Gender and Sexuality in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

As usual, I am having trouble locating the niche in musicology where the scholarship I want can be found. At this time, I have tried everything I can think of to find writing on what I KNOW must be an issue, but have barely found anything. I found a book by Markus Rathey, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, that sounds like it could have what I’m looking for. I found an excerpt of the book on google books, but otherwise, it’s not in the library, nor does it appear to be available via Interlibrary Loan. I thought the book would be especially useful for locating other sources, but from the footnotes I can see in the preview, lots of Rathey’s sources are quite heavy-sounding and/or in German.

In searches on Catalyst and journal databases (I’ve tried Academic Search Premier, Gender Watch, and Music Periodicals Database), I have been using different combinations and Boolean arrangements of the following search terms:

Christmas Oratorio
BWV 248

All of these searches have come up with either unrelated articles or exactly nothing.

So I’m not really sure where to go from here. I will try going to the music library and just flipping through the table of contents pages of as many Bach books as I can. This strategy has worked with some of my other music history research when I couldn’t find the right search terms.

I’m planning to research either the first or the fourth cantata from the Christmas Oratorio.

In Part I, I would focus on the “Christ as Bridegroom” trope. It is everywhere in the text, and so are some very interesting phrases like “Supreme Ruler” and “Lord/King,” which have their own gendered, even colonialist implications. The lack of interest in Mary in this text and the simultaneous focus on unborn/newborn Jesus’s pleasure would also be interesting ideas to pursue. The sections that refer to the bridegroom are both sung by an alto soloist (the first in recitative, and the second in aria form).

In Part IV, the text focuses on Jesus’ circumcision, which seems like a strange thing to be singing about at length. There is also another long section about being Christ’s beloved, including the representation of him as bridegroom. Some of the language in this cantata borders on literal sensual desire for Jesus (“I look to you longingly”/”I shall call you enchanting, since breast and heart are enflamed with love for you”). Finally, this cantata uses a soprano in duet with an echo soprano and a bass (at separate times) during some of the aforementioned sections. I would like to investigate what the choice of the female voice (or at least female-sounding, even if a woman wouldn’t have been the performer) does for the cantata and why Bach made that choice.

It’s also possible there are gendered connections to Bach’s previous works that he used to write the oratorio, but I have not seen anything about this.

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