In the spring of 1724, Bach had flutes* doubling oboe or violin parts for the first time. For the first Sunday after Easter that year, he wrote a separate part for flute, in cantata 67. It is a pretty part, but not extremely challenging. In cantata 107 things get more serious for the flute players. If Bach was trying out a new player, he has now passed the test. So now, two weeks later, it is time for a truly virtuoso flute part. Bach goes all out in this cantata 94 Was frag ich nach der Welt for the 9th Sunday after Trinity, writing the opening chorus as a flute concerto, and including an exquisite aria for alto and flute. The cantata also includes a fabulous tenor aria with full string accompaniment, and a pretty soprano aria with oboe.

I recommend Bach Collegium Japan’s recording of this cantata, with Kiyomi Suga, Baroque flute; Yukari Nonoshita, soprano; Robin Blaze, counter-tenor;  Jan Kobow, tenor; and Peter Kooy, bass. Listen here on YouTube via a playlist I created.

If Bach was trying out a new flute player, scholars think this must have either been Friedrich Gottlieb Wild (1700–1762), or Johann Gottlieb Würdig. Wild studied Law at the University of Leipzig, and thanks to a letter of recommendation Bach wrote for him on May 18, 1727, we know that he studied with Bach at least from 1723 to 1727 and also played the flute and the harpsichord in some of his cantatas. Bach writes:

“… during the four years that he has lived here at the University, [he] has always shown himself to be diligent and hardworking, in such manner that he not only has helped to adorn our church music with his well-learned accomplishments on the Flaute traversiere and Clavecin but also has taken special instruction from me in the clavier, the thorough bass, and the fundamental rules of composition based thereupon, so that he may on any occasion be heard with particular approval by musicians of attainment.”

Wild didn’t get the job of Kantor at the Jacobikirche in Chemnitz in 1727, but was appointed organist of the St. Peter’s Church in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1735. It is thus assumed that he continued as a student of Bach’s until 1735.

Würdig was a flute player at the Köthen court, and it has been suggested (by William Scheide, Bach Jahrbuch 2003) that Bach convinced him to travel back to Leipzig with him when he visited Köthen in July 1724. If that was the case, Würdig stayed in Leipzig for a few months, because until November 19, 1724, there would be an almost weekly flute solo in Bach’s cantatas.

Wieneke Gorter, August 13, 2017.


*not to be confused with recorders, which Bach had included in his cantatas many times before. Watch this All of Bach video in which Marten Root explains the development of the flute in 18th century Germany, and Bach’s use of the instrument in his cantatas (click on “interview flute player Marten Root” in the middle of the screen). A good video explaining this instrument is also this one by Lisa Beznosiuk of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.