Johann Sebastian Bach
Magnificat in D BWV243
for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists, chorus and orchestra
- Magnificat anima mea (Chorus)
- Et exsultavit spiritus meus (Soprano)
A. Vom Himmel hoch (Chorus)
- Quia respexit humilitatem (Soprano)
- Omnes generationes (Chorus)
- Quia fecit mihi magna (Bass)
B. Freut euch und jubiliert (Chorus)
- Et misericordia (Alto, Tenor)
- Fecit potentiam (Chorus)
C. Gloria in excelsis Deo (Chorus)
- Deposuit potentes (Tenor)
- Esurientes implevit bonis (Alto)
D. Virga Jesse floruit (Soprano, Bass)
- Suscepit Israel puerum suum (Two Sopranos, Alto)
- Sicut locutus est (Chorus)
- Gloria Patri (Chorus)
Bach’s Magnificat is one of the few liturgical works, together with his great Mass in B minor, in which he set the Latin language. The Lutheran liturgy allowed for the performance of certain items in Latin, including the Magnificat, which was performed during Vespers on the major feast days. Normally, it was sung in plainchant to Luther’s German translation, but on such occasions as Christmas a more elaborate setting in Latin was required.
This work of Bach has been described as ‘a full-dress Latin Magnificat’. It dates from Christmas Day 1723, Bach’s first Christmas at Leipzig. In his original version, which was in the key of E flat, Bach interpolated four items between the main movements of the Magnificat for use at Christmas; these will be heard in tonight’s performance.
The Magnificat opens with an extended concerto-style movement for five-part chorus and orchestra. The orchestral refrain, with its three trumpets, sets the mood of festive joy. The soprano aria ‘Et exsultavit…’ is followed by the chorus singing the hymn ‘Vom Himmel hoch’, set as a chorale-prelude.
The next aria ‘Quia respexit’ is a beautiful, graceful air in which the soprano soloist and obbligato oboe d’amore make a perfect pairing. The sentence is left unfinished by the soloist as the chorus breaks in with a powerful depiction of ‘Omnes generationes’. Next comes a bass aria with cello obbligato: ‘Quia fecit mihi magna’ – the falling scales in the accompaniment’s refrain are perhaps a reminder of the descending power exerted on Mary. The entire chorus except the basses sings the second Christmas movement ‘Freut euch und jubiliert’.
‘Et misericordia’ is a duet for alto and tenor, flutes and muted strings. In the closing bars the tenor sings the words ‘timentibus eum’ on an anxiously repeated note. ‘Fecit potentiam’, a magnificent fugal movement for chorus and orchestra, is notable for the thrilling sixth entry of the theme by the first trumpet after the choir’s last entry. The chorus then sing the angels’ song to the shepherds in Bethlehem fields: ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’.
The tenor aria with unison violins, ‘Deposuit potentes’, is another tour-de-force in which falling scales portray the ‘putting down’ of the mighty, and rising scales the exaltation of the humble. An alto aria with two flutes, ‘Esurientes implevit bonis’ follows. This finishes with a last ‘empty’ rest for the flutes, instead of their expected cadence. The final Christmas movement is ‘Virga Jesse floruit’, a tender duet for soprano and bass, representing Mary and Joseph.
The soprano and alto soloists sing the trio ‘Suscepit Israel’; prominent in the accompaniment are the oboes, delivering the ancient plainsong associated with the Magnificat. The ancient promise in ‘Sicut locutus est’ evokes an old-fashioned but powerful fugue in response. In the final chorus, ‘Gloria Patri’, the word ‘Gloria’ is given to each person of the Trinity, and the work ends with a thrilling reminder of the brilliance of the opening movement.
Text and Translation
Magnificat anima mea Dominum
My soul magnifies the Lord
2. Soprano aria
Et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her,
ich bring euch gute neue Mär,
der guten Mär bring ich so viel,
davon ich sing’n und sagen will.
From Heaven on high I come to you,
I bring you good new tidings.
Glad tidings I bring in abundance,
Of which I now will sing and say.
3. Soprano aria
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae;
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent
For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden;
for behold, from henceforth shall call me blessed …
… all generations.
5. Bass aria
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est,
et sanctum nomen eius.
For he that is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
Freut euch und jubiliert,
zu Bethlehem gefunden wird
das herzeliebe Jesulein,
das soll euer Freud und Wonne sein.
Rejoice and be glad,
for at Bethlehem you will find
the beloved little Jesus,
who will be your joy and delight.
6. Alto, Tenor duet
Et misericordia a progenie in progenies
And his mercy is on them that fear him
throughout all generations.
Fecit potentiam in bracchio suo,
mente cordis sui.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud
in the imagination of their hearts.
Gloria in excelsis Deo,
Et in terra pax hominibus, bona voluntas.
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill towards men.
8. Tenor aria
Deposuit potentes de sede
et exaltavit humiles.
He has put down the mighty from their seat,
and has exalted the humble and meek.
9. Alto aria
Esurientes implevit bonis
et divites dimisit inanes.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and the rich he has sent empty away.
D. Soprano, Bass duet
Virga Jesse floruit,
Emmanuel noster apparuit,
induit carnem hominis,
fit puer delectabilis,
The rod of Jesse has bloomed,
Our Emmanuel has appeared,
He has taken on human flesh,
and become a delightful child.
10. Two Soprano, Alto trio
Suscepit Israel puerum suum
recordatus misericordiae suae.
Remembering his mercy,
he has helped his servant Israel.
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
Abraham et semini eius in saecula.
As he promised to our forefathers,
Abraham and his seed forever.
Gloria Patri, gloria Filio,
gloria et Spiritui Sancto!
Sicut erat in principio et nunc
et semper et in saecula saeculorum.
Glory be to the Father, glory be to the Son, and glory be to the Holy Ghost!
As it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be, world without end.