratorio, as part of what Eric Chafe (Tonal Allegory) calls Bach's Christological cycle of 10 major works, most involving the art of parody, produced during the 1730s. These include at least three gala oratorios for the major feast days, three unequaled major oratorio Passions, and four "short" Mass settings of the Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 232I-236.

The firstcycle of 1723-24 has been accounted. Except for the Christmas Day Cantata BWV 63, which Bach presented in Weimar, all the other works were newly composed and are among his finest: BWV 63, BWV 40, BWV 64, BWV 190, BWV 153, and BWV 65. He virtually equaled this with his 1724-25 second cycle of chorale cantatas: BWV 91, BWV 121, BWV 123, BWV 122, BWV 41, and BWV 123. For the Christmas Season 1725-26, he resumed composing new cantata for the services, with text by Lehms: BWV 110, BWV 57, BWV 151, BWV 28, and BWV 16, but no work for the Feast of the Epiphany. Besides repeating many of these cantatas in succeeding years, Bach also composed Cantatas BWV 197a and BWV 191 for Christmas Day, and BWV 143 and BWV 171 for New Year's Day, as well as BWV 58 to fill the Sunday After New Years gap in the incomplete third cycle.

Lutheran Church Year Dates of "1. Weihnachtstag" (Christmas Day)

Christmas or Christmas Day is a holiday held on December 25 to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. The date is not known to be the actual birth date of Jesus, and may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after some early Christians believed Jesus had been conceived, the date of the winter solstice on the ancient Roman calendar, or one of various ancient winter festivals. Christmas is central to the Christmas and holiday season, and in Christianity marks the beginning of the larger season of Christmastide, which lasts 12 days.>> Dates in the Lifetime of J.S. Bach, Vocal works with no definite date,

Additional, possible Christmas Day performances (William Hoffman):

Date(Cy.) BWV Title Type/Note

c1712-15 [BWV 142] Es ist ein Kind geboren, Chorus; probably by Kuhnau
12/25/13 ?BWV 63(a) Christen, ätzet diesen Tag Chorus, Proto
12/25/23 BWV 238 Sanctus in D Chorus
12/25/24 BWV 232III(/20) Sanctus in D Chorus, Re-Used
?after 1723 [Anh.161] Kundlich gross ist das gottselige, C.H. Graun Motet
12/25/35 So 1. Weihnachtstag - G.H. Stölzel: Uns ist ein Kind geboren, ein Sohn ist uns gegeben, Mus A 15:38 + Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget, Mus A 15:39 (Cycle, “The String Music of the Heart on the Day of the Lord,” Benjamin Schmolck)
12/25/36, Di 1. Weihnachtstag - ?. G.H. Stölzel or later, unknown (Cycle, “Book of Names of Christ and [all] Christians Opened Up,” Benjamin Schmolck

Commentaries on Cantata 91

An overview of Bach’s Christmas Day Cantatas, with special emphasis on Cantata 91, “somewhere between the monumental and personal expressions of the Christmas message,” is found in Julian Mincham’s Commentary, Chapter 28 BWV 91 “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, ”

A collection of BCW commentaries by Thomas Braatz cites Alfrd Dürr (movement analysis), Albert Schweitzer (solemnity & grief motifs), Ludwig Finscher (fantasia), Eric Chafe (incarnation/tonal allegory), Little & Jenne (tenor aria “saraband-like”), Daniel R. Melamed (fantasia), and David Humphreys (short summary), see Cantata 91 Commentary,

Various commentators and scholars have notices a range of strong contrasts embedded in the text and music of Cantata 91. Peter Smaill wrote (November 26, 2006):7 <<Chafe is perceptive on the ascent/descent nature of the writing in the Christmas Day Cantata for 1724, BWV 91, including a rising passus duriusculus in the second part of the duet, BWV 91/5, a figure previously associated with redemption.

The final "Kyrie eleis" displays the horns storming upwards at just about the same time as the vocal score of the original setting of the Chorale BWV 91/6 has an incredible descent by the basses to a low C. Is this the lowest note Bach ever wrote for his choristers? Yet again he is marking out a significant date with an unorthodox vocal/structural effect.

So the contrasts we have embedded in text and music : God v man; Universal God (Jesus) v tiny cradle; love v hate; poverty v abundance; mortal man v eternal; appointed time v eternity.

BWV 91 illustrates the contrast by a Corelli- style step bass, versus the dotted unison violins, to which the admixture of the sinuous AT duet creates the backdrop for lovely word-painting on "Engel Chor". Likewise , the Tenor aria BWV 91/3 contrasts a triple oboe royal flourish with a tenor line which is, in Whittaker's words, "a dignified cradle song" (though not always interpreted thus).

Further contrast is achieved in the chromaticism and key shifts of the bass recitative, BWV 91/4,": Jammerthal", the vale of tears , being illustrated in consecutive fifths.

Thus Bach continues to push out his deployment of unusual musical devices, and yet the burghers of Leipzig on Christmas Day 1724 likely returned home contented to feast away with the surface effect of a glorious fantasia (on Luther's hymn ) as the opening and closing effect, just as they desired.>>

Cantata 91 Movements, Scoring, Text, Key, and Meter are:8

1. Chorus fantasia (Stanza 1 unaltered) with ritornelli in two parts, C.F. soprano free polyphony or imitation, concertante intstruemtnal groups [SATB; Corno I/II, Timpani, Oboe I-III, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo):
A. “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (Praised be you, Jesus Christ); B. “Daß du Mensch geboren bist” (that you have been born as a man); G major; 4/4.

2. Chorale and Recitative secco (Stanza 2 paraphrase) and Chorale (Stanza 2 troped) [Soprano, Continuo]: A. recit., “Der Glanz der höchsten Herrlichkeit” . . . Hat in bestimmter Zeit / Sich einen Wohnplatz auserlesen” (The splendour of the highest glory . . . has at the appointed time / chosen a place to dwell); B. chorale, “Des ewgen Vaters einigs Kind” . . . Itzt man in der Krippe findt” (The only child of the eternal father . . . is now found in the manger); e minor; 4/4.
3. Aria free- da-capo (Stanzas 3-4 paraphrased) with ritornelli [Tenor; Oboe I-III, Continuo]: A. “Gott, dem der Erden Kreis zu klein” (God, for whom the orbit of the earth is too small), “Will in der engen Krippe sein” (is willing to be in the narrow manger); B. “Erscheinet uns dies ewge Licht” (There appears for us this eternal light); a minor; ¾ sarabande (chacnne/passacaglia).
4. Recitative secco (Stanza 5 paraphrased) with closing arioso (Adagio) [Bass; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. Recit., “O Christenheit! Wohlan, so mache dich bereit” (O Christendom! Come now, prepare yourself) . . .
“Er kömmt zu dir, um dich for seinen Thron” (He comes to you, in order to lead you); B. arioso, “Durch dieses Jammertal zu führen.” (through this vale of sorrow to his throne.); G to C Major; 4/4.
5. Aria da-capo (Stanza 6 paraphrased), imitation (Duet) [Soprano, Alto; Violino I/II all' unisono, Continuo): A. “Die Armut, so Gott auf sich nimmt / Hat uns ein ewig Heil bestimmt,” (The poverty that God takes upon himself / has appointed for us an everlasting salvation,); B. “Sein menschlich Wesen machet euch / Den Engelsherrlichkeiten gleich,” (His human existence makes you / like the glory of the angels); e minor, 4/4.
6. Chorale [SATB; Oboe I-III e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Corno I/II, Timpani, Continuo]: “Das hat er alles uns getan” (He has done all this for us); G Major; 4/4.

Gardiner: ‘Majestic” Cantata 91

Luther’s hymn is set “as a majestic chorale cantata,” says John Eliot Gardner in his 2005 liner notes to the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage on Soli Deo Gloria recordings.9 Cantata BWV 91, “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ,” “sets Luther’s hymn as a majestic chorale cantata. The opening fantasia has a buoyancy, swagger and – through the build-up of its running G major scales over or under sustained thirds in the horns – that special sense of expectation that is the hallmark of Bach in Christmas mode. It is one of those movements which expose his seventeenth-century roots – say, in the Zwiegesänge of Praetoriuin the way he sets ‘das ist wahr’ and the syncopated ‘Kyrie eleis’ with such unselfconscious abandon. The mood persists in the soprano recitative interwoven with the second verse of the hymn, and in the festive tenor aria set for three oboes swinging along like prototype saxophones: baroque big band music in the city of the Village Vanguard! Even at Christmas time Bach wouldn’t be Bach without a reference to the ‘vale of tears’ from which the newly incarnate Christ will lead us. He duly obliges with a slow, chromatic accompagnato (No.4) for bass and strings moving in contrary motion, which brings one up short. An extended duet for soprano and alto, with a dotted motif for the unison violins, postulates the poverty that God assumed by coming into the world and the ‘brimming store of heaven’s treasures’ bestowed on the believer. When he came to rework this cantata during the 1730s Bach added lilting syncopations to the vocal lines to illustrate the human aspiration to sing (and, by implication, dance) like the angels. These clash with the violins’ dotted figure and the polarity between them is reinforced by means of upward modulations, once in sharps (to symbolise man’s angel-directed aspirations), once in flats (to represent Jesus’ ‘human nature’). The final chorale is richly harmonised with the two horns and timpani working up to a rousing two-bar cadence.” © John Eliot Gardiner 2005; From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage

Cantata 91: Great Craftsmanship

Despite its brevity, Cantata 91 receives high praise for its craftsmanship in Klaus Hofmann detailed 2006 liner notes to the Misaaki Suzuki BIS complete sacred cantata recordings.10 <<The cantata ‘Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” was heard for the first time at the service in Leipzig on the first day of Christmas 1724. The Christmas carol on which it is based (and which is still often sung today) had long been associated with this day in Leipzig. Its text is by Martin Luther, who alluded in the first strophe to a late mediæval song; the melody too is based on an earlier model. The hymn is closely linked with the gospel reading for that day – Luke 2, 1-14, the story of the birth of Jesus, the annunciation to the shepherds and the angels’ song of praise.

As befits the status of this feast day, Bach’s orchestra includes not only strings and oboes but also horns and timpani, which give a particular splendour to the opening and concluding choruses. In the first movement, the three instrumental groups perform as separate entities in a lively alternation with and against each other. The motivic material that dominates the entire piece is presented in the opening bars, in canonlike writing above a pedal point. The hymn melody appears line by line in the soprano; the lower voices do not have the task of anticipating the cantus firmus entries but serve a purely contrapuntal function, taking their motivic material essentially from the orchestral ritornello.

In the text of the soprano recitative ‘Der Glanz der höchsten Herrlichkeit’ (‘The splendour of the highest magnificence’), Bach’s librettist has quoted almost all the lines of the original hymn – cf. the cantata Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott [chorale Cantata 101, Trinity +10]. Bach adopts a similar procedure as in that cantata, treating the chorale quotations as such in musical terms and emphasizing them by means of an ostinato motif the constantly repeats the first line of the chorale. The tenor aria ‘Gott, dem der Erden Kreis zu klein’ (‘God, for whom the earth’s orbit is too small’) seems to be intended as a scene by the manger, in which the three oboes represent the shepherds’ shawms. The dance-like character and folk style, reminiscent for instance of Polish folk music, also point in this direction. The bass recitative ‘O Christenheit! Wohlan, so mache dich bereit’ (‘O Christendom! Now make yourself ready’) has an especially striking ending, which uses the grand melodic span of a rising chromatic seventh as an image of the passage though the earthly ‘valley of torment’. In the soprano and alto duet ‘Die Armut, so Gott auf sich nimmt’ (‘The poverty that God assumes’) Bach assigns a special role to the violins. Throughout the first part of the movement they insist on the rhythmically stereotyped figures from the opening ritornello. It would seem, however, that Bach saw this as a means of unifying the movement by means of a single motivic backdrop; in the vocal parts, new themes constantly emerge from the text. In the middle of the aria we find a release from the stereotypes and, simultaneously, a concentration of the thematic action: the continuo takes up the violins’ motifs, and both instrumental parts adopt the chromaticism of the vocal lines. The cantata ends simply with the last strophe of Luther’s hymn. In the last two bars, however, the horns and drums recall the festive splendour of the introductory chorus with a sort of flourish on the words ‘Kyrie eleis’ (‘Lord, have mercy’).>> © Klaus Hofmann 2006


1 Cantata 91, BCW Details & Discography,
2 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: Christmas Day Commentary, 83-89; Cantata 91 text & Luther hymn text, 98-101; Cantata 91 Commentary, 100-107).
3 Streck, Die Verskunst in den poetischen Texten zu den Kantaten J. S. Bachs. Dissertation: University Hamburg 1971; Arthur Hirsch, “JSB’s Cantatas in Chronological Order,” BACH, Riemenschneider Institute 11 (July 1980): 18, 25f).
4 Luther’s Works, Vol. 53, Liturgy and Hymns; ed. Ulrich S. Leupold (Fortress Press: Philadelphia PA, 1965: 240, 25).
5 Cantata 91, BCML Discussions, Part 4,
6 Mincham, The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A listener and student guide, Revised 2014; Home Page,
7 Smaill commentary, Cantata 91, Discussions Part 2,
8 Scoring, Soloists: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass; 4-part Chorus; Orchestra: 2 horns, timpani, 3 oboes, 2 violins, viola, continuo. Score Vocal & Piano [1.45 MB],, Score BGA [2.50 MB, References: BGA: XXII (Cantatas 91-100, Wilhelm Rust 1875), NBA KB I/2 (Cantatas for Christmas Day, Alfred Dürr, 1957), Bach Compendium BC: A 9a (earlier version); A 9b (later version), Zwang: K 101. Provenance, Thomas Braatz wrote (April 22, 2003): “The Autograph Score” (Penzel, Schuster, Hauser), “The Original Parts” (Anna Magdalena Bach, St. Thomas) “The Text” (?Picander (Wustmann); see BCW,
9 Gardiner notes,[sdg113_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details,
10 Hofmann liner notes,[BIS-SACD1481].pdf; BCW Recording details,


To Come: Cantata 91, Part 2, Musical Context of Bach Cantatas, Motets & Chorales for Events in the Lutheran Church Year: Christmas Day (Dec 25): Musical sequence Christmas Day (motets & chorales), Chorales used in Bach’s Christmas works; and the NLGB hymns for Christmas Day.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 11, 2014):
Cantata BWV 91 - Revised & updated Discography

The discography pages of the Chorale Cantata BWV 91 “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” for Christmas Day on the BCW have been revised and updated.
The cantata is scored for soprano, alto, tenor & bass soloists; 4-part chorus; and orchestra of 2 horns, timpani, 3 oboes, 2 violins, viola & continuo. See:
Complete Recordings (13):
Recordings of Individual Movements (6):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

I have also added to the movement pages of this cantata an option to move back and forth between the movements and to each movement page the relevant portion of the BGA score. See:

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios and 2 videos of the cantata. A short description below the audio/video image is linked to the full details at the discography pages.

I believe this is the most comprehensive discography of this chorale cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 91 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.

You can also read on the BCW William Hoffman's detailed introduction to this week's discussion of the cantata in the BCML (4th round):

Charles Francis wrote (December 12, 2014):
[To Aryeh Oron] Wow! The tuning in the "Alabado seas Jesús" example you put up to watch is extraordinary!!!

William Hoffmasn wrote (December 13, 2014):
Cantata BWV 91, 'Gelobet seist du' & Other Christmas Chorales

[Cantata 91, Part 2, Musical Context of Bach Cantatas, Motets & Chorales for Events in the Lutheran Church Year: Christmas Day (Dec 25),; Musical sequence for Christmas Day (motets & chorales), Chorales used in Bach’s Christmas works; and the NLGB hymns for Christmas Day.]

Luther’s popular Christmas chorale, “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (All Praise to Thee, O Jesus Christ), was the Hymn of the Day (de tempore) during Christmas Time in Leipzig, says Bach’s hymnbook, the Vopelius Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch of 1682.1 Its standing for the first and third days of Christmas and Bach’s uses are affirmed in Günther Stiller’s JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig.2 In addition to the five performances of Cantata 91 in Leipzig, Bach used the chorale in the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, and Christmas chorus Cantata 64, as well as in organ chorale prelude settings and in two free-standing plain chorales.

Besides chorale Cantata 91, “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (G Major, using Stanzas 1, 2, and 7), Bach first used the hymn in Cantata 64, “Sehet, Welch eine Liebe, for the Third Day of Christmas, 1723, as a plain chorale, “Das hat er alles uns getan (Stanza 7, mixolydian) as well as the same stanza plain chorale in the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248/28 (III/5) for the Third Day of Christmas (A Major mixolydian), and also as plain chorale 248/7 with Stanza 6, “Er ist auf Erden kommen arm,” for Christmas Day, 1734 (G Major). Bach also set the melody as a plain chorale, BWV 314, ?c.1730, in A Major). It is also found in Sebastian Bach’s Chorale Buch c.1740, as Nos. 8 and 20 (Zahn melody 1947) in the cantus firmus and basso continuo.

There are various setting of organ chorale preludes on “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ.” Best known are BWV 604 (Orgelbüchlein No. 7, 1713/15, G Major), and BWV 697 (Kirnberger, 1707/17, part of a possible fughetta cycle for Advent and Christmas, part of the so-called “J. P. Kirnberger collection” (1777, purchased from Breitkopf and similar to copies owned by Bach students C. F. Penzel and J. C. Oley). Another organ chorale prelude setting, BWV 323 (Miscellaneous, G major), is not included in the NBA – is currently listed by the Grove Music Online dictionary as being a composition by Johann Michael Bach in the Neumeister Collection. Also disputed is the Miscellaneous short prelude setting, BWV 722, part of a student collection of four Christmas chorales, and its variant, BWV 722a (both in G Major), says Peter Williams in The Organ Music of Bach.3

For centuries, “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” “has been the prominent hymn (Hauptlied) for Christmas Day in German speaking Lutheranism, but has also been used in different translations internationally,” says Wikipedia (,_Jesu_Christ). “It has appeared in hymnals of various denominations including the Catholic Church.” Various sources are found in English translations. As “All Praise to Your, Eternal Lord,” it is No. 48 in the Christmas Section of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Aubsburg Publishing, Minneapolis MN, 1978). Five stanzas are used with the “Hallelujah” ending instead of “Kyrieoleis” (Lord have mercy). It is entitled “All Praise to Thee, Eternal God,” No. 80 in the Christmas section, with five similar stanzas and ending with the “Hallelujah,” in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod hymnbook, The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, 1941). A different melody with text, “Good Christians Friends, Rejoice and Sing!” (Cyril A. Arlington, 1872-1955), is No. 385 in the Easter section of the current Evangelical Lutheran Worship Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis MI, 2006, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). The melody is entitled Gelobet sei Gott and attributed to Melchior Vulpius (1570-1615),

Christmas Day Musical Sequence

In the MUSICAL SEQUENCE FOR CHRISTMAS DAY, 4 BCW contributor Douglas Cowling lists various liturgical musical settings, including motets and chorales as well as Latin settings of the Kyrie and Gloria. Following the Epistle: Titus 2:11-14 (The grace of God has appeared), Cowling lists the organ prelude for the Congregational Gradual Hymn of the Day (de tempore) as “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ.” Here is the complete musical sequence:

+Tower bells rung at 6 am and again at 7 am: The 5200 kg bell “Gloriosa” (1477) (pitched in A) was rung only on festivals. Candles lit at 7 am, Archdeacon of Leipzig officiates as celebrant; Deacon assists. Musicians must be in loft by final bell or be fined.
+Organ Prelude on “Puer Natus” (BWV 603 ­ Orgelbüchlein?). Settings by Bach or other composers before all chorales & choral works:
+Introit Hymn/Motet by Choir: “Puer Natus In Bethlehem.” Settings by Praetorius or Schein are possible. 5
+Organ Prelude before Kyrie to establish key and cover tuning.
+Missa Brevis: Kyrie & Gloria (Plainsong Gloria intonation sung by Celebrant),
A concerted setting in Latin was sung from Christmas Day to Epiphany.
Bach¹s own missae breve are generally from his later tenure in Leipzig but may have been used with later performances of the cantata: B minor (1733) ­ used in B Minor Mass (BWV 232) [only missa brevis with brass];
BWV 233 - F major (1738) based on Christmas Cantata 40, “Dazu ist Erscheinen”; BWV 233a ­ Kyrie (1708-1712); BWV 234 ­ A major (1738); BWV 235 ­ G minor (1738); BWV 236 ­ G Major (1738).
+Collect/Prayer of Day sung in Latin plainsong by Celebrant. Choral Responses sung to four-part polyphony from Vopelius collection Neue Leipziger Gesangbuch (Ibid.: FN 1).
+Epistle: Titus 2:11-14 (The grace of God has appeared) sung by Deacon in German to plainsong:
+Organ Prelude on “Gelobet seist du” (BWV 314 or 604?), Congregational Gradual Hymn of the Day (de tempore): “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ”:
+Gospel choral responses sung in six-part polyphony from Vopelius collection. Gospel: Luke 2: 1-14 (Birth of Christ) sung by Deacon in German to plainsong:
+Organ Prelude on “Wir glauben all an einen Gott” (BWV 1098?), Congregational Creed Chorale: “Wir glauben all an einen Gott” (Luther).
+Organ Prelude before Cantata: First Cantata (1723); BWV 63 ­ “Christen, ätzet diesen Tag”; chorale Cantata 91, “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (1724).
+Organ Prelude on “Ein Kindelein so löbelich” (BWV 719?), Congregational Pulpit Hymn after the Cantata (Offertory), “Ein Kindelein so löbelich.”
+Sursum Corda sung in Latin in six-part polyphony from Vopelius collection
Preface sung in Latin by Celebrant.
+Sanctus (without Benedictus), A concerted setting was sung in Latin during Christmas week. Two settings date from same year (1723) as Cantata 63: BWV 237 ­ C major [with brass], BWV 238 ­ D major. Sanctus BWV 232iii sung in 1724. Hand bells rung at the altar at the end of the Sanctus.
+Verba (Words of Institution) sung in German plainsong by Celebrant.
+Second Cantata “sub communione” during Communion? Unknown if by Bach or other composer;Bach¹s motet “Lobet den Herrn” has a traditional Christmas text.
+Other congregational hymns during Communion: introduced by organ prelude, “Ich freue mich in dir” (Ziegler), ”Wir Christenleut: (Fuger).
+Final Prayer & Benediction: sung with 4 part polyphony from Vopelius.
Organ Prelude on “Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem,” Final Congregational Hymn: “Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem.” German repeat of Introit chorale.

CHRISTMAS CHORALES listed in the NLGB (The two chorale texts, “Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her” and “Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar”, are quite similar in content just as the melody for “Puer natus in Bethlehem” has much in common with the melody for “Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar”)
”Vom “Himmel hoch da kam ich her” (Luther, NLGB 12); BWV 248/9 (6), 243a/A (1), BWV 606 (Orgelbüchlein 9), 700, 701, 738(a), 769(a) (Canonic Variations), Anh. 63-64.
“Vom Himmel kam der Engle Schar” (Luther, NLGB 13), BWV 607 (Orgelbüchlein 9).
“A solis ortus” (J. H. Schein, NLB 14), not set by Bach.
“Christum wir sollen dich loben schon (Luther, NLGB 15), BWV 121/1, BWV 121/6(8); BWV 611, 696.
“Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” (Luther, NLGB 16) BWV 64/2(7), BWV 91/1(1), BWV 91/2(2), BWV 91/6 (7), BWV 248/7(6), BWV 248/28 (7); BWV 314, 604 , 697, 722(a), 723.
“Der Tag, der ist so Freudenreich (Luther, NLGB 18), BWV 294 605, 719.
“Nun ist es Zeit zu singen hell (Helmbold, NLGB 19), not set by Bach.
“In dulci jubilo” (Anon., NLGB 20), BWV 368, 608, 729.
“Puer natus in Bethlehem (Anon., NLGB 21a) BWV 65/2, 603 (or “Ein Kind geboren in Bethlehem,” NLGB 21b).
“Un ist geboren ein Kindlein (Luther, NLGB 22), not set by Bach.
“Weil Maria schwanger ging (Michael Weiss, NLGB 25), not set by Bach.
“Heut sind die lieben Engelein” (N. Hermann, NLGB 27), not set by Bach.
“Uns ist ein Kindlein heut geboren” (Anon., NLGB 28), BWV 414 (mel. “Ach, bleib, bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ”).
“Laßt uns alle fröliche sein” (J. Forster, NLGB 29), not set by Bach.
“Wir Christenleut!” (Füger, NLGB 30) BWV 40/3(3), BWV 110/7(5), BWV 248/14(12), 612, 710, 1090.

“Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzugleich” (N. Hermann, NLGB 31) BWV 151/5(8), 609, 732.
“Ermuntre dich, mein schwachen Geist” (J. Rist, NLGB 37) BWV 248/12(9), 454.
“Dancksagen wir alle” (sequence Grates nunc omnes,” Balbulus, NLGB 39a,b.
“Virga Jesse flourit” (Anon, NLGB 40), 243a/D.

OTHER CHORALES USED IN BACH CHRISTMAS WORKS (Some are found in other sections of the NLGB or are more contemporary, such as the Paul Gerhardt chorales, four found in the Christmas Oratorio (1534).
“Ach lieben Christen seid getrost” (Gigas, NLGB 326, Death & Dying) 256 (mel. “Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt”).
“Freuet euch, ihr Christen alle” (Hagius, NLGB 116, Ascension) BWV 40/8(4).
“Hast du den, Jesu” (Fritsch, 1668, Soul/Christ dialogue, not in NLGB) (mel. Lobe den Herren, den (Ch.) BWV 57/8(6).
“Ich freue mich in dir” (Ziegler, 1697; not in NLGB) BWV 133/1, BWV 133/6(4), 465 (SG).
“Ich freue mich in dir” (Ziegler 1697, not in NLGB) BWV 197a/7(4)=398 (mel. “O Gott, du frommer Gott”).
“Jesu, meine Freude” (Francke, NLGB 301, Cross, Persecution) BWV 64/8(5), 610 (OB).
“Nun freut euch, Gotteskinder all” (Alberus, NLGB 114, Ascension), BWV 387.
“Schaut, schaut, was ist für Wunder dar” (Gerhardt 1666, not in NLGB) BWV 248/17(8) (mel. “Vom Himmel hoch”).
“Schwing dich auf zu deinen Gott” (Gerhardt 1653, not in NLGB), BWV 40/6(2) (mel. Meine Hoffnung stehet feste”).
“Warum sollt ich mich den grämmen” (Gerhardt 1653, not in NLGB) BWV 248/33(15) (mel. “Frolich soll mein. Herze springen”).
“Was frag ich nach der Welt” (Pfefferkorn 1667, not in NLGB), BWV 64/4 (mel. O Gott, du frommer Gott).
“Wie soll ich dich empfangen” (Gerhardt 1653, not in NLGB) BWV 248/5(8) (mel. Herzlich tut mich verlangen)
“Wir singen dir, Immanuel” (Gerhardt 1653, not in NLGB), 248/23 (mel. “Vom Himmel hoch” (Ch.).

Excellent chorale resource, thanks to Thomas Braatz, Francis Browne & Aryeh Oron are:


1 NLGB, BACH'S HYMN BOOK: Jürgen Grimm, "Das neu [?] Leipziger Gesangbuch des Gottfried Vopelius (Leipzig 1682),"Berlin: Merseburger, 1969. ML 3168 G75.
2 Stiller, JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, English Ed. with extensive footnotes (Concordia Publishing: St. Louis Mo. 1984: 234).
3 Williams, Bach Organ Music, 2nd ed. (Cambridge Univ. Press 2003: 464-66).
4 Cowling (February 6, 2009), Cantata 63, BCML Discussions Parts 3,
5 BACH'S MOTET COLLECTION: Otto Riemer, "Erhard Bodenschatz und sein Florilegium Portense" Schünigen: Kaminsky,1927; ML 410 B67R4.

Charles Francis wrote (December 14, 2014):
Further to my remark, the article at the link below 'Intonation Standards and Equal Temperament' by Beverly Jerold, explains how the equal tempered continuo resolved the baroque intonation problem:


Cantata BWV 91: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
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