A depiction of Pentecost from Herrad of Landsberg’s Hortus Deliciarum, 12th century

In Bach’s time, Pentecost was a three-day-long feast, as important in the church year as Christmas and Easter. There is thus a treasure trove of cantatas Bach wrote for these three days: No less than 10 in total! Several of them have trumpets, timpani, and more pull-out-all-the stops instrumentation, as was appropriate for  feast days. They don’t get performed often, because Pentecost is not such an important feast anymore, and cantatas with Baroque trumpets and timpani are expensive.

I am busy with several other projects this weekend, so have to be brief in this post. For those of you with lots of time, please explore all these Pentecost cantatas on your own:

Whit Sunday [1st Day of Pentecost]: BWV 172, BWV 59, BWV 74, BWV 34, BWV 218

Whit Monday [2nd Day of Pentecost]: BWV 173, BWV 68, BWV 174

Whit Tuesday [3rd Day of Pentecost]: BWV 184, BWV 175

(Thanks to the website for this list – you can click on the links of the cantatas to find recordings)

As this was of course also a very busy time for Bach, he re-used some earlier work, but how he did this is remarkable. For a terrific example, please listen to cantata 59 by Harnoncourt (with my favorite boy soprano Peter Jelosists) and then to cantata 74 by Leonhardt, both written for Whit Sunday (1st day of Pentecost), both with the title Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten, but not with the same text. The first one is from 1723 or 1724, the latter from 1725, on a text by Von Ziegler.  Listen and notice how Bach brilliantly re-worked the opening of cantata 59 (a soprano-bass duet) into the opening of cantata 74 (an opening chorus for four voice parts and full orchestra), as well as the bass-aria with violin solo from cantata 59, now transformed into a soprano aria with oboe da caccia in cantata 74.

Read the German text with English translation of cantata 59.

Read the German text with English translation of cantata 74.

Wieneke Gorter, May 14, 2016