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threekings

The Three Kings, on one of four panels of an altar from Rottweil, Germany.

I would like to dedicate this post to my friends in the Santa Rosa, Napa, and Mendocino areas who are living with enormous stress and challenges due to the fires raging up there. They can all use a silver lining, and the cantata from 1724 for this 18th Sunday after Trinity has an abundance of it.

All this time in the summer and fall of 1724, Bach was writing chorale cantatas, meaning that each cantata would be based on a hymn, if possible one of the ones associated with that particular Sunday in the church year.  For this reason he chose Herr Christ, der einige Gottessohn (Lord Christ, the only son of God) for this cantata with the same title.

Overall, I prefer Ton Koopman’s recording of this cantata 96 Herr Christ, der einige Gottessohn. Listen to that recording here on YouTube, or here on Spotify. Soloists are Deborah York, soprano; Franziska Gottwald, alto; Paul Agnew, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass; Heiko ter Schegget, sopranino recorder; and Wilbert Hazelzet, transverse flute.

Find the German text with English translation here.

In the Lutheran Church the chorale Herr Christ, der einige Gottessohn, one of the oldest Protestant hymns, was not so much associated with this Sunday, but more with Epiphany/Three Kings, January 6, for its reference to the Morning Star. Bach brings the luster of the Christmas season into this cantata in the most beautiful way. He gives the opening chorus a dusting of starlight by writing a part for flauto piccolo, or sopranino recorder, over the rest of the vocal and instrumental parts. Because in this opening chorus the altos have the chorale melody (doubled by a cornetto, on this recording played by Arno Paduchn), Bach can create an ethereal link between the chorus and the flauto piccolo by way of the soprano part in the chorus. In the fifth line of the text, Er ist die Morgensterne (he is the Morning Star), he modulates to the brilliant key of E Major on the word Morgensterne.

The alto recitative and tenor aria that follow refer to the fact that Jesus is God’s son, not David’s son. This is the only direct reference to the Gospel reading for this Sunday: Jesus giving the Jewish elders a hard time when they claimed that he was only David’s son, not God’s son (Matthew 22: 34-46).  In the tenor aria, fabulously sung by Paul Agnew, Bach features his flute player again.

The soprano recitative moves the focus to Jesus as guiding light, referring to the “he is the Morning Star” text from the chorale. The soprano’s statement that it can be hard to stay on the “right path” is illustrated in the bass aria.

Please listen to Peter Kooy’s interpretation of this aria on the Bach Collegium Japan recording, here on YouTube. We have heard faltering steps in Bach cantatas before (read my post about that here), but this time Bach offers a more theatrical illustration. In the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig a visual and aural effect would have made this even stronger: the violins, at least in the beginning playing when the bass sings “zu rechten” (now to the right), would have stood on the right-hand balcony, the oboes, playing when the bass sings “zu linken” (now to the left) would have stood on the left-hand balcony. Also, in Bach’s rhetoric, right meant good and high, left meant bad and low.

The middle part of this cantata, with the text “Gehe doch, mein Heiland, mit” (My saviour please come with me) always moves me. I hope that the people affected by the California fires will continue to reach out and that the concerned and caring community will continue to offer support in the weeks and months to come, because this will be a long haul.

 

Wieneke Gorter, October 15, 2017.

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