Looking at life... from an oblique angle / and I sometimes Twitter (normally only when riled up): @brindafella

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Sing a song of Six-pence (or, Bach's Christmas Oratorio)

I'm singing in J.S. Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" this Saturday. It's fabulous. will give you the links to detail about the work that is "Christmas" while Messiah is actually "Easter".

Bach was, of course, essentially the court musician while from 1722 until his death in 1750 he was as cantor (singing leader) at St Thomas's church in Leipzig, one of the most important posts in Protestant Germany. The princes treated their musicians as lackeys and Bach was once imprisoned by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar for insubordination.

Yet, Bach was also the popular music composer. In this work he brings together several of the secular works he'd written and adapts pieces of the Bible and church liturgy around them to make them sacred. In this way, he appealed to the masses who already knew his work.

In today's genre, imagine “Killing Heidi”, “Destiny's Child” (which recently sang for the Salvos), Billy Joel or (better) Bono from U2, reworking the words of several of their albums into six concerts for a Christmas festival at a major church. (Wouldn’t that be an idea!) Actually, U2 has a significant amount of spiritual analysis built into their songs, so the analogy isn't far from the mark.

Anyway, Bach's Christmas Oratorio is no slouch. It's technically difficult in many places, and is not slow. Of course, it can be played slow and boring, too, but that's not how Bach wrote it.

The Christmas Oratorio has six parts, each one for a particular Christmas day. The work was composed for the 1734-35 season when Bach was 50 years old. It is a festive work mainly in major keys. Also, most of the arias are "parodies" - the music already existed in Bach secular cantatas and was set to new (liturgical) text. Much of it comes across as Germanic music to the core with an infectious swagger; not pompous, but rather assured and complicated but in an accessible way. It was music for the common man and woman, taking the secular and making it holy.

If anyone is in Canberra, do come along. Or, plan to be here in mid-May for Verdi's "Requiem".

While I'm at it... Think about the musical production house that Bach presided over. His tribe of some 20 children (to two wives) were well trained in copying music for the performers to use. (This was probably more reliable system than a photocopier...)


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