Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend, BWV 248 II

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Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend
Part II of Christmas Oratorio
Christmas cantata by J. S. Bach
Autograph of the beginning of the Sinfonia
CatalogueBWV 248 II
Performed26 December 1734 (1734-12-26): Leipzig
VocalSATB choir and soloists

Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend ("And there were shepherds in the same environs"),[1] BWV 248II (also written as BWV 248 II),[2] is a 1734 Christmas cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach as the second part of his Christmas Oratorio. Bach was then Thomaskantor, responsible for church music at four churches in Leipzig, a position he had assumed in 1723.

The cantata follows the nativity of Jesus as narrated in the Gospel of Luke. It covers the annunciation to the shepherds. An unknown librettist added text for reflecting recitatives and arias and included stanzas from Lutheran hymns. Bach structured the cantata in 14 movements and scored it for four vocal parts and a Baroque orchestra with flutes, oboes and strings. He led the first performances at the two main churches of Leipzig on 26 December 1734 during morning and vespers services.

Part II of the oratorio begins, in contrast to the other parts, with the instrumental Sinfonia, a concerto of shepherds and angels. A tenor soloist narrates the Biblical story in recitative as the Evangelist. The soprano soloist makes a first appearance in the oratorio as the angel, and is followed by the choir representing the angels singing "Glory to God in the Highest". There are three chorales, one by Johann Rist and two by Paul Gerhardt, both using the melody of Luther's "Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her".


In 18th-century Leipzig, high holidays were celebrated on three consecutive days, with different prescribed readings and related music each day. Christmas, one of these high holidays, was celebrated from 25 to 27 December. For the principal churches, Thomaskirche and Nikolaikirche, the director musices determined which music was to be performed during the services on Sundays and feast days.[3][4][5]

On the Second Day of Christmas, 26 December, Leipzig celebrated Christmas in even years and St. Stephen's Day in uneven years, with different readings. For even years, the epistle for Christmas was Titus 3:4–7 and the gospel was Luke 2:15–20. The theme of the first reading is God's mercy appearing in Christ and that of the second the shepherds at the manger.[6]

Bach in Leipzig[edit]

Bach had become director musices in Leipzig in 1723.[3] Early in his tenure, he had composed these church cantatas for the Second Day of Christmas (also St. Stephen's Day in uneven years):

bust painting of a young festively dressed woman, whose body is turned to the right but who is facing the viewer,
Maria Josepha, the dedicatee of BWV 214, in a 1720 painting by Rosalba Carriera

In 1733, Augustus III of Poland succeeded his father, Augustus the Strong, as Elector of Saxony and took residence in Dresden.[10] Bach hoped to become court composer, and dedicated his Kyrie–Gloria Mass in B minor, BWV 232 I (early version), to Augustus in 1733.[10] Several of Bach's secular cantatas celebrating the Saxonian prince-electoral family were performed in Leipzig, including these two cantatas first performed in 1733:[11]

Christmas season 1734–35[edit]

Bach composed his Christmas Oratorio for the Christmas season from Christmas Day on 25 December 1734 to Epiphany on 6 January 1735. Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend, BWV 248 II, for the Second Day of Christmas in 1734, is the second of six cantatas (or parts) constituting this oratorio. Its first cantata, Jauchzet, frohlocket! Auf, preiset die Tage, BWV 248 I, had been performed the previous day.[2]

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds by Govert Flinck, 1639

While Part I of the oratorio covers the birth of Jesus, Part II is focused on the annunciation to the shepherds.[15] The story is told following the Gospel of Luke, interspersed with reflecting recitatives, arias and chorales.[1] Deviating from the prescribed reading, the text of the cantata covers exclusively the announcement,[16] while the itinerary to Bethlehem and adoration are topics of Part III, Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen, BWV 248 III, first performed on the Third Day of Christmas, 27 December 1734.[17]

First two pages of the libretto of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, as printed in 1734[18]

The identity of the librettist of the Christmas Oratorio cantatas is unknown,[2] with Picander, who had collaborated with Bach earlier, a likely candidate.[19] The oratorio's libretto was published in 1734.[18] The quotations from the Bible are rendered in Martin Luther's translation. The librettist included three stanzas from Lutheran hymns: Johann Rist's "Brich an, o schönes Morgenlicht" from "Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist",[20] Paul Gerhardt's "Schaut hin! dort liegt im finstern Stall" from "Schaut, schaut, was ist für Wunder dar",[21] as the central movement of the cantata, and for the conclusion, by the same author, "Wir singen dir in deinem Heer" from "Wir singen dir, Immanuel".[2][22][23]

The three movements based on Lutheran hymn text used Lutheran chorale tunes associated with these hymns:[20][21][22]

Two extended movements of BWV 248 II are based on music from the BWV 213 and 214 cantatas:[24]

  • the sixth movement of BWV 248 II, "Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet", is based on the aria "Fromme Musen! meine Glieder" from BWV 214;[24]
  • the tenth movement of the cantata for the Second Day of Christmas 1734, "Schlafe, mein Liebster, genieße der Ruh'", is based on the aria "Schlafe, mein Liebster, und pflege der Ruh" from BWV 213.[24]

BWV 248 II was first performed in the Thomaskirche on 26 December 1734 and repeated during a vespers service at the Nikolaikirche the same day.[25]


Structure and scoring[edit]

The work is structured in 14 movements. Bach scored it for four vocal soloists, a four-part choir (SATB) and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of two traversos (Tra), two oboes d'amore (Oa), two oboes da caccia (Oc), two violins (Vl), viola (Va) and basso continuo.[26] The wind instruments illustrate the sphere of the shepherds. A typical performance takes 29 minutes.[1]

The cantata begins with the instrumental Sinfonia, unlike all other parts of the oratorio. The tenor soloist narrates the story as the Evangelist. The soprano soloist appears for the first time in the oratorio as the angel bringing the news. The choir represents the angels singing "Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe" (Glory to God in the Highest). The scene is reflected in two arias, an alto aria anticipating a lullaby for the newborn and a tenor aria calling to run to the manger in joy.[27]

The following table follows the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (New Bach Edition). The numbers are continuous for the complete Christmas Oratorio, beginning with 10 for its second cantata. The keys and time signatures are from Alfred Dürr and use the symbol for common time.[27] The continuo, played throughout, is not shown.

Movements of Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend
No. Title Text Type Vocal Winds Strings Key Time
10 Sinfonia 2Tra 2Oa 2Oc 2Vl Va G major 12/8
11 Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend Luke 2:8–9 Recitative T
12 Brich an, o schönes Morgenlicht Rist Chorale SATB 2Tra 2Oa 2Oc 2Vl Va G major common time
13 Und der Engel sprach zu ihnen
Fürchtet euch nicht
Luke 2:10-11 Recitative T

2Vl Va
14 Was Gott dem Abraham verheißen anon. Recitative B 2Oa 2Oc 2Vl Va
15 Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet anon. Aria T 2Oa 2Oc 2Vl Va E minor 3/8
16 Und das habt zum Zeichen Luke 2:12 Recitative T[a]
17 Schaut hin! dort liegt im finstern Stall Gerhardt Chorale SATB 2Tra 2Oa 2Oc 2Vl Va C major common time
18 So geht denn hin! anon. Recitative B 2Ob 2Oc
19 Schlafe, mein Liebster, genieße der Ruh anon. Aria A Tra 2Oa 2Oc 2Vl Va E minor 2/4
20 Und alsobald war da bei dem Engel Luke 2:13 Recitative T
21 Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe Luke 2:14 Chorus SATB 2Tra 2Oa 2Oc G major cut time
22 So recht, ihr Engel, jauchzt und singet anon. Recitative B
23 Wir singen dir in deinem Heer Gerhardt Chorale A 2Tra 2Oa 2Oc 2Vl Va G major 12/8



Second page of Sinfonia

The cantata begins with the instrumental Sinfonia.[1] Set in G major, it is in a triple meter in siciliano rhythm. Albert Schweitzer likened the music to a concerto of the shepherds, playing oboes, and the angels playing strings and flute in unison with the first violin. The movement is a ternary form, ABA', repeating the beginning modified after a middle section, and this a forerunner of the classical sonata form, as Dürr notes.[15] Each section is in again three groups, taking the analogy to the sonata form further: string music, as a first theme, is followed by oboe music as a second theme and combined music as the closing group.[15] The movement is the only purely instrumental music in the Christmas Oratorio.[28]

The absence of a chorus in the first movement signifies the stillness of the nightly scene, giving more weight to the voices to follow. The major choral movement in this cantata is the representation of the angels' song.[15]


The tenor soloist as the Evangelist begins the narration in secco recitative after Luke: "Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend" ("And there were shepherds in the same region"),[23] describing the shepherds in the fields, frightened by the apparition of angels.[23]


In the response to the shepherds being afraid, they are told in a chorale not to fear. The stanza "Brich an, o schönes Morgenlicht" [20] ("Break forth, o lovely light of morning"),[23] which Bach set for four parts, is taken from a hymn by Johann Rist, "Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist":[20]

Brich an, o schönes Morgenlicht,
Und laß den Himmel tagen!
Du Hirtenvolk, erschrecke nicht,
Weil dir die Engel sagen,
Daß dieses schwache Knäbelein
Soll unser Trost und Freude sein,
Dazu den Satan zwingen
Und letztlich Friede bringen!

The shepherds are told that the weak child shall be comfort and joy to them and all (using the first person plural) and will conquer Satan and ultimately bring peace.[23] Markus Rathey notes that this is an apocalyptic outlook within the oratorio.[29]


The narration continues, first sung by the Evangelist, "Und der Engel sprach zu ihnen" ("And the angel said to them"),[23] then continued by the angel's message, given to the soprano soloist, who appears here for the first time in the oratorio: "Fürchtet euch nicht" ("Do not be afraid").[23] The angel's recitative is accompanied by strings.


The announcement of the angel is interrupted after the birth of the Saviour by a recitative and following aria. The bass sings the recitative, accompanied by the oboes representing the shepherds: "Was Gott dem Abraham verheißen" ("What God promised to Abraham").[16] It connects the message to the shepherds to Abraham, who also was a shepherd.


The tenor sings an aria, calling the other shepherds to run to see the child: "Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet" ("Joyful shepherds, hurry, oh hurry").[16] The aria in E minor is accompanied by all oboes and strings.[16] The music is based on the aria "Fromme Musen, meine Glieder" from Bach's secular cantata Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!, BWV 214, for the birthday of Maria Josepha, Electress of Saxony.[30]


The announcement of the angel is continued: "Und das habt zum Zeichen" ("And this shall be a sign for you"),[16] mentioning swaddling-clothes and the manger.[16] The movement is marked to be sung by the tenor, which shows, according to Dürr, the "essentially undramatic conception of the oratorio".[15] Some[which?] performances let the soprano, the angel's voice, continue.[citation needed]


At this point, the lowliness of the humble stable is reflected in a chorale: "Schaut hin! dort liegt im finstern Stall" (Look, there lies in a dark stable),[16] a setting for four parts of a stanza by Paul Gerhardt, which is sung to the melody of Martin Luther's "Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her".[21] This chorale, in the low key of C major, is the central movement of this cantata and thus also the midpoint of the first three parts of the oratorio, performed on the three days of Christmas:[31]

Schaut hin, dort liegt im finstern Stall,
Des Herrschaft gehet überall!
Da Speise vormals sucht ein Rind,
Da ruhet itzt der Jungfrau'n Kind.

Its focus is on the dark stable, expressing amazement that the Almighty, the Virgin's child, rests where a cow had fed.[32] Bach illustrates power over all by a rising scale of more than an octave in the bass line.[31]


Another reflecting recitative of the bass, again interrupting the Biblical account, calls the shepherds to go and marvel: "So geht denn hin, ihr Hirten, geht" ("Then go forth, you shepherds, go"),[16]. It is accompanied by the oboes as the first bass recitative.


The aria is assigned to the alto voice. It is a lullaby, as if imagined: "Schlafe, mein Liebster, genieße der Ruh" ("Sleep, my most beloved, enjoy your rest").[33] Set in G major, the voice is doubled by a flute playing an octave higher, and all oboes and strings.[32] Bach based the music on "Schlafe, mein Liebster", a soprano aria from Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen, BWV 213.


The Evangelist continues the narration: "Und alsobald war da bei dem Engel" ("And suddenly there was with the angel"),[15] telling of the heavenly hosts.[15]


The choir represents the angels singing the words after Luke: "Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe und Friede auf Erden und den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen." ("Glory to God on high and peace on Earth and goodwill towards mankind.").[15] Bach treats the three aspects differently from a motet. The instruments only accompany. The first section, about glory, is developed in dense polyphony based on a passacaglia-type bass. The second section, about peace, is set to a pedal point. The third section, about goodwill, has lively themes full of coloraturas. After each idea has received extended treatment, the full text is repeated in the same sequence but condensed.[32]


The bass sings a third recitative, this time secco: "So recht, ihr Engel, jauchzt uns singet" ("Quite right, you angels, rejoice and sing"), calling to joyfully join the angels' song.[15]


The closing chorale is another stanza by Gerhardt, to the same melody as the cantata's central chorale: "Wir singen dir in deinem Heer"[22] ("We sing to You within Your host"):[15]

Wir singen dir in deinem Heer
Aus aller Kraft Lob, Preis und Ehr,
Daß du, o lang gewünschter Gast,
Dich nunmehr eingestellet hast.

Using the first person plural, it includes everyone in singing praises with the angels because the long-awaited guest has finally appeared.[15] The chorale is set in G major, and instrumental motifs between the lines are taken from the opening Sinfonia, confirming the symmetry of the cantata's structure.[32]


  1. ^ In some[which?] performances sung by the soprano (Angel)[citation needed]


Cited sources[edit]

Bach Digital

  • "Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend / (Christmas oratorio, part 2) BWV 248 II; BC D 7 II / Oratorio (2nd Christmas Day)". Bach Digital. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  • "Lasst uns sorgen, lasst uns wachen (Dramma per musica) BWV 213; BC G 18 / Secular cantata (unknown purpose)". Bach Digital. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  • "Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten! BWV 214; BC G 19 / Secular cantata (Birthday)". Bach Digital. Retrieved 7 December 2017.


Online sources

External links[edit]