12.16.2010

Christmas Offering 1: Bach/Caravaggio


As an interdisciplinarian nerdophile, this Christmas season my bowl of cheer comes in the form of a visual/aural meditation upon the Nativity. Please enjoy my musings and if you have any oratorios or cantatas I missed, let me know.
Picture
Caravaggio
Christmas Oratorio, Part 1
Johann Sebastian Bach
1734

In reality designating six oratorios (BWV 248 1-6) based on Christmas themes, I'm focusing on the first which depicts the nativity. Feel free to listen to the others if you have 3+ hours free for Lutheran/Baroque yumminess. Narrative elements from Luke are interpolated in this cantata with poetic recitatives, arias, and selected verses from German chorales.

The painting is a nativity by Italian painter Machelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)  from 1609. Bach's cantata (indeed all of his cantatas) for me suggest a multifaceted world: opens with a grand, polyphonic cosmos, focuses in on issues of the heart, flashes to rural scenes of Biblical travel, child birth, evokes traditional piety with snatches of Lutheran hymnody. This Caravaggio evokes some of that for me. Mary is tired. Sts. Francis and Lawrence stand in for shepherds. The blond shepherd is surprised to see them. The angel indicates that more banner carrying seraphic messengers are on their way. The manger background is disorderly. Disparate elements of faith and tradition unified in the Renaissance triangle and in the Lutheran cantata.

Movement 5: Chorus

Wie soll ich dich empfangen
Und wie begen' ich dir?
O aller Welt Verlangen,
O meiner Seelen Zier!
O Jesu, Jesu, setze
Mir selbst die Fackel bei,
Damit, was dich ergötze,
Mir kund und wissent sei!

--Paul Gerhardt
trans.
How shall I then receive thee
And how thy presence find?
Desire of ev'ry nation,
O glory of my soul!
O Jesus, Jesus,
Set out for me thy torch,
That all that brings thee pleasure
By me be clearly known.

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