Johann Sebastian Bach composed Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Now come, Savior of the heathens), BWV 61, in Weimar. Bach structured the cantata in six movements, beginning with a chorale fantasia, followed by a series of alternating recitatives and arias, and concluded by a four-part chorale. He scored it for three vocal soloists (soprano, tenor and bass), strings and continuo. Bach led the first performance on December 2, 1714. As Thomaskantor, director of music of the main churches of Leipzig, he performed the cantata again on November 28, 1723.
In this youthful composition, Bach composed a daring opening section, in which he combines the ancient Advent melody 'Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland' with a French royal overture that would have sounded at home in Louis XIV’s palace of Versailles. Such an overture was played as the king entered, which is very fitting for the reading when Jesus enters Jerusalem as a king riding on a donkey.
Now come, Saviour of the gentiles, recognized as the child of the Virgin, at whom all the world is amazed that God decreed such a birth for him.
The Saviour has come, and has our humble flesh and blood taken on Himself and accepts us as His blood relations O highest goodness of all, what have you not done for us? What do you not do still every day for your people? You come and let your light shine with full blessing.
Come, Jesus, come to Your church and grant us a blessed new year! Increase the honour of Your name, Preserve sound teaching and bless pulpit and altar!
See, I stand before the door and knock. If anyone will hear my voice and open the door I shall go in
and have supper with him and he with me.
Open, my whole heart, Jesus comes and enters within. Though I am only like dust and earth, He does not want to scorn me but to see His pleasure in me so that I become His dwelling. Oh, how blessed I shall be!
Amen, amen! Come, you beautiful crown of joy, do not delay for a long time! I wait for you with longing.
English Translation by Francis Browne (March, 2005)
'Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland', performed by the Netherlands Bach Society.