was composed in 1832 as a Christmas present for his younger sister Rebecka Henriette (1811–1858), who had married the mathematician Peter Dirichlet in May of that year. Mendelssohn also sent this work to the theologian Albert Bauer on 20 December 1832. Bauer had praised Felix’s revival of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and this reverential carol, unfurling in part over a Bach-style ostinato, was tailor-made for him. Mendelssohn found his text in the 54 Geistliche Oden und Lieder
(‘Spiritual Odes and Songs’) by the pious Leipzig philosopher Christian Fürchtegott Gellert; these poems, combining religiosity with Enlightenment rationalism, were enormously popular with composers including C P E Bach (who set this text as a cantata) and Beethoven.
from notes by Susan Youens © 2010