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Easter Oratorio : Work information

Johann Sebastian Bach ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, Helmuth Rilling (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Easter Oratorio
Work number
BWV 249
1725-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Richard Hauck
Richard Hauck
Recording date
1981-01-01 02:01:00

Track listing


The work opens with a wonderful two part sinfonia-and-adagio. The former is gloriously upbeat and uplifting, the latter contemplative and spiritual. This introduction promises one of Bach's finest works. The excellent first chorus (originally a duet) increases the urgency of the story, and calls us to contemplate the empty tomb of Jesus. In the first recitative, Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of Jesus), Peter and John reflect on their loss and Jesus's mother (soprano) continues the theme in her quietly beautiful aria accompanied by a fine flute line. In the next recitative, Peter ( tenor), John (bass) and Mary Magdalene (alto) find the stone moved aside from the tomb and the sepulchre, leading Mary Magdalene to understand what has happened - an event which forms the heart of the Christian message. This introduces one of the highest points of Bach's inspiration: Peter's aria Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer (Softly now my fear of death), which is a movement of surpassing beauty. A gentle and evocative melody woven through with delicate tendrils of accompanient. The next recitative sees the two Mary's sighing in thirds and Mary Magdalene asks where Jesus is in her more urgent, optimistic aria. John affirms Jesus's resurrection in the final recitative and the final chorus ends the oratorio with a glorious song of praise.

This outstanding work is suffused with the spirit of the dance. The fifth movement is a tempo di minuetto, the seventh a bourée, the nineth a gavotte and the eleventh a gigue. In addition to this, the opening three movements may well have been adapted from lost concerti. These are hidden delights in a wonderfully moving composition

The Composers

Johann Sebastian Bach

One of the greatest composers in history, Johann Sebastian Bach (father of C.P.E, J. C. and W. F. Bach) was by far the most significant member of the Bach dynasty of musicians.

He outshone his forebears and contemporaries, but did not always receive the respect he deserved in his own lifetime. After a brief engagement as a violinist in the court of Weimar, Bach became organist at the Neukirche in Arnstadt. In June 1707 he moved to St. Blasius, Mühlhausen, and married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. In 1708 he was appointed court organist in Weimar where he composed most of his works for organ. In 1717, he was appointed Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold at Cöthen, but was refused permission to leave Weimar. The Duke only allowed Bach to go after holding him prisoner for nearly a month.

While at Weimar, Bach wrote his violin concertos and the six Brandenburg Concertos, as well as several suites, sonatas and keyboard works, including several, such as the Inventions and Book I of the 48 Preludes and Fugues (The Well-tempered Clavier). In 1720 Maria Barbara died, and the next year Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcke. Bach resigned the post in Weimar in 1723 to become cantor at St. Thomas’ School in Leipzig where he was responsible for music in the four main churches of the city. Here he wrote the Magnificat and the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, as well as a large quantity of other church music. In Leipzig he eventually took charge of the University “Collegium Musicum” and occupied himself with the collection and publication of many of his earlier compositions.

Over the years that followed, Bach’s interest in composing church music declined somewhat, and he took to writing more keyboard music and cantatas. As his eyesight began to fail, he underwent operations to try and correct the problem, and these may have weakened him in his old age. He died at age 65, having fathered a total of 20 children with his two wives. Despite widespread neglect for almost a century after his death, Bach is now regarded as one of the greatest of all composers and is still an inexhaustible source of inspiration for musicians. Bach’s compositions are catalogued by means of the prefix BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) and a numbering system which is generally accepted for convenience of reference.

Related Composers: Pachelbel, Telemann, Handel, Couperin

Also influenced: Mendelssohn, Brahms, Stravinsky, Hindemith