Bach Cantata BWV 63 is the grandest and most ambitious of all of Bach's Weimar cantatas. Both Bach and the poet Salomo Franck pull out all of the stops to produce a work of monumentality and power. The work opens with a large-scale chorus with an orchestra of 4 trumpets, tympani, 3 oboes, strings and continuo. Franck, who was also head of the Weimar Mint, uses a metaphor of engraving on metal and stone to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Just as the first chorus shows the ultimate in outgoing exuberance, the alto recitative is full of the profoundest inward feeling. This is perhaps the greatest accompanied recitative in all of the Bach cantatas. The middle section of the cantata is made up of two duets. The first, for soprano and bass with oboe obbligato, is austere and otherworldly; the second, for alto, tenor and strings is earthy, bumptious and dancing. Throughout the cantata the two elements of Christmas, the mysterious and the down-to-earth, are constantly juxtaposed. A bravura bass recitative with brass and winds leads us into the glorious final chorus, a work as brilliant as the opening but with even more detail and character.

©Craig Smith

Back to Bach Notes & Translations