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Happy New Year! It’s still 2017 in California as I am writing this, always a bit strange, this time difference, but it is so great to know that I have readers all over the world, from New Zealand to India to France to Brazil to Canada.

Today’s Cantata 41 Jesu, nun sei gepreiset still has a bit of Christmas in it, especially in the soprano aria with the pastoral accompaniment of the three oboes, and with an orchestration worthy of a feast day: timpani, 3 trumpets, 3 oboes,  violoncello piccolo, plus the regular strings and organ. But that’s about the only relation this cantata has with the Christmas story.

The best recording of this cantata available on YouTube is the one by Koopman. You can listen to it here. Soloists are Sibylla Rubens, soprano; Annette Markert, alto; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; and Klaus Mertens, bass.

Find the German texts with English translations of Cantata 41 here, and the score here.

Normally, on New Year’s Day, it would be time to talk about the name-giving of Jesus (the day of the circumcision), see my New Year’s Day post from last year.  While Bach clearly indicates on the first page of this cantata’s manuscript that it is intended “For the “Feast of the Circumcision,” nothing in the text or music of this cantata refers to this.

This year, Bach and his librettist have chosen to focus on the old year / new year theme instead, the same way they did that yesterday for the more intimate Cantata 122. Is this perhaps another indication that this particular New Year’s, 1725, the time on the calendar was more important than the time in the Lutheran church year?

While yesterday Bach was inspired by the early medieval tradition of conflating Christmas with New Year, today it is all about the “Alpha and Omega,” the beginning and the end, in Bach’s time seen as a symbol for God’s extended care of the people. Eduard van Hengel gives the following examples for this:

  • The closing chorale has as much musical “fanfare” in it as the opening chorus, which is rather unusual for a Bach cantata.
  • The main key of the cantata is C Major, which is at the beginning as well as at the end of the sequence of key signatures.
  • In the alto recitative, which is not in they key of C at all, Bach does move to that key just for the text “A und O,” so that A sounds on a high C and O on a low C.
  • The violoncello piccolo part in the tenor aria requires the full range of the instrument, symbolizing the full extent of God’s care.

Also listen for the brilliant illustrations of Satan in the music of the bass aria: Bach uses “forbidden” intervals, also called “diabolus in musica” (the devil in the music), and writes a very unusual “insert” for the choir in the bass aria on the text “Den Satan unter unsre Füsse treten.”

Wieneke Gorter, December 31, 2017