Christum wir sollen loben schon

BWV 121 // For the Second Day of Christmas (St Stephen)

(To Christ we should sing praises now) for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, vocal ensemble, zink, trombone I-III, oboe d’ amore, strings and basso continuo

Written for the Second Day of Christmas in 1724, the cantata “Christum wir sollen loben schon” (To Christ we should sing praises now) is distinguished by a stately tone and unusual orchestration that exemplify Bach’s sensitivity to the character of each individual hymn within his chorale cantata cycle.

J.S. Bach-Stiftung Kantate BWV 121


Experience the introductory workshop, concert and reflective lecture in full length.

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Reflective lecture

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«Lutzogram» for the introductory workshop

Rudolf Lutz’s manuscript for the workshop
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The sound recording of this work is available on several streaming and download platforms.






Julia Neumann

Jan Börner

Johannes Kaleschke

Stephan MacLeod


Susanne Seitter, Gunta Smirnova, Noëmi Tran Rediger, Alexa Vogel, Maria Weber

Jan Börner, Antonia Frey, Liliana Lafranchi, Alexandra Rawohl, Damaris Rickhaus

Marcel Fässler, Manuel Gerber, Raphael Höhn, Nicolas Savoy

Fabrice Hayoz, Manuel Walser, Tobias Wicky, William Wood


Rudolf Lutz

Plamena Nikitassova, Dorothee Mühleisen, Christine Baumann, Elisabeth Kohler, Christoph Rudolf, Ildiko Sajgo

Matthias Jäggi, Sarah Krone

Maya Amrein, Hristo Kouzmanov

Iris Finkbeiner

Oboe d’amore
Andreas Helm

Susann Landert

Ulrich Eichenberger, Christian Brühwiler, Wolfgang Schmid

Frithjof Smith

Nicola Cumer

Jörg Andreas Bötticher

Musical director & conductor

Rudolf Lutz


Karl Graf, Rudolf Lutz

Reflective lecture


Dieter Hattrup

Recording & editing

Recording date

Recording location

Sound engineer
Stefan Ritzenthaler

Meinrad Keel

Production manager
Johannes Widmer

GALLUS MEDIA AG, Switzerland

J.S. Bach Foundation of St. Gallen, Switzerland

About the work


Text No. 1, 6
Martin Luther, 1524

Text No. 2–5
Text rearranged by an unknown writer

First performance
Second Day of Christmas,
26 December 1724

In-depth analysis

The introductory chorus is set as a fugal chorale motet over a lively bass line that invigorates the harmony; this structure, combined with the doubling of the vocal parts by trombones and cornett, underscores the Gregorian origins of the hymn, a German translation by Martin Luther of the early church song “A solis ortus cardine”. Bach had employed this orchestration on numerous other occasions when setting church-mode and other early hymns, a type of textual interpretation also heard in the works of Georg Philipp Telemann (“Sehet an die Exempel der Alten” TWV 1:1259). By choosing the pithy timbre of the technically demanding Stadtpfeifermusik (town piper music) over the usual concertante orchestral sound, Bach gives the setting an archaic power that lends a glimpse beyond the little babe in the manger to the eternal, almighty figure of Jesus Christ. These 112 bars of contrapuntal magnificence confirm Bach’s interest in the early motet style well before the stile-antico experiments of the 1730s, although the inclusion of strings and woodwinds bestows a touch of modern lustre on the powerful choral sound. The closing phrase – a sustained soprano note above intricate figures – culminates in an “open” half cadence that leaves audiences (both baroque and modern) awaiting a continuation.
The ensuing movement, however, represents an abrupt change in style – a technique also employed on occasion by Zelenka, Bach’s colleague in Dresden. Following the dark magnificence of the chorale motet, the tenor aria is characterised by the elegant timbre of the oboe and its jaunty, syncopated opening motive. Although the theme – a descending leap – initially seems to contradict the wording of the text (“O thou whom God created and extolled”), the middle section to the words “Though great is he, the maker of all nature” reinterprets the motive with an ascending leap. By scoring the movement for oboe d’amore, Bach symbolically underscores the warming love of God.
The alto recitative then launches a surprisingly harsh attack on impertinent human reason. At the same time, it also reveals how difficult it must have been in the days of the emerging Enlightenment to plausibly account for many a time-honoured dogma – also in Lutheran orthodoxy – such as the virgin birth. The problem, however, was certainly not a lack of artistry on Bach’s part – indeed, the master captures the wonder of the immaculate conception and the undeserved nature of God’s act of love in a spectacular and remarkably rapid key progression from C-sharp major to C major.
This is followed by a leaping bass aria with energetic, overlapping tirades from the strings whose dance-like echoing effects lend the movement a touch of gruff ruralness. It appears to be the womenfolk who meet here, in the form of Mary and Elizabeth, and the joyful leaping of John in his mother’s womb certainly represents the promise of new life in general, a feeling that Bach would have known as a father and a Christian. The elegiac middle section then speaks of the supportive “arm of faith”, which the theologian Helene Werthemann with good reason interprets as being the loving mother Mary herself. Overall, the aria embodies a contagious longing for clarity and simplicity, a desire that may well be partly responsible for the pastoral Christmas scenery so beloved over the centuries.
In a setting that touchingly portrays the humility of Jesus and the servility of God, the soprano recitative then addresses the significance the manger holds for the faithful Christian soul. This introduces the “thankful singing” of the closing chorale that, with a return to the modal tonality of the “Lutherised” hymn, concludes the cantata with a stateliness that transcends time and fashion.


1. Chor

Christum wir sollen loben schon,
der reinen Magd Marien Sohn,
so weit die liebe Sonne leucht‘
und an aller Welt Ende reicht.

2. Arie (Tenor)

O du von Gott erhöhte Kreatur,
begreife nicht, nein, nein, bewundre nur:
Gott will durch Fleisch des Fleisches Heil erwerben.
Wie groß ist doch der Schöpfer aller Dinge,
und wie bist du verachtet und geringe,
um dich dadurch zu retten vom Verderben.

3. Rezitativ (Altus)

Der Gnade unermeßlichs Wesen
hat sich den Himmel nicht
zur Wohnstatt auserlesen,
weil keine Grenze sie umschließt.
Was Wunder, daß allhie Verstand und Witz gebricht,
ein solch Geheimnis zu ergründen,
wenn sie sich in ein keusches Herze gießt.
Gott wählet sich den reinen Leib zu einem Tempel seiner Ehren,
um zu den Menschen sich mit wundervoller Art zu kehren.

4. Arie (Bass)

Johannis freudenvolles Springen
erkannte dich, mein Jesu, schon.
Nun da ein Glaubensarm dich hält,
so will mein Herze von der Welt
zu deiner Krippe brünstig dringen.

5. Rezitativ (Sopran)

Doch wie erblickt es dich in deiner Krippen?
Es seufzt mein Herz: Mit bebender und fast geschloßner Lippen
bringt es sein dankend Opfer dar.
Gott, der so unermeßlich war,
nimmt Knechtsgestalt und Armut an.
Und weil er dieses uns zugut getan,
so laß ich mit der Engel Chören
ein jauchzend Lob- und Danklied hören.

6. Choral

Lob, Ehr und Dank sei dir gesagt,
Christ, geborn von der reinen Magd,
samt Vater und dem Heilgen Geist
von nun an bis in Ewigkeit.

Bibliographical references

All libretti sourced from Neue Bach-Ausgabe. Johann Sebastian Bach. Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, published by the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut Göttingen and the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Series I (Cantatas), vol. 1–41, Kassel and Leipzig, 1954–2000.
All in-depth analyses by Anselm Hartinger (English translations/editing by Alice Noger-Gradon/Mary Carozza) based on the following sources:  Hans-Joachim Schulze, Die Bach-Kantaten. Einführungen zu sämtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs, Leipzig, 2nd edition, 2007; Alfred Dürr, Johann Sebastian Bach. Die Kantaten, Kassel, 9th edition, 2009, and Martin Petzoldt, Bach-Kommentar. Die geistlichen Kantaten, Stuttgart, vol. 1, 2nd edition, 2005 and vol. 2, 1st edition, 2007.

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