Christmas cantata

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Christmas cantata, Minas Gerais, 2010

A Christmas cantata or Nativity cantata is a cantata, music for voice or voices in several movements, for Christmas. The importance of the feast inspired many composers to write cantatas for the occasion, some designed to be performed in church services, others for concert or secular celebration. The Christmas story, telling of music of the angels and suggesting music of the shepherds and cradle song, invited musical treatment. The term is called Weihnachtskantate in German, Cantate de Noël in French. Christmas cantatas have been written on texts in several other languages, such as Czech, Italian, Romanian, and Spanish.

Christmas cantata can also mean the performance of the music. Many choirs have a tradition of an annual Christmas cantata.

Theme[edit]

Different from Christmas oratorios, which present the Christmas story, Christmas cantatas deal with aspects of it. Bach's Christmas Oratorio, written for the season 1734/1735 touches many of these themes. It consists of six parts, each part is a complete work and composed for the church service of a specific feast day. Bach structured the report from the Gospels which connects the parts to a whole, as told by the Evangelist, in six topics. In Parts I to IV he followed the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:3–21), in Parts V and VI the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 2:1–12). In some instances he deviated from the prescribed readings, rather continuing the tradition of older works by Heinrich Schütz and others.[1]

These themes appear also in cantatas of later composers.

History[edit]

Many Christmas cantatas – as cantatas in general – were written in the Baroque era for church services, related to the prescribed readings of the liturgical year. Cantata texts frequently incorporated Bible quotations and chorale. Chorale cantatas rely on the text of one chorale only. Later composers also set free text, poems and carols.

Italian baroque[edit]

The cantata form originated in Italy, alongside the oratorio. Carissimi's pupil Marc-Antoine Charpentier brought the small-scale Latin Christmas oratorio to Paris (In nativitatem Domini canticum), while the vernacular Italian Christmas cantata was developed by composers such as Alessandro Stradella (Si apra al riso ogni labro 1675), Francesco Provenzale[2] (Per la nascita del Verbo 1683) and Alessandro Scarlatti in Naples, Antonio Caldara in Vienna (Vaticini di pace 1713).

German baroque[edit]

Bach[edit]

The best known Christmas cantatas today are those of Johann Sebastian Bach, who composed several cantatas for the three days of Christmas in his three annual cantata cycles (1723 to 1725), also before and afterwards:

In the works of Bach's second cycle of chorale cantatas (1724), the text of the chorale is kept for the outer stanzas, but rephrased in poetry for arias and recitatives in the other stanzas. His late cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo is derived from the Gloria in his Missa, BWV 232a, which he had composed for the court of Dresden in 1733 and would later incorporate in his Mass in B minor. Therefore the cantata is for five parts and in Latin. The text of the liturgical Gloria begins with the angels' song, as a link to the Christmas story.

Other German Baroque composers[edit]

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel composed for the season 1736/1737 a structure of six cantatas for six feast days around Christmas, similar to Bach's Christmas Oratorio.[3] More of his Christmas cantatas were published in 2007 by Hofmeister.[4] Christmas cantatas were also composed by Georg Gebel, Christoph Graupner, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Arnold Brunckhorst, Johann Samuel Beyer, Philipp Buchner, David Pohle, Johann Herman Schein and Thomas Selle, among others.

Classical period[edit]

During the Age of Enlightenment, church music was less prominent. In 1796 Jakub Jan Ryba wrote Česká mše vánoční, which tells within the frame of a Mass a Christmas story in Czech, set in pastoral Bohemia.

Romantic period[edit]

During the romantic era, Felix Mendelssohn composed the chorale cantata Vom Himmel hoch (in German), based on Martin Luther's song, and Josef Rheinberger wrote Der Stern von Bethlehem (The star of Bethlehem, in German), on a text by his wife Franziska von Hoffnaaß. Christmas cantatas were also composed by Gerard von Brucken Fock (1900) and Charles H. Gabriel, among others.

20th century[edit]

In the 20th century, Benjamin Britten set in 1942 a sequence of carols as A Ceremony of Carols. His cantata Saint Nicolas, written in 1948, after World War II, has also been termed a Christmas cantata. Rudolf Mauersberger composed for the Dresdner Kreuzchor which he conducted, Eine kleine Weihnachtskantate (A little Christmas cantata). Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote Hodie, and Arthur Honegger composed as his last work Une cantate de Noël for the Basler Kammerchor and their founder Paul Sacher.[5] He began his work with a setting of Psalm 130 and continued with carols.[6] Christmas cantatas were also composed by Geoffrey Bush, Steve Dobrogosz, Geoffrey Grey, Iain Hamilton, Julius Harrison, Hans Uwe Hielscher, Mathilde Kralik, Ivana Loudová, Daniel Pinkham (1957),[7] Ned Rorem, K. Lee Scott, Otto Albert Tichý and Arnold van Wyk, among others. A Christmas cantata outside the classical music tradition was the 1986 project The Animals' Christmas by Jimmy Webb and Art Garfunkel.

21st century[edit]

In the 21st century, new Christmas cantatas have been written among others by Toshio Hosokawa[8] and Graham Waterhouse.[9] Christmas cantatas were also composed by Jason Bare and George Draga (2005), among others.

Scoring[edit]

All Christmas cantatas consist of several movements, most movements include solo and choral singing. The scoring can be chamber music to be performed by single singers and instruments, choir a cappella, and works for soloists, choir and orchestra. Several composers specifically asked for a children's choir. Trumpets feature prominently in many Baroque cantatas as the Royal instruments.

Selected cantatas[edit]

The table used abbreviations: S = soprano, MS = mezzo-soprano, A = alto, T = tenor, Bar = baritone, B = bass, childr = children's choir, Str = strings, Instr = instruments, Tr = tromba (trumpet), Co = horn, Cn = cornett, Tb = trombone, Ti = timpani, Fl = recorder, Ft = flauto traverso, Ob = oboe, Oa = Oboe d'amore, Oc = Oboe da caccia, Vn = violin, Va = viola, Vc = cello, Fg = bassoon, Org = organ), Bc = basso continuo

Composer born Cantata title No. Text composed Scoring Premiere Notes
ProvenzaleFrancesco Provenzale 1624 Sui palchi delle stelle 1689 S
2Vl Bc
[10]
CaresanaCristoforo Caresana 1640? L'Adoratione de' Maggi 1676 6 voices [11]
KuhnauJohann Kuhnau 1660 Uns ist ein Kind geboren BWV 142 A T B SATB
2Fl 2Ob 2Vl Va Bc
first attributed to Bach
ZachowFriedrich Wilhelm Zachow 1663 Uns ist ein Kind geboren S A T B SATB
Ob Fg 2Vl 2Va Bc
[12] and others
BrunckhorstArnold Matthias Brunckhorst 1670? Nun zeiget der Himmel die schönsten Gebärden / In festo nativitate Christi S A T B SATB
6 Instr Bc
TelemannGeorg Philipp Telemann 1681 Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe
In festo nativitatis
S A T B SATB
3Tr Ti Str Bc
BachJohann Sebastian Bach 1685 Christen, ätzet diesen Tag BWV 63 Johann Michael Heineccius? 1713? S A T B SATB
4Tr Ti 3Ob Fg 2Vl Va Bc
First Day
BachJohann Sebastian Bach 1685 Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget BWV 64 1723 S A B SATB
Cn 3Tb Oa 2Vl Va Bc
1723-12-2727 Dec 1723
Leipzig
Third Day
BachJohann Sebastian Bach 1685 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ BWV 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ 1724 S A T B SATB
2Co Ti 3Ob 2Vl Va Bc
1724-12-2525 Dec 1724
Leipzig
chorale
BachJohann Sebastian Bach 1685 Christum wir sollen loben schon BWV 121 Christum wir sollen loben schon 1724 S A T B SATB
Cn 3Tr Oa 2Vl Va Bc
1724-12-2626 Dec 1724
Leipzig
Second Day, chorale
BachJohann Sebastian Bach 1685 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens BWV 110 Georg Christian Lehms 1725 S B SATB
3Tr Ti 2Ft 3Ob Oa Oc Fg 2Vl Va Bc
1725-12-2525 Dec 1725
Leipzig
First Day
BachJohann Sebastian Bach 1685 Selig ist der Mann BWV 57 Georg Christian Lehms 1725 S B SATB
2Ob 2Vl Va Bc
1725-12-2626 Dec 1725
Leipzig
Second Day
BachJohann Sebastian Bach 1685 Gloria in excelsis Deo BWV 191 1745 S T SSATB
3Tr Ti 2Ft 2Ob 2Vl Va Bc
1745-12-2525 Dec 1745 First Day
RinckChristian Heinrich Rinck 1777 Weihnachtskantate op. 73 [13]
MendelssohnFelix Mendelssohn 1809 Vom Himmel hoch MWV A 10 Vom Himmel hoch 1831 S Bar SSATB
Orchester
chorale
RheinbergerJosef Rheinberger 1839 Der Stern von Bethlehem Franziska von Hoffnaaß 1891 soli choir
Orchester
MaunderJohn Henry Maunder 1858 Bethlehem Catharine Morgan 1939? in the manner of the medieval miracle play
ReedWilliam Reed 1859 The Message of the Angels 1910
WoyrschFelix Woyrsch 1860 Die Geburt Jesu op. 18 Bible 1910 soli choir
orchestra
WilliamsRalph Vaughan Williams 1872 Hodie Ursula Vaughan Williams[14] 1953–54 S T Bar choir
orchestra
[5]
RespighiOttorino Respighi 1879 Lauda per la Natività del Signore Jacopone da Todi? 1930 S MS T SSAATTBB
woodwinds, piano 4 hands
[5]
BraunfelsWalter Braunfels 1882 Der gläserne Berg, Weihnachtsmärchen op. 39 1928
BraunfelsWalter Braunfels 1882 Weihnachtskantate op. 52 1934–37 S Bar
choir
orchestra
MauersbergerRudolf Mauersberger 1889 Weihnachtszyklus der Kruzianer 1944–46 soli choir SATB SATB a cappella (piano)
MauersbergerRudolf Mauersberger 1889 Eine kleine Weihnachtskantate 1948
Martin, FFrank Martin 1890 Cantate pour le temps de Noel 1929–30
FinziGerald Finzi 1893 Dies natalis Thomas Traherne 1939 S (T)
Str
HoneggerArthur Honegger 1893 Une cantate de Noël Ps. 130, Lieder 1952–53 Bar choir childr
Org orchestra
1953-12-1818 Dec 1953
Basel
[5]
HessenbergKurt Hessenberg 1908 Weihnachtskantate op. 27 Matthias Claudius 1950–51 S A SSATBB
orchestra
published by Schott[15]
BrittenBenjamin Britten 1913 A Ceremony of Carols op. 28 1942 boys' choir
harp
[5]
WebberWilliam Lloyd Webber 1913 Born a King soli choir
Org
HoibyLee Hoiby 1926 A Hymn of the Nativity Richard Crashaw
BécaudGilbert Bécaud 1927 L'enfant à L'étoile 1960
RamírezAriel Ramírez 1927 Navidad Nuestra Félix Luna 1963 S T choir
South American instr
WilliamsonMalcolm Williamson 1931 Adoremus 1959 A T SATB
Org
LindbergNils Lindberg 1933 A Christmas Cantata 2002 S Bar chamber choir
big band
St Matthew and carols, recorded[16]
LeeThomas Oboe Lee 1945 Christmas Cantata 2001 MS SATB
2Tr 2Tb Ti Org
SkellernPeter Skellern 1947 The Nativity Cantata 2004 20042004
KvěchOtomar Kvěch 1950 Vánoční chvalozpěv 1973 soli choir
orchestra
CarlsonMark Carlson 1952 A Wreath of Anthems various American poets 1990 SATB
orchestra
HosokawaToshio Hosokawa 1955 Weihnachtskantate anon. 2002 S A choir
orchestra
2002-12-2020 Dec 2002
München
published by Schott[8]
WaterhouseGraham Waterhouse 1962 Der Anfang einer neuen Zeit Hans Krieger 2011 S Bar choir childr
Str (Org)
2011-12-033/4 Dec 2011
Essen
[9]
MagleFrederik Magle 1977 A newborn child, before eternity, God! 1996 soli choir
brass band, Org, percussion

Literature[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Blankenburg: Das Weihnachtsoratorium von Johann Sebastian Bach. 2003, S. 34–35.
  2. ^ Dinko Fabris Francesco Provenzale 2007
  3. ^ David Vernier (2005). "Stölzel: Christmas Oratorio - Epistle Cantatas" (in German). ArkivMusik. Retrieved 16 December 2011. 
  4. ^ "Edition Denkmäler Mitteldeutscher Barockmusik" (in German). mitteldeutsche-barockmusik.de. 2011. Retrieved 31 August 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Benjamin G. Cohrs (2 December 2002). "Weihnachtskantaten – einmal anders" (in German). klassik-heute.com. Retrieved 8 December 2011. 
  6. ^ "Une Cantate de Noël". Hyperion Records. 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2011. 
  7. ^ "Daniel Pinkham, Christmas Cantata", choralnet.org
  8. ^ a b "Weihnachtskantate Komponist: Toshio Hosokawa". Schott. Retrieved 8 December 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "Der Anfang einer neuen Zeit". Graham Waterhouse. Retrieved 7 December 2011. 
  10. ^ Dinko Fabris (2007). Music in seventeenth-century Naples: Francesco Provenzale (1624-1704). Ashgate Publishing. Retrieved 14 December 2011. 
  11. ^ "L'Adoratione de' Maggi". arkivmusic.com. 2010. Retrieved 14 December 2011. 
  12. ^ "Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow: Uns ist ein Kind geboren". Carus-Verlag. 2011. Retrieved 16 December 2011. 
  13. ^ "Christian Heinrich Rinck (1770–1846)". musicweb-international.com. 2008. Retrieved 14 December 2011. 
  14. ^ "Ursula Vaughan Williams (obituary)". The Times. 25 October 2007. 
  15. ^ "Weihnachtskantate Komponist: Kurt Hessenberg". Schott. Retrieved 8 December 2011. 
  16. ^ John France (2004). "Nils LINDBERG (b. 1933) / A Christmas Cantata (2002)". musicweb-international.com. Retrieved 13 December 2011.