Leipzig Collegium Musicum

A Collegium Musicum was a music society.

With the burgeoning of bourgeois culture, particularly in prosperous and vibrant centres such as Leipzig, there began a slow shift away from music being made exclusively for The Court or The Church. Art music was becoming accessible to a much wider public. An example of this is the Music Hall in Dublin where Messiah received its first performance. Collegia musica were a vital part of this development.

Collegia musica brought musicians together to make music, and were often purely amateur in status. In Hamburg, Georg Philipp Telemann set up a collegium musicum in his own home.  It was Telemann who founded the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, in 1702 (when he was also associated with St. Thomas’s for a time). This became the focal point for professional musicians, and it was an organisation of real standing within the city, informal and voluntary institution though it was. Bach’s becoming director of the Collegium does not seem to have brought him any financial rewards, but it did greatly widen his scope, compared to the restrictions placed on him by his ‘day-job’ at the Thomasschule.

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Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

The music for the Christmas Oratorio was not originally written for the Church but for  the name-day of Friedrich August II, the new Elector of Saxony – 3rdAugust,1733.

Bach, in his position as Director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, began a series of celebratory secular cantatas to mark the occasion.

Three of these are lost, including 215a (for the Elector’s coronation as King of Poland on 19th February 1734), but cantata no. 213, written for the Elector’s heir, does remain, along with 214 (for the Electress) and 215 (for the Elector). The music is festive and virtuosic; most was performed al fresco to complement the fireworks!

The Christmas Oratorio is a parody work based on these secular cantatas. It consists of six cantatas, the first of which was performed on Christmas Day 1734, and the last at Epiphany 1735.