Merry Christmas! Here’s an Instrument You’ve Never Heard of. Love, Bach

Oboe da Caccia (Wikipedia Commons)

Bach never did anything small, and this is especially true of Christmas. In addition to a number of single cantatas he composed for the holiday, there is Weihnachtsoratorium, or the Christmas Oratorio, a collection of six cantatas telling the familiar Biblical stories of Jesus’ birth (manger, shepherds, wise men) meant to be performed on Christmas and subsequent days.

The Christmas Oratorio pulls together just about every trick of Bach’s in 65 movements, some of them as much as 10 minutes long, many of them repurposed from other Bach works. There are rousing choruses, and plaintive arias, movements that run into each other, word paintings of determined shepherds, echoes, a sense of soaring. Continue reading

Top 10 Word Paintings in Bach’s Cantatas

Me, in so far as the cantatas are concerned.

Hoorah! I’m done with the cantatas!

I have listened to all 84 of the ones that are in dad’s collection, some of them in duplicate, triplicate, or even, erm, quadruplicate. I have listened to them from my couch, my computer, my bed, the subway (once or twice while mariachi bands or hip-hop heads competed for my attention from outside my headphones), the street, the grocery store. I have hit roadblocks. I have stopped for a week or more at a time. I have dosed myself with interludes of AC/DC. But I am finally, finally, done. Continue reading