One of three oratorios by Bach, the Ascension Oratorio was first performed on Ascension Day in 1735 (May 19) in Leipzig. The text mixes biblical and poetic material, though the exact librettist is unknown. (Biblical passages come from Luke 24:50-2; Acts 1:9-12; and Mark 16:19).
Bach wrote several cantatas for the Feast of the Ascension (BWV 37, 43, and 128), though none matches the musical scope of the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11, sometimes referred to as BWV 249a). Called an “oratorio,” this is, like the Christmas Oratorio, really a cantata-style piece (the Christmas Oratorio is actually a series of six cantatas).
Connections to other works by Bach
- The opening was probably borrowed from the lost secular cantata Froher Tag, verlangte Stunden (of 1732)
- The alto aria “Ach, bleibe doch” was based on the aria “Entfernet euch, ihr kalten Herzen” from the wedding cantata Auf! süß-entzückende Gewalt (now lost)
- That same alto aria serves as a model for the Agnus Dei of the Mass in B Minor.
- The use of an Evangelist links this work to the St. Matthew Passion
- The main key of the oratorio is D Major, something it shares with both the Easter Oratorio and Christmas Oratorio.
- The scoring of the large choruses is the same Bach uses in Cantatas 1, 3, and 4 of the Christmas Oratorio (three trumpets, timpani, two flutes, two oboes, strings, continuo, and SATB choir)
- The use of a chorale (“Nun lieget alles unter dir,” Movt. 6) provides a link to numerous other works by Bach.
Aria “Jesu, deine Gnadenblicke”, in my opinion, is the most touching moment in this cantata. It presents imperturbable belief in God`s mercy and love
Jesus, Your merciful gaze
I can continually see.
Your love remains behind,
So that here, in mortal time,
I can refresh myself spiritually
Already with future glory,
When one day we shall stand there before You.