Bach, Mendelssohn and the Light of the World

Johann_Sebastian_Bach_1746Mendelssohn

The Collect for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (Jan. 18) proclaims that “Jesus Christ is the light of the world” by also using words such as “illumined,” “shine” and “radiance.” To highlight this prayer, there is perhaps no better entrance hymn than Phillip Nicolai’s (1556-1608) great chorale Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern, as harmonized by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), who included so many chorales in his own compositions.

Then considered to be “the old style,” Baroque music fell out of favor in the late 18th century, and composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was instrumental in reviving the Baroque. He conducted a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in 1829, the first performance since Bach’s death. Mendelssohn also modeled his oratorios on the works of Bach and Handel. It is no surprise that this morning’s anthem “There shall a star from Jacob come forth” ends also with Phillip Nicolai’s chorale Wie schon leuchtet, Mendelssohn’s validation of “the old style.” This chorus is from his unfinished oratorio Christus, which was published posthumously.

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