IMPERIAL Rome reached to Bonn as well as to Bethelehem. This occurred to me the other night in Bonn as I attended the world premier of composer Giselher Klebe's Weihnachtsoratorium - the first Christmas oratorio in German since J.S. Bach. When the German newspaper Rheinisher Merkur commissioned the work earlier this year, no one could have foreseen what fantastic events would overtake the German people by the year's end.
This premier, at the Beethoven Hall on the Rhein River, was exceedingly well received. It has been many years since this writer has reviewed musical events, but Mr. Klebe is to be congratulated on this, his 101st work. It was composed for soprano, baritone, speaker, orchestra, and chorus. Its genius, reverence, and power should put it directly into the concert repertoire. And the Rheinisher Merkur is to be congratulated for commissioning the oratorio as a gift to Bonn on the city's 2,000th anniversary.
We tend to think of the political events of 2,000 years ago, Caesar's era, in terms of the Holy Land. The stir, the wakefulness of the shepherds, evoked in Klebe's first movement, anticipated a messianic event. Was a political leader to be born? Many wondered.
Bonn then was just another Roman settlement far to the north. Trier on the Mosel, and Mainz to the south, were far more important. Rome struggled to control the German tribes at that distance.
Today it is from imperial Moscow that Eastern Europe is shaking itself free. The Muscovites and their shadow-Muscovites in East Berlin, Prague, the Baltics, find their grip broken by a universal assertion of individual freedom that is breathtaking.
West Germans have quickly accepted the radically changed prospects of their East German brethren and of the more slowly evolving prospects of their relatives in the Soviet Volga region.
J"urgen Stracke, a computer programmer from Darmstadt, was in Washington on business the morning the Berlin wall drama unfolded. Stracke, a Berlin native, happened to turn on the TV set in his hotel room. ``Those crazy Americans,'' he said, thinking the wall drama had been staged. He turned to another channel, then to a third - the same story. He called his wife in West Germany. Yes, it was all true.
Still, West Germans have things on their mind other than momentous politics. The family, and roots in a particular region or community, have strong attraction. In the last few years town centers like that of Alfeld, north of Frankfurt, have taken to setting up Christmas fairs, with stalls selling ornaments, wursts, kuchen. German unemployment still derives from an unwillingness to break local bonds and move, in the American pattern, to where jobs beckon. After dinner in Mainz the other evening, friends from the Frankfurt region remarked at the novelty of the dialect of guests from another region.
Michael and Kirsten Bostelmann of Bad Elms, near Koblenz, both teachers, are expecting their first child next spring. Their concerns: Student motivation and a laundry hamper for the new Bostelmann.
A meat wholesaler from Mainz, his children grown, has decided to join his wife in the real estate business.
The newest West German complaint is the road hazard posed by the tiny ``Trabbis,'' the East German cars suddenly come upon by zooming Mercedes on the Autobahn.
Two newspaper editors in Bonn, working for competing papers, refer to their country as ``rich.''
So normal life here goes on unaffected by the East bloc's liberation.
Why so long since the last German Christmas oratorio? Complacency? ``One had his Bach,'' a music critic observes.
The Martin Luther chorale ``Von Himmel hoch da komm ich her'' sets up the final brief movement of Klebe's work.
``Herr! Gib uns Frieden!'' the choir concludes. Lord, give us peace.
Free us from Moscow, Rome. From a self-inflicted modern barbarism. From materialism. From the centrifugal forces that pull at the German community, family.