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Screenshot 2017-04-17 11.44.51

Excerpt from the title page of Bach’s manuscript from 1735 of cantata 66 Erfreut euch ihr Herzen. The manuscript from 1724 did not survive.

In Bach’s time there were three Easter days, as there were three Christmas days and three Pentecost days. I wrote yesterday that Bach planned to write four new works between April 10 and 23, 1724, but that is only somewhat true, it depends who you ask …

Gardiner believes that what Bach planned to do after Easter 1724,  was to write cantata 6 for Easter Monday, 42 and 67 for the first Sunday after Easter, and 85 for the second Sunday after Easter, instead of writing 6, 42, and 85 in 1725. As he painstakingly explains in his book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,”  Gardiner believes that the work (composing and rehearsing) on the Passion according to St. John must have cost Bach much more time than he thought, and he thus had to adjust his plans.

Following Gardiner’s theory, when Bach realized he had too much on his plate for Easter 1724, including having to write a cantata for Easter Tuesday he might not have planned on, he decided to write parodies (using existing music with some changes, but with different texts) for Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday of that year.

For Easter Monday 1724, he wrote cantata 66 Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen. Most of the music of this cantata is based on the secular cantata 66a Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück (Heaven thinks of Anhalt’s Fame and Fortune) , composed by Bach in 1718 to celebrate the 24th birthday of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. If you have 40 minutes, listen to a reconstruction of the entire Birthday cantata 66a from 1718 here, with soprano Gudrun Sidonie Otto, alto Wiebke Lehmkuhl, tenor Hans Jörg Mammel, and bass Karsten Krüger. If you only have 10 minutes, scroll to 11:17 for the soprano/alto duet with violin.

Listen to Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 66 Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen here. Soloists: alto Kai Wessel, tenor James Taylor, and bass Peter Kooij. I like Herreweghe’s recording of this cantata the best of all I listened to, because to me the tempo of the opening chorus is perfect for me, Collegium Vocale’s singing is fabulous as always, and I enjoy listening to Peter Kooy in the bass aria.

Find the text of cantata 66 here, and the score here.

Since we only have a manuscript of this cantata from 1735, when Bach repeated this cantata in Leipzig, we don’t know for sure what Bach changed in 1724.  However, based on what we know, and comparing the two recordings I present in this post, Bach used the following movements from the Köthen Birthday cantata 66a in the Leipzig church cantata 66: The impressive and very festive opening chorus of 66 is the closing chorus of 66a, the bass aria of 66 is the alto aria of 66a, and the alto-tenor duet (beautifully sung by Kai Wessel and James Taylor) with violin of 66 is the soprano-alto duet with violin from 66a.

Movement 4 and 5 (the recitative and duet for alto and tenor) are written as a dialogue. Whenever Bach uses that technique in his church cantatas, the two characters are usually Jesus and the Soul (see for example cantata 21). In this case, the Happiness of Anhalt (the alto) from 66a has been transformed to Furcht (Fear) in 66, and  Fama (the godess of fame and reputation, soprano in 66a) has been transformed to Hoffnung (Hope, tenor in 66). With these two characters Bach refers to the Gospel reading of the day: two followers of Jesus walk to the town of Emmaus, only a few days after Jesus’ death and burial. They talk about their hope that he was the Messiah, but are at the same time fearful having heard the news that his body has disappeared from the grave.

In the Birthday cantata 66a, the two characters are in agreement, and therefore sing the same notes. However in cantata 66 Furcht and Hoffnung often disagree, even though they are still singing the same notes. Normally Bach would never have let this happen, but perhaps this is an illustration of how quickly he had to work on this cantata for Easter Monday.

Wieneke Gorter, April 17, 2017