Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Monday, December 3

Bach Begins the Church Year

Synopsis

In many denominations, the Christian calendar or liturgical year begins with the season of Advent, the four Sundays preceding Christmas. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin “adventus,” which means “arrival” or “coming,” because Advent celebrates both the joyful anticipation of the arrival of the baby Jesus and the need for believers to prepare for the second coming of their Savior at the Last Judgement.

In 1724, a very devout German Lutheran church musician named Johann Sebastian Bach crafted a cantata, a work for a small instrumental ensemble with solo voices and chorus, to be performed on the First Sunday of Advent, which fell on today’s date that year.

At Bach’s church, the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, there would have been readings from Luther’s translation of the Bible appropriate for the day, so Bach asked a poet friend for a text meditating on them, and took for his musical inspiration Luther’s Advent hymn, "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,", which in English means “Now come, Savior of the heathens."

That hymn appeared as the first in the Thomaskirche’s hymnal, which meant the church year was off and running once again. Now, it was Bach’s responsibility to provide a cantata for performance each Sunday, and during his time in Leipzig he would write over 200 of them -- which no doubt made him a favorite customer with anyone in Leipzig selling music manuscript paper!

Music Played in Today's Program

J.S. Bach (1685 - 1750) Cantata No. 62 (Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland) Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner, cond. Archiv 463 588

Additional Information

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