Advent Calendar Day 19: O Little One Sweet *and* Schlafe, mein Liebster – JS Bach

I knew I wanted some Bach in this bracket, but I couldn’t decide whether to go with O Little One Sweet, which is a standalone carol, or Schlafe, Mein Liebster, the lullaby from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.  But then I realised that it’s not actually possible to have too much Bach, and anyway, this is my Advent Calendar, so I can play by whatever rules I like.  So today you are getting two Bach lullabies for the price of one…

‘O Little One Sweet’, (O Jesulein Süß) is just a lovely carol with some scary harmonies in the alto line.  The scary harmonies are entirely Johann Sebastian’s fault, I might add – I gather this piece started off as a perfectly sensible chorale called ‘Komm, heilger Geist’ (come holy ghost) in a hymnbook, and then Bach got hold of it, with beautiful (if tricky) results.  It’s very much good hymnbook theology, though, not a medieval reimagining of the manger scene – you can find the full lyrics and translation here, though the English versions usually only do two verses.

This is another old favourite of mine, performed impeccably here by the King’s singers.

Schlafe, mein Liebster is from the second part of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, which was originally sung on Boxing Day (the Oratorio is in six parts, which were originally performed on the days between Christmas and Epiphany – their performance dates are, the 25th, 26th and 27th of December, and the 1st, 2nd and 6th of January).  This piece comes just after the bit in Luke where we are told that the shepherds will find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, and the lyrics translate to:

Sleep, my dearest, enjoy thy rest, Awaken after this so that all may thrive! Comfort the breast, feel the pleasure where our hearts are made glad.

(And thank you to Google Translate for suggesting that the phrase I was looking for was ‘chew the breast, feel the desire’.  Dearie me.)

The singer in this performance is Anne Sofie von Otter, and I love the warmth of her voice, and her delicacy in the coloratura sections.  Also, I do enjoy trying to read Bach’s manuscript – though I probably wouldn’t enjoy doing so if I had to perform from it.

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