My wife Margaret and I found our way to Emmanuel many years ago, when Craig Smith offered her a position in the Emmanuel Music chorus.And that first Easter, there was music we'd never encountered in church before - a jazz ensemble and Bach's BWV 4. Plenty of brass in the jazz band, but not even one trumpet to herald the Resurrection in the cantata. Craig said trumpeters were hard to find for Easter Sunday - and too expensive; that's why we always heard "Kreestlahg," as the musicians said. But I'm not so sure about that; I think Craig loved it, and Margaret and I soon came to love it too.
Both somber and fierce, this cantata in words and music tells about Jesus' struggle against Lord Death, and how that was a brutal battle he had to win. This piece is primarily in the realm of minor keys, with flickerings of major chords now and again. There are only glimmers of the swirling, twirling, dancing joy of the Easter Oratorio. Perhaps this is music for the Easter Vigil, before the dawning sun's full blaze.
Craig connected BWV 4 to a painting by Piero della Francesca of the (just) risen Christ, because it too describes the Resurrection in the same way. Jesus stands with one leg up on a plinth, perhaps a coffin, holding (or maybe supporting himself with) a battle flag. He's bloody, bruised and exhausted from his ordeal - and that's what this music tells us.
Before we can truly rejoice, we need to hear this story. We may be in church, or we may be peering at a video screen, but I can imagine we're huddled around a campfire listening to a musical telling of how Der Würger - The Strangler - could not, and cannot win.