Composers Datebook®

Bach and the 'oboe da caccia'

Composers Datebook - Dec. 26, 2023


On today’s date in 1734, the second cantata from the Christmas Oratorio of Johann Sebastian Bach had its first performance in Leipzig, Germany. This cantata takes its inspiration from Luke’s Gospel describing shepherd keeping watch over their flocks and opens with a purely instrumental Sinfonia that sets the scene, evoking the sound of the shepherds’ rustic pipes.

In Bach’s day, a famous builder of wind instruments lived in Leipzig. His name was J. H. Eichentopf, and he is credited with inventing an oboe da caccia — that’s Italian for "hunting oboe." The instrument was curved with a big brass horn bell at its end. Bach calls for this instrument in his Christmas Oratorio, but after Bach’s time, it fell out of use, and knowledge of its exact sound and construction was lost.

In the 20th century, two well-preserved (but unplayable) hunting oboes built by Eichentopf survived in museums in Denmark and Sweden, and from their measurements, modern-day copies were made. These were used for the first time in over 200 years for the period-instrument recording of the Christmas Oratorio conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt that appeared in 1973.

Music Played in Today's Program

J.S. Bach (1685-1750) Cantata No. 2 Sinfonia, from The Christmas Oratorio; Vienna Concentus Musicus; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond.

On This Day


  • 1687 - German violinist and composer and violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, in Cadolzburg;

  • 1926 - American trumpeter and composer Earle Brown, in Lunenburg, Ma.;


  • 1709 - Handel: opera "Agrippina" in Venice at the Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo;

  • 1723 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 40 ("Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes") and "Magnificat" in E-flat, (S. 243a) performed on the 2nd Day of Christmas as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);

  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 121 ("Christum wir colleen loben schon") performed on the 2nd Day of Christmas as part of Bach's second annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1724/25);

  • 1725 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 57 ("Selig ist der Mann") performed in Leipzig on the 2nd Day of Christmas as part of Bach's third annual Sacred Cantata cycle(1725/27);

  • 1734 - Bach: Part 2 ("Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegen") of the 6-part "Christmas Oratorio," S. 248, in Leipzig;

  • 1767 - Gluck: opera, "Alceste" (1st version) in Vienna at the Imperial Court Theater;

  • 1770 - Mozart: opera, "Mitridate, Re di Ponto," (composed at age 14) in Milan, at the Teatro Regio Ducale;

  • 1772 - Mozart: opera, "Lucio Silla," (composed at age 16) in Milan, at the Teatro Regio Ducale;

  • 1827 - Schubert: Piano Trio in Eb, Op. 100 (D. 929), at the Music Society Hall in Vienna, by Ignaz Schuppanzigh (violin), Josef Linke (cello), and Carl Maria von Bocklet (piano);

  • 1830 - Donizetti: opera, "Anna Bolena," at the Teatro Carcano, Milan;

  • 1831 - Bellini: opera, "Norma," in Milan the Teatro alla Scala;

  • 1833 - Donizetti: opera "Lucretia Borgia," in Milan;

  • 1867 - Bizet: "La jolie fille de Perth," at the Théatre-Lyrique in Paris;

  • 1880 - Brahms: "Tragic Overture," Op. 81, in Vienna;

  • 1897 - Rimsky-Korsakov: "Sadko," in Moscow (Gregorian date: Jan. 7);

  • 1926 - Sibelius: tone-poem "Tapiola" by the New York Symphony, Walter Damrosch conducting;

  • 1931 - Gershwin: musical "Of Thee I Sing," at the Music Box Theater in New York City; This show includes the classic Gershwin songs "Love is Sweeping the Country," "Of Thee I Sing," and "Who Cares?" (see also Dec. 8 for Boston trial run premiere);

  • 1941 - Robert Russell Bennett: Violin Concerto, on an NBC Symphony broadcast;


  • 1936 - First concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra in Tel Aviv, with Arturo Toscanini conducting;

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®