Set Aside Fear, Banish Lamentation!

Merry Christmas, everybody!

The photo above was not taken today — it’s from Christmas 2009, which was our most recent white Christmas, if I remember correctly. Today is warm and sunny; yesterday was warm and rainy — not Christmas-like at all.

We’ll celebrate the day with the opening of the incomparable Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach, BWV 248, the first movement of Part I “For the First Day of Christmas”, as performed by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner:

Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage,
Rühmet, was heute der Höchste getan!
Lasset das Zagen, verbannet die Klage,
Stimmet voll Jauchzen und Fröhlichkeit an!
Dienet dem Höchsten mit herrlichen Chören,
Laßt uns den Namen des Herrschers verehren!

Exult! Rejoice! Awake! Glorify the days!
Praise what the All Highest today has done!
Set aside fear, banish lamentation,
Swell with full joy and merriment!
Serve the All Highest with glorious song,
Let us worship the name of the Lord!

The full Oratorio (2:22:10), performed by the same ensemble, is available here.

10 thoughts on “Set Aside Fear, Banish Lamentation!

  1. Lovely thought, Baron, but why does Gardiner, like so many “early musick” specialists, have to drive the music as if he has to catch a train, leaving little time for phrasing as the music is constantly, and breathlessly, “snatched at”?

  2. Thank you so much. It is wonderful.
    I am in Australia and it is Boxing Day will listen to the long full versuin later today.

    Have a healthy 2015


  3. Wow! Baron! This was exactly the video I posted on my Facebook page for Christmas and I also highlighted the line which says: “Lasset das Zagen, Verbannet die Klage” , “Set aside fear, banish all lamentation”. So as soon as I saw the title of your post, even before I saw the post and the video itself I knew you have posted the magnificent opening chorus of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio! We have similar taste in music, my friend! I am a huge J.S. Bach fan too and have song many of his works while I was singing in a choir for years! I am glad that we both like this great music! That IS Western civilisation and that is indeed what we are fighting for! In my home country of Iran Classical music was banned for several years and when it was again allowed under stubborn pressure and insistence of some of us music-lovers it was greatly frowned upon and early tolerated by the Islamic authorities. You see, Muhammed didn’t even like music! In fact he hated it so much that he banned all music making altogether in his gloomy Medina fiefdom! I mean, what kind of a person hates music!!!? In Islam only base and banal pleasures are allowed, like gluttony during dark hours of Ramadan, or having sex with many wives and sex-slaves. Elevated and spiritual pleasures which would actually make you a better person and a more refined soul are all banned! Music is one such spiritual pleasure that Islam banns and if under pressure of human nature and instinct allows it, it restricts it very much and frowns upon it. Never the less this great music of J.S. Bach resonates even with people who are behind the iron curtain of Islam and reveals a great new world to us that even though is not our own heritage but we never the less want to belong to it and become part of it. As for myself I can say to you that one of the main reasons that I fell in love with the classical Western culture and the West in general was non other than J.S. Bach and his music. It Evangelised me to convert to Western culture and I never regretted it! So thank you for reminding us every now and then what is it that we fight to preserve and also bring these beautiful musical masterpieces to the attention of your readers. God bless you for that!

    • Thank you, ritamalik. Yes, I agree exactly. This is why we fight. As I said a few years ago in another context, “that’s why I fight: to keep the Taliban out of the organ loft”:

      The Baroque pipe organ is the apotheosis of the West. Nothing we have ever created is finer than this. Science, industry, technical skill, patient learning, and artistic inspiration have joined forces to produce the organs and the music that is performed on them.

      The organs themselves are technological marvels, superbly crafted and physically gorgeous. Tier on tier of pipes, carved and gilded scrollwork, angels and caryatids supporting the frames… and when they channel the soul of Johann Sebastian Bach, there is nothing on earth more sublime.

      This is as good as it gets.

      There is no ideology in this, none at all. The sole purpose of all of the sweat and learning and training and hardship is to create in the listener (and the performer) a moment of aesthetic rapture, all in the service of the greater glory of God. There is nothing more.

      But ideology may well destroy it. Just as there are no longer any Buddhas at Bamiyan, nor any Buddhists to carve them or contemplate them, there may come a day when all the pipes lie strewn across the paving stones of a shattered building, with no more fingers to race across the keyboards nor feet to tap the pedals.

      That’s one of the main reasons why I do what I do: so that this shall not pass from the face of the earth.

  4. Dear Mark H, I am no specialist in Baroque music, but I find this performance rather well articulated and moving forward (as opposed to dragging endlessly to the point that it loses it pulse) in fact I posted the very same performance on my Facebook page yesterday. What I most like about it other than the outburst of joy that it conveys due to its faster tempo, it is the very sharp and clear diction of the choir. I both sang in the choir for many years and conducted choirs a little bit as well and I can tell you the hardest to achieve and most sought after feature in a choral performance is clear diction of the singers so that the words that they are singing are recognisable to the audience. This performance is excellent in that regard, and also with regards to fast tempo, again remember what they are singing about. They are singing about waking up joyfully on Christmas day and praising the day and celebrating God’s great work. So of course the outburst of joyful sounds and a faster tempo are justified in this case. At least that is my interpretation of this piece. Unlike the Quran Classical music really can be interpreted in different ways! 😉

    • We must agree to differ, ritamalik. If you get the chance, check out Karl Richter’s version, from 1965. It’s over thirteen minutes slower than Gardiner’s, but doesn’t drag, to my ears at least.

      We can agree that the music is the great thing!

  5. You are so right to worry about pipe organs, Baron. My country, Iran used to be a musical superpower before the Muslims took it over. We had some instruments which were magnificent for their time. Still after islam’s takeover our scientists and musicians tried to keep up the art. But because of contant harassment from islamic authorities all musical activities moved underground.

    As a result our music developed very little since then and our culture never produced a J.S. Bach. Our instruments as well remaind under deveoped and primitive. They barely keep in tune and they project very small sound. Actually I have heard that the small sound projection is unpurpose since they had to be played in secret from islamic authorities. But because of these weaknesses they are unsuitable for orchestral playing.

    So you are absolutely right! We do fight for the presevation of the magnificent pipe organ! It is absolutely worth fighting for.

    P.S. Papa whisky, I don’t know if you are a native german speaker or not, but I want to tell you that I love german language very much and I hate it when people associate it with some Nazi barking in some WWII movies. To me german language is Bach cantatas and the “Ode to joy” !

    • I commented long ago to a fellow-music lover, and onetime luminary of the Wagner Society here in the UK, that it was a shame Wagner wrote his operas in German, as the language was harsh and lacked lyricism. He said yes, it was a shame, as otherwise Bach might have written some lovely music.

      It’s always wise to engage with people who know more than you, as you may learn something!

  6. Thanks for reminding us that there was a time when German-speaking white people had it in them to create something great that didn’t involve explosions. (Not that I haven’t thought about explosions in the last 13 years…)
    Johann von Judenlieber
    (And something positive about a Jew even!)

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