The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

"Christus, der Uns Selig Macht" [Video and Response]

With an original tun written by German Theologian Michael Weiße in 1501 for the Passions of Holy Week [musical settings of Gospel narratives] based on its Latin brother "Patris Sapientia" [Father of Wisdom], Bach's pansophical 4-part setting  of "Christus, der uns selig macht" [Christ, of whose light made"]  omits the dejected opulence of Christ's terminal pilgrimage towards the Godly plane. This uncharacteristically morose E-major Choral, German multipotentialite Christian Schubart regarding the key as  exemplifying "noisy shouts of joy," with its gentile verbosity in the form of suspended breath and sonorous sojourns, is most notably attributed to Bach's St. John's Passion. In the novel oratorio, seeing five ontologies in a 15 year period, the Choral is featured as the 15th choral used and is used as the opening number in Part 2.3, where Jesus's sacrifice is pontificated upon and his burial is verbalized in beloved detail by John.


It's crucial to point out that, although there were five different versions of the Passion, only beginning with the third iteration was it truly a Passion on the written words of John. As prior, Bach had included insertions from the Gospel of Matthew, notably 26:75, after having written a separate oratorio using the words of Matthew in 1727. However, that only lasted for one iteration and the standard version utilized, an updated version of the 1724 [version 1], along with subsequent editions incorporate text of Matthew. The German Musicologist Christoph Wolff notes that the oratorio was never truly "finished" in Bach's eyes, the unperformed Version Five having been structurally and librettically overhauled. Despite this, the Passion's oscillations betweens "Turba" [scenic onlooker] chorals, individual arias, and "soliloquentes" [characters singing as themselves], along with work-wide, thematic-motivic succinctness [marrying internal dialogues to external frames], is a seminal work of lasting importance. Wolff aptly mentions that this work married the pre-17th c. conservative styles of Passion setting with post-17th c. developments in orchestration, non-Gospel based texts, and compositional intricateness. In other words the "Passion historia" [historical passion] became the "Passion oratorio" [choir-heavy, fuller realization].


Returning to the hymn choral itself, its own intrinsic symmetricality and harmonically sinuous polyphony, Bach sagaciously dancing around the subdominant of A major before liquifying his diatonic flow for a good third of the piece, dares not speak minor or major lest Jesus's death omit an improper aura of joy or indifference. Rather, Bach expertly navigates between Major or minor sentimentality through passing tone parleys and auxiliary revolutions which seem to elucidate the Prince of Peace's plight with little hesitancy. In the oratorio, Bach uses the first and last stanzas of the eight stanza hymn, the first denouncing Christ's immoral treatment at the hands of his captors [1], the second announcing man's thankfulness for his unequivocal sacrifice, "to you we give our thanks" [Dir Dankopfer schenken]. This votive development is clearly exemplified in the hymn's melodic permutations. Invisibly sliding between bucolic innocence and harderend faith, the meditative tempo and self-possessed rhythmic pulse unify every intonational cell to next, resulting in its solid comportment. While, technically, the Choral is set in E Phrygian minor, meaning a lowered [white-keyed] 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th scale degree [F, G, C, D], it operates right from the beginning and cadences at its conclusion in E-major, again highlighting the power of Christ and the Holy Father in their ability to alleviate mortal strife, tangible or not!


In short, the choral's unification of heavenly piety, questioning, and an eventual promise of deliverance through a nostalgic penchants renders it a royal success, no matter if Robert Schumann's appraisal of its oratorical home was less than accurate nor its place [at one point] thought lesser than its Gospel cousin.


I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music. - J. S. Bach

Sources


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christus%2C_der_uns_selig_macht

2. https://hymnary.org/text/christus_der_uns_selig_macht_kein