This is a double post: for today, and also for last Sunday. But before I discuss Cantata 99 Was Gott tut das ist wohlgetan (Trinity 15, Sept 17, 1724) and Cantata 8 Liebster Gott, wenn wird ich sterben (Trinity 16, Sept 24, 1724), I would like to introduce you to a Telemann cantata: Du Daniel gehe hin.
Telemann’s beautiful cantata is not widely known today, but must have been rather famous among Telemann’s colleagues in the first half of the 18th century. The Kantor of the St. Nicholas Church in Berlin performed it in 1757, and I just realized this week that it must have been on Bach’s mind in 1724. While Bach and Telemann worked in the same region only from about 1708 to 1712, they were good friends, and it is generally assumed that they would have seen each other in Hamburg and Köthen a few times in the early 1720s.
I don’t know whether Bach’s “Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine” closing chorus of the St. John Passion had anything to do with Telemann’s “Schlaft wohl, ihr seligen Gebeine” closing chorus in Du Daniel gehe hin, but it does look to me as if Bach borrowed the music of the soprano aria from Du Daniel gehe hin for the duet of Cantata 99. If that is indeed what happened, then it seems very likely that, one week later, Bach was inspired by Telemann’s use of pizzicato strings as “funeral bells” in Du Daniel gehe hin when writing the opening chorus and tenor aria of Cantata 8.
For Cantata 99 Was Gott tut das ist wohlgetan I prefer the Rifkin recording, from the same album as the Cantata 78 recording I discussed two weeks ago. Again soprano Julianne Baird and countertenor Allan Fast shine, and I love the quicker tempo Rifkin chooses for the duet compared to other conductors. Listen to this recording on YouTube.
For Cantata 8 Liebster Gott, wenn wird ich sterben there is no other choice than Herreweghe. This is definitely in my top five cantata recordings ever because of the combination of Bach’s music and Herreweghe’s interpretation. Listen to the incredibly beautiful oboe playing at the start of the tenor aria, and the horn in the opening and closing chorus. Peter Kooy does a fabulous job in the bass aria, which is so difficult it is on par with bass arias from the Christmas Oratorio and the end of the Trinity season of 1723. I wonder if Bach had an exceptional bass visiting for Michaelmas that year (Sept 29, for which he wrote this dramatic bass aria about the Archangel Michael slaying the dragon*).
A striking element in both Cantatas 99 and 8 is Bach’s use of the flute. In cantata 99 Bach uses the instrument in two solo movements, the tenor aria as well as the soprano-alto duet. There could be a simple reason for this unusual choice: showing off his flute player (read more about him in this post). However, it is more likely that Bach wanted to point out the references to the cross in the text of both these movements, and what better instrument to bring out those harrowing chromatic lines than the flute? Using the flute to reinforce the image of the cross makes even more sense when you see what Bach does in the opening chorus of cantata 8. If you believe that his use of staccato flutes in the “Crucifixus” of the Mass in B Minor serves as image of hammering nails into the cross, then it is pretty clear what Bach’s hidden message is here.
Wieneke Gorter, October 1, 2017
*St. Michael’s Fair was a huge event in Leipzig, drawing visitors from as far as England and Poland, increasing the city’s population to 30,000. Read more about musicians visiting for this feast in my post about cantata 148, written for this same Sunday in 1723 or 1725.