Advent Calendar Day 6: Bereite Dich, Zion (J.S. Bach)

After all that lovely, flowing plainchant from yesterday, I thought we needed something a little stricter in tempo and generally more modern… and what could be more modern than Bach?  Well, several centuries worth of composers, admittedly, but Bach was pretty modern for his time, having a fine time playing with the new-fangled Well Tempered Clavier and demonstrating that one really could compose in any key.  Piano students the world over do not thank him for this.  But it was pretty hot stuff at the time.

This aria comes from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, but technically fits into the Advent theme, because it is another ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’ sort of text.  In fact, the lyrics translate roughly as “Prepare yourself, Sion, with tender efforts, to behold your lovely one, your beloved, near you soon! Your cheeks must now glow much more radiantly, hurry to love the Bridegroom with passion!”.

As I said, hot stuff.  But you’d never know it from the beautiful restraint of the music.  I especially love Anne Sofie von Otter’s rendition of this piece – her style is very delicate and baroque, and fits perfectly with the violin – she even shares some of the trills.  And her ornaments are just right. Lovely.

Edited in December 2017: Alas, the video of Anne Sofie von Otter singing Bereite Dich Zion is no longer available, so instead I’ve inserted a version sung by Elisabeth Kulman and the Münchner Bach Choir, which is extra fun, because it gives you a bit of context, and the pleasing image of the conductor singing the role of the Evangelist.  It’s a bit hearty and less delicate than von Otter’s version, but I still like it very much. If you would like to hear Anne Sofie von Otter in action, here she is singing ‘Schlafe, mein Liebster‘, also from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

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