Imprint: Michael Stenov (composer), P.O. Box 9, A-4623 Gunskirchen, Austria, email
SCORE, piano reduction, choral score and parts material
(sheet music) was launched in 2014 by:
VERLAG DANIEL KUNERT - BUCH & NOTE
In 1997 I was very interested in the Bible text and therefore created a synopsis (a gospel
harmony) from all four Gospels - so at this time without any musical intention. While often
reading it later I realised that the Christmas story was previously never set to music by the pure
Gospel text in such detail. The first outline in choruses, arias, ensembles, recitatives and
chorales seemed very promising immediately. A colourful and varied picture arose inserting the
choruses and chorales at suitable places. So finally there were 70 numbers.
Nine resp ten choirs (opening chorus no. 1 and the final chorus no. 70 are only differently
texted), so it is six resp seven mixed choruses, one women's chorus, two men's choruses
Thirty-two recitatives for Tenor 1 (Evangelist)
Twenty-one solos (Arias), three for Soprano (Mary), three for Alto (Elisabeth), nine for Tenor
2 (angel) und six for Bass (two for Zacharias, two for Simeon, one for King Herod and one
for John the Baptist in chorus no. 38)
Two ensembles: the Solo Quartet in chorus no. 41 and the Men’s Trio no. 57 (Holy Three
The large choirs Nos. 1, 38, 41 and 70 with the text from the prologue of John the Evangelist
constitute the spiritual connection.
The angel chorus no. 45 is the sonic climax.
The work can be performed either as a whole without a break or in two parts (Advent and
Christmas) with an intermission between Chorus no. 38 and Chorale no. 39.
(90 minutes or 45 minutes each)
Especially in the recitatives (accompanied by cello and organ continuo), but also in the other
parts the tone and word painting was important to me, which can be easily empathised in most
cases. In composing the solo pieces, it seemed vital to tune the instrumentation, timbre and keys
to the characters or the text passages.
The whole of the first part up to and including chorus No. 38 tells the prehistory OF the birth
of Jesus; the smaller portions always culminate in a choral. (No. 1 - 10: The announcement
of the birth of John the Baptist, No. 11 - 21: The announcement of the birth of Jesus, No. 22 -
28 Mary’s Visitation to Elisabeth, No. 29 - 38 The birth of John the Baptist)
The first fugue subject of the opening chorus no. 1 returns into itself and therefore includes
audibly "everything" (respectively the "Heart of the Father" in the final chorus no. 70). The
second fugue subject is very flexible, therefore symbolises both lives in the opening chorus and
the Holy Spirit in the final chorus. The low a cappella-passage ends in a diminished seventh
chord (the darkness has not recognised the word - the „logos“, Christ). Instead of that, the angels
serve him, and Father and Son are one.
The two trumpets in the angel's pieces Nos. 3, 7 and 12 and the recitative no. 22 symbolise the
angel's wings, as the two French horns in the angel apparitions in the dreams of Joseph (no. 23,
64 and 68). Of course, it suits best to accompany with the harp; in this case without an "earthly"
bass instrument to indicate the celestial sphere.
The old Zacharias is accompanied by two bassoons underlined by the double bass as a continuo
instrument. The Benedictus - the canticle of Zechariah - is divided into two parts by an
instrumental interlude due to the length. (Nos. 5 and 34 in A Minor)
For Elisabeth I chose the Dorian key and two violas the violoncello as a bass instrument and for
the first time followed by also Dorian C
horale no. 10, whose second verse is a Bass-Cantus
firmus. (Nos. 9, 25 and 30)
For Maria, in the Magnificat two violins seemed best to support the oboe with the Gregorian
Magnificat-Cantus firmus. Since Mary occupies a position between heaven and earth, I have
decided for the Viola as "bass instrument" and the bass part deliberately kept in the range of the
viola. (No. 16 in D minor, no. 20 in C minor and no. 27 in F major)
Choral no. 21 has also got the melody in the bass in the second verse. In the chorales of the first
part, the obbligato instruments are oboe (Nos. 10 and 21) and French horns (no. 28) to express
the longing for the coming of the Messiah.
Both Turba Choruses no. 32 in D minor and no. 36 in A Minor are accompanied only with basso
continuo resp. two additional violins.
The chorus no. 38 in D major with the bass solo (John the Baptist) in the middle part concludes
the first part.
The real Christmas story takes place in the second part, which takes about the same length as
the first, although it has got fewer numbers.
(No. 39 - 49 The birth of Jesus, No. 50 - 55 The Presentation in the Temple, No. 56 - 62 The
visit of the Magi, No 63 - 70 The flight to Egypt)
I took the well-known setting of Michael Praetorius as opening chorale of the second part (no.
39) and extended it to instrumental parts.
The very first recitative no. 40 briefly portrays the Nativity.
This is followed by chorus no. 41 in D major, which interprets this salvation spiritually with the
words of John the Evangelist. The solo quartet in the middle section deals with the problem of
mankind who is either inclined to accept the offer of salvation or just unfortunately not.
In No. 43 in G major a magnificent Seraph with six wings (with 2 trumpets, horns and
trombones) appears to the shepherds and announces the birth of the Saviour to them, followed
by the Angelic Chorus No. 45 in D major, in which all groups of instruments - symbolising both
the ladder to heaven and the ascending and rising of small and large angels - accompany the
singing of the choir.
The three-part male chorus of shepherds no. 47 in D minor with the two treble recorders
(alternatively possibly with two oboes) and the bassoon forms a strong contrast in its simplicity.
The Chorale No. 49 devotes itself - by the two horns somewhat reluctant - to the worship of the
Divine Child in the manger.
In the temple the aged Simeon (No. 51 in G minor and No. 53 in C minor) - his power of belief
is symbolised by two trombones - confirms Jesus to be the Messiah.
In choral No. 55, the Christmas spirit breaks through with trumpets and timpani and angels
In Trio no. 57 in D Minor I used the Judeo-Sephardic scale whereby the Magi phonetically strut
along as on ambling camels of an oriental caravan. In the end, the oboe and two bassoons play
around the soloists in Arab-heterophony manner.
First hesitantly and then more confident and finally triumphantly the choir of the chief priests
and scribes No. 59 in A Minor - majestically accompanied by horns and trombones - confirms
the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.
Comparatively, the appearance of King Herod No. 61 in D major with trumpets and tympani
seems superficial and hypocritical; the accompaniment ideally is accomplished by Regal (regalis
= Royal) and contrabassoon.
Choral No. 62 - the aforementioned setting by Praetorius - has got a new text and is an
expression of reverence and adoration of the three kings.
The angel's warning the Holy Family (no. 64 in C minor) is followed by the female chorus no.
66 in F minor, the shattering inconsolable lament of Jewish mothers after the murder of their
children by Herod in Bethlehem.
The angel's request to return to Israel (No. 68 in C major) is joined by the final and prophetical
recitative No. 69. The final chorus No. 70 - musically identical with the opening chorus except
the added harp, which symbolises heaven and earth having been touched by the birth of the
Savior - is a future outlook in the history of salvation and ensures the substantial unity.
Edt bei Lambach, February 2011