Written in six parts for performance on six feast days before Christmas 1734, J.S. Bach’s Oratorio was not intended to be heard as a single work, and would indeed last three hours if performed as a whole.
The Oratorio is written in ‘parody’ style, adapting existing (often his own secular) pieces to form a coherent story. It features the chorale, introduced by Martin Luther into church services to allow the congregation to participate in musical worship: simple melodies that would have been recognised and sung by Bach’s congregation.
Johann Sebastien Bach was born in 1685 to a musical family and learned violin and harpsichord at a young age. By the age of ten both his parents had died and he went to live with a highly musical elder brother, who taught him to play the organ.
Johann Sebastien took up increasingly important jobs as organist and with a growing reputation as organ teacher he was offered posts at court and in increasingly larger towns. In 1723 he moved to Leipzig, one of the foremost centres of German cultural life, where he took up the post of Director of Choir and Music (Cantor) until his death at the age of 65.