The Christmas Oratorio, with its six parts, has become dear to the hearts of countless music lovers all over the world. What sounds today as if it could never have been otherwise, in reality dates back in part to earlier Bach pieces that he retexted and adapted for the new purpose. The autograph ‘betrays’ Bach’s working methods in the very first chorus: first he underlaid the words of a version from the birthday cantata "Tonet ihr Pauken" only to cross them out and replace them with the famous "Jauchzet, frohlocket".

Other passages in the autograph likewise reveal traces of self-borrowing. Some corrections allow the reader to look over the composer’s shoulder, as it were, and watch him transforming an aria step by step into its present form or struggling to find a definitive version for a short recitative. In contrast, other pages are written out in an immaculate fair hand.

Bach specialist Christoph Wolff has provided an Introduction on the work’s genesis and the features of the manuscript. The subsequent history of the autograph is described by Martina Rebmann of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

 

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