In order to be able to perform the work at low cost and to combine it with other classical church music works without additional instruments, the following reduced versions of the instrumental movement exist, timpani ad libitum in each case:
- piano solo
- organ & piano
- strings & piano/organ
The cantata “Christ, the Heavenly Phoenix” is – as far as I know – the only cantata so far whose text refers thematically to alchemical symbols. The composition was inspired by the eponymous title of an anonymous poem from the 17th century (in S. R. Acxtelmeier, Des aus der Unwissenheits-Finsternuss erretteten Natur-Liechts, Augsburg, 1699) and by the depiction of the phoenix in the pulpit inlays of the Protestant Church in Leverkusen Bergisch-Neukirchen.
The poet Alexander Nitzberg refrained from reproducing the myth of the phoenix and relating it to Christ as in the above-mentioned poem. Rather, he had the idea of illustrating the mystery of death and resurrection by means of five classical mystery animals, which are arranged in a circle in old classical representations. They embody stages of spiritual soul development: four of them are bird creatures (raven, swan, pelican, phoenix), one, the basilisk (Greek: “little king”) represents a crowned serpent. Provided with wings, i.e. as a dragon, it is counted among the mystery birds. The raven embodies the state of the greatest immersion of the soul in matter, a leaden state, impermeable to light, as is evident in the black plumage. The swan symbolises the state of processual purification and cleansing (young swans are still grey). The basilisk symbolises the forces of resistance and challenge. The pelican embodies self-sacrificing charity, while the phoenix represents the state of overcoming matter and union with the kingdom of Christ in the firepower of the Holy Spirit.
The musical design of the cantata incorporates several styles to express these characters. The return to the divine order is expressed with the help of the musical form of the fugue, which evokes the old idea of a “pre-stabilised harmony” (Leibniz) in the harmonically simple, quasi baroque tonal language.