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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 23.3 x 17.6 x 1.4 cm
TITLE Het Weihnachts-Oratorium (BWV 248) van Johann Sebastian Bach van Ignace Bossuyt.
PUBL. DETAILS Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 2002. 179 pp; Paperback. Euro 29,00.
ISBN 90-5867-242-5
TO ORDER Universitaire Pers Leuven, Europahuis, Blijde-Inkomststraat 5, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium. Email:
DESCRIPTION A monograph written in Dutch on Bach's Christmas Oratorio, discussing its background and analysing each movement. Music examples are provided in an accompanying booklet.
WORKS COVERED BWV 1, 4, 11-12, 32, 39, 40, 49, 52, 57-58, 60, 64, 72, 78, 85, 91-92, 104, 106, 110, 140, 170, 172, 175, 184, 208, 213-215, 232-236, 243-245, 247, 248, 249, 439-507, 552, 579, 582, 559-644, 651-689, 769, 802-805, 825-831, 946, 951, 971-988, 1046-1051, 1066, 1068, 1069, 1079
READERSHIP From amateur musicians and listeners to scholars
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Non-technical but up-to-date monograph of the work; analysis of individual movements; good introductory chapters

U nlike his Passions, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio has not yet gained its place as it should be in the repertoire of Christmas concerts in the British Isles. I gather that the scene is not much different in the USA and the rest of the English-speaking world. This is reflected partially in the literature. It is quite extraordinary that there is no single monograph of this important work by Bach in English.

This book by Ignace Bossuyt, written in Dutch, is therefore the closest to what we have long been hoping for. According to the author, there is a plan for the English edition in the near future, which is particularly good news for all.

Contents in Brief


Aan de lezer


Algemene context

De tekstuele en muzikale componenten

Bespreking van de zes cantates

I. Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage

II. Sinfonia - Und es waren Hirten

III Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen

IV Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben

V Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen

VI Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben



Originale Duitse tekst van het Weihnachts-Oratorium met Nederlandse vertaling


it conveniently analyses all its 64 movements.

Looking beyond the literature in English, there are several important monographs of this work. The most well known ones are by Alfred Dürr (1967) and Walter Blankenburg (1982), who jointly published the Neue Bach Ausgabe (edition and critical report) earlier. There is also a more recently-published book by Günther Jena (1997), but I have not seen it, and thus cannot comment on it.

Bossuyt has clear advantage here, benefiting from the more recent research, as he was able to incorporate the views of Malcolm Boyd, Eric Chafe, Martin Geck, Konrad Küster, Robin Leaver, Siegbert Rampe, Renate Steiger, Christoph Wolff, etc. All the references are clearly given in the footnotes.

The result of this is an up-to-date monograph, but this does not tell all about it. It seems to me that the most important colour of this book is its wider appeal, especially to non-specialist readers. It certainly addresses the background of the work such as its religious and theological context and Bach’s parody techniques in general, but, more importantly, it conveniently analyses all its 64 movements with numerous musical examples.

If you are looking for either the details of more technical nature or new musicological findings or theories, such as the issues of its manuscript sources and its reception history, you do not find them here.


Published online on 19 December 2002

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