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Bach Motets: Fürchte dich nicht

Sunday 8 January, 2:30 pm - 3:45 pm

Oxford Bach Soloists
Tom Hammond-Davies (conductor)
Magda Loth-Hill (violin)
George Clifford (violin)
Rosie Moon (violone, double bass)
Dónal McCann (organ)

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Bach’s motets constitute the most perfect and gem-like set amongst his works. They lay at the heart of his work as a teacher and choir-trainer, and grew out of a genre which the Bach family had cultivated for generations. This was the repertory that all his pupils were expected to sing and to master.

In the season after Christmas, the Christian Church tells the story of the Magi who come from the East bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. On their way, they greet King Herod in Jerusalem asking him where they might find the newborn “King of the Jews”. Herod became paranoid that the child would threaten his throne, and sought to kill him, ordering the massacre of all the first-born in the land. But, with the help of an angel, Mary, Joseph, and the child make their escape to Egypt.

This story is told in one of the oldest Latin hymns A solis ortus cardine, written in the first half of the fifth century. Our concert traces the development of this great hymn through the renaissance composers Palestrina and John Sheppard, to Martin Luther. His adaptation Christum wir sollen loben schon (with the verse Was fürchtest du, Feind Herodes, sehr) became the kernel for Bach’s Cantata for the Second Day of Christmas (26 December 1724), Christum wir sollen loben schon BWV 121.

Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents and the Flight into Egypt is the inspiration behind Heinrich Schütz’s vivid musical depiction of the angel appearing to Joseph in a dream warning him to flee with his family to Egypt, as well as Bach’s Cantata for the Sunday after New Year (2 January 1724), Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind BWV 153, which reflects in general on the situation of the Christian confronted with enemies. Bach’s Motet Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir BWV 228, gently urges and reminds the listener not to be afraid.

Palestrina A solis ortus cardine
John Sheppard Hostis Herodes impie
J. S. Bach Christum wir sollen loben schon BWV 696
J. S. Bach Cantata: Christum wir sollen loben schon BWV 121
Heinrich Schütz Siehe, es erschien der Engel SWV 403
J. S. Bach Cantata: Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind BWV 153
J. S. Bach Motet: Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir BWV 228

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This is the fourth in a series of concerts, centring on Bach’s Motets BWV 225 – 230, taking place between October 2022 and March 2023. 

Can’t make the concert in person? Then you can watch it online through our Digital Concerts Subscription.


Sunday 8 January
2:30 pm - 3:45 pm
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New College Chapel
Holywell Street
Oxford, OX1 3BN
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