Work of the week – Bach's Christmas Oratorio

By Konzerthaus Berlin Nov. 28, 2023


© Marco Borggreve

"Rejoice, rejoice"? At the beginning of December 1734, St Thomas' cantor Bach probably didn't feel like it at all. It was so cold "that the birds were freezing to the branches" and he was very, very late with something very big: the composer was due to perform a new six-part "play with music" about the birth of Christ in Leipzig from 25 December in St Nicholas' and St Thomas' Churches. The fact that his Christmas Oratorio was completed on time is thanks to the "parody process": Bach recycled various of his own works and had them rewritten in such a way that they created an atmospheric whole.

Our dramaturg Dietmar Hiller describes in more detail what was behind this: "Bach had repeatedly taken the opportunity to make himself loudly remembered with homage cantatas to the Saxon Elector Frederick Augustus II (...)." A court title was his goal and festive music was to help curry favour with the court  bureaucracy. Naturally, such works were only performed once. A stroke of luck for the upcoming Christmas Oratorio: beside others, all the arias and choral movements from two cantatas from 1733 ("Lasst uns sorgen, lasst uns wachen" BWV 213 and "Tönet, ihr Pauken" BWV 214) found their place in it with new text. Dietmar Hiller assumes "that Bach already had their later sacred use in mind before composing the occasional works." Very far-sighted with his workload!

Generously curved, leather-covered wooden body, funnel-shaped bell, hardly any keys - Part II of the Christmas Oratorio originally featured two examples of the oboe da caccia.  Together with two oboes d'amore, they accompany the shepherds and their sheep to the manger in the stable in Bethlehem, imitating shawms. Bach also used this rare Baroque instrument, which is a cor anglais predecessor, in several cantatas and his Passions. Oboists who have mastered this additional instrument are in great demand at Christmas and during Passiontide! 

In our "WO", however, our KHO musicians Iria Folgado and Kihoon Hong take over the parts on modern English horns because the entire orchestra plays on modern instruments.


For this event, you will not receive tickets through our webshop. You will therefore be redirected to an external page of the organizer. If you have any not completed bookings on, they will be dissolved after 20 minutes.