Johann Sebastian Bach: “Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage!” from Christmas Oratorio, BWV.248

In January of 1974, I started my second semester of college at Indiana University at South Bend. I thought that this was a holding pattern for me: while taking a light load there, I’d apply to some serious schools. Notre Dame accepted me and was only about five miles from my house, but I couldn’t afford the tuition–$1300 each semester, which was exorbitant back then. I was attracted by Wabash College, a small liberal arts college in central Indiana. It had two claims to fame: it was located in the town where General Lew Wallace (who wrote “Ben Hur”) lived, and secondly for one of its former professors, a one Ezra Pound.

On my visit to Wabash, I learned that you could only live a fraternity house. I visited one and was shown around by one of the “brothers” who proudly boasted of the keg parties they had. It was obvious that the student body were probably prouder of “Ben Hur” than The “Pisan Cantos,” so I decided not to go there after all. Instead I put in the paperwork to transfer to Bloomington in the Fall. On an interesting literary footnote, Ezra Pound had been booted out of Wabash College after he was discovered with a young woman in his room. Seems like that should have counted for something. When he left he had this to say about Indiana: “Gosh, I won’t be so hard on European decadence next times I seez it!”

The spring semester at Bloomington turned out to be more rigorous that I had expected. My History of Western Civilization professor could read Greek, Latin, and Arabic and also taught at Notre Dame, as did my English teacher. My French professor was a sassy old “belle laide” from France, who had a voice that was half Edit Piaf and half truck driver. I tried my hand at art by enrolling in a design course where I learned the basics of oil and acrylic painting, etching, and print making. Finally, I took group piano lessons with a flamboyant old Swedish man named Einar Krantz.

The main campus of Indiana University has a fine music school and for that reason the library in South Bend had a good collection of classical albums you could check out. I must have been on a Bach kick that semester, because for some reason, one of the pieces I remember checking out repeatedly was Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248. This oratorio consists of six cantatas, which were to be performed one a day until Epiphany. I particularly enjoyed the first cantata on the album, which is “Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage!” The old, biblical German goes something like: “Rejoice and be happy on this precious day.”

This cantata starts out with one of those joyous baroque trumpet blasts, full of trills, which is punctuated by thunderous rolls on the tympani. This gives way to an incredibly complex fugue in which the various sections of the orchestra and choir, given completely different melodies and rhythms, weave in an out of each other in a truly glorious way. There follow seven more movements that are either recitatives for various voices or choruses. These are more pensive in nature. In the final movement of the cantata, Bach quickens the tempo, and gives us a stately, intricate triumphal march that praises the glory of God and the beloved baby Jesus.

Looking back, my fascination with this most Christian of Bach’s work at that time in my life works surprises me as you will see in a future post.

Bach Biography

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

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