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The Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach

Colin Fields


The Plough Music Series is a regular selection of music intended to lift your heart to God. This is not a playlist of background music: each installment will focus on a single piece worth pausing to enjoy.

It seems appropriate to start the year with a selection from the master of sacred music, Johann Sebastian Bach. The Christmas Oratorio (written in 1734) was intended to be performed in six parts on the major feast days of the Christmas season, ending with Part Six on January 6, the Feast of Epiphany, which celebrates God’s son revealed as a human being: the newly born Jesus.

Part Six begins with a mighty chorus that triumphantly declares dependence on God’s power. This is Bach at his most splendid: trumpets, drums, and a full-throated choir. The words (attributed to Christian Friedrich Henrici) are a fitting prayer for the new year; schnauben in the first line literally means “snort”, suggesting warhorses.

Lord, when our haughty foes assail us
O, may it for our peace avail us
To rest upon thy mighty power.
Our only trust, do thou defend us
All needful help and succor send us
To keep us safe in danger’s hour.

Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben,
So gib, dass wir im festen Glauben
Nach deiner Macht und Hülfe sehn!
Wir wollen dir allein vertrauen,
So können wir den scharfen Klauen
Des Feindes unversehrt entgehn.

video of Part 6 of Bachs Christmas Oratorio