Uns ist ein Kind geboren, BWV 142
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Uns ist ein Kind geboren, BWV 142 (For us a child is born) is a Christmas cantata [clarification needed] While Bach is credited to this piece, it has been said that his predecessor, Johann Kuhnau, could have composed the piece. However, because of the uncertainty, it is attributed to Bach.
During Bach's time in Weimar, he distanced himself from instrumental music and began focussing on vocal music. From 1713 on, he focused his energy on the cantata. In the 17th century and 18th century, the cantata was a genre of the Lutheran Church where poetic texts drawn from the Bible were set to music. Because Bach was promoted to Concertmaster in 1714, he was required to write one cantata each month. Using Erdmann Neumeister's text, which provided a new free form verse, similar to that of a madrigal, Bach set five of Erdmann Neumeister's texts to music, including this Christmas cantata. Bach was Johann Kuhnau's successor as cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig. They had known each other since 1716, when Bach proved the new organ at Halle and met Kuhnau. Bach took influence from Kuhnau's works, like the Neue Clavierübung, which influenced Bach's own Goldberg Variations. Because of this influence in Bach's works, controversy arises over who composed Uns ist ein Kind geboren.'
Erdmann Neumeister was a writer, theologian, pastor and theorist whose text was used by Bach in some of his cantatas, including BWV 18, BWV 24, BWV 28, BWV 59, and BWV 61. He wrote his first cantata text in 1695, consisting of biblical verses, strophic arias, and single choral strophes. 5 years later, he published Geistliche Cantaten staff einer Kirchen-Music ('Sacred Cantatas in Place of Liturgical Music') that contained recitatives and operatic arias. Cycles from 1711 and 1714 contained more biblical texts and chorales in his writings, mixing traditional German church music and the contemporary Italian opera. In 1939, Sydney Biden provided the English translation for the cantata, For us a child is born.
Scoring and structure
The piece has eight movements:
- Sinfonia Overture: The overture, in A minor, begins with a motivic idea that immediately carries the phrase into sequential patterns over the entire opening. Beginning in measure 18, the piece modulates, or changes keys, to the dominant key of E with more sequential patterns until measure 30 when A minor returns. Bach used this tonic to dominant idea to project the key of this piece to the listeners and establish a key that is used throughout the entire cantata in multiple forms. The tempo marking is Allegro.
- Chorus: Uns ist ein Kind geboren (For Us a Child is Born): The second movement is an SATB arrangement in A minor. The parts work together to provide a fugue introduction that is carries throughout the entire movement. Bach uses this technique in other works as well, such as the BWV 243. The tempo marking is like the opening movement, Allegro.
- Aria (bass): Dein Geburtstag ist erschienen (So Appears Thy Natal Day): The third movement is a solo aria for a bass or baritone. It begins in the dominant of A minor, which is E minor, again displaying Bach's technique to present this specific key throughout the entire cantata. The tempo marking is Moderato, slightly faster than the previous.
- Chorus: Ich will den Namen Gottes loben (Laud We the Name): The fourth movement begins in the relative major key, C major. This movement has homophonic places, with the alto and tenor having the same rhythmic gesture, while the soprano and bass have a different rhythmic gesture that those voices share. This idea is carried throughout the movement, making it more chordal and easier to understand text. The tempo marking is back to Allegro.
- Aria (tenor): Jesu, dir sei Dank (Lord, My Thanks to Thee): The fifth movement is a solo aria for a tenor. It begins back in A minor, but the piece uses C major and E major, the relative major and the dominant. This aria in a da capo aria style, with an ABA form that repeats back to the beginning and ends at the Fine in measure 20. The tempo slows, going to Andante.
- Recitative (alto): Immanuel (Immanuel! O Give to Me): 'The sixth movement is a recitative for an alto. It is in F major that reflects that text that is stated "Immanuel, O give to me in Thy great mercy that which my faith and spirit fain would have, How can I tell Thee all of my poor heart's emotion, which Thy birthday wakes within me, O let my voice be raised, So that I may sing Thy praise." Being a recitative, it is sung in a speech-like manner, with very minimum accompaniment.
- Aria (alto): Jesu, dir sei Preis (Lord, I Sing Thy Name): The seventh movement follows the recitative immediately with an alto aria. Now in the relative minor, D minor. Just like the tenor aria, it is a da capo aria, ABA, with the end of the repeat at the Fine in measure 21. After the recitative, we return to the Andante tempo that was in the previous aria.
- Chorus: Alleluia (Alleluia): The final movement is the Alleluia, beginning back in the original key of A minor. The entire movement is the same rhythmic idea with homophonic chords keeping the text clear and celebrated. The final tempo returns to the main tempo, Allegro.
The recitative and aria were two aspects that defined the Baroque Period. Bach used them in this piece to highlight key text that carried the story along, with the more speech-like idea of the recitative as well as the lyrical monologue that was created with the aria.
- Alsfelder Vokalensemble / I Febiarmionici, Wolfgang Helbich. The Apocryphal Bach Cantatas II. CPO, 2001.
- Choir and Orchestra "Pro Arte" Munich, Kurt Redel. J.S. Bach: Magnificat in D Major & Cantata BWV 142. Philips, 1964.
- Mannheim Bach Choir / Heidelberger Kammerorchester, Heinz Markus Göttsche. J.S. Bach: Cantatas BWV 62 & BWV 142. Da Camera, 1966.
- Classical Net Uns ist ein Kind geboren (Unto us a child is born), Classical Net, 1998
- Riemann, Vallas, Hugo (1892). Catechism of Musical History. Augener & Company. p. 86.
- Hanning, Barbara Russano (2014). Concise History of Western Music (5th ed.). W.W Norton and Company.
- "Bach's Cantatas: A Brief Orientation". BaroqueMusic.org.
- Boyd, Malcolm. "Erdmann Neumeister (Librettist)". Bach Cantatas Website. Oxford Composer Companion.
- Smith, Timothy A. "Johann Kuhnau 1660–1722".
- Botelho, Jack. "Bach's Librettists Discussions". Bach Cantatas Website.
- "Bach Bibliography".
- Bach Cantatas BWV 142
- Cantatas, BWV 141–150: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Uns ist ein Kind geboren on the Bach website (German)
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