In the Netherlands, where I grew up, most people have a four-day weekend for Ascension Day (Thursday May 10 this year as well as in 1725). The traditional thing to do was go for a long bike ride very early in the morning on the Thursday, and then spend the rest of the weekend doing the first serious gardening of the season, putting annuals in the ground, filling window boxes, etc.
Here in the United States, Ascension Day goes by unnoticed, nobody gets that Thursday day off, never mind the four-day weekend. And here in California we already started gardening a while ago. So, while still digging out from an extremely busy several weeks/months, I forgot about it. I only remembered when my sister, who lives in France, told me they were away for the long weekend.
Following Bach’s writing in 1725, the cantata for Ascension Day 1725 is Cantata 128 Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein. It has a fantastic bass solo with trumpet (the designated instrument to illustrate “heaven”) and a beautiful alto-tenor duet.
My favorite recording of this cantata is from 1993 by Gardiner, with Robin Blaze, countertenor; Christoph Genz, tenor; and Reinhard Hagen, bass. Unfortunately the name of the trumpet player is not published. Listen to it here on Spotify. This recording is not available on YouTube. Please note that this is a completely different interpretation than Gardiner’s crazy high tempo recording from 2012 (a “make-up” recording for the missing one from the Cantata Pilgrimage cycle from 2000).
If you don’t have access to Spotify, you can listen to Harnoncourt’s 1983 recording here on YouTube, with soloists René Jacobs, coutertenor; Kurt Equiluz, tenor; Max van Egmond, bass; and Friedemann Immer, natural trumpet.
While the opening chorus is very similar to the great chorale fantasias from January 1725, this cantata is not a true “chorale cantata” anymore. By this time, after Easter 1725, Bach doesn’t follow the same structure that he religiously adhered to for all his cantatas from Trinity, June 11, 1724 to the Annunciation, March 25, 1725. None of the cantatas after March 25 have the chorale tune or text throughout the entire cantata: the closing chorale is a different one than the chorale in the opening chorus, and the inner recitatives and arias are no longer based on the text of the chorale from the opening chorus either.
This cantata is the fourth in the series of nine consecutive cantatas on poetry by Christiana Mariana von Ziegler (103, 108, 87, 128, 183, 74, 68, 175, and 176). Because Von Ziegler’s texts were published, we can see how many changes Bach made to her texts. In the case of this cantata, the most striking change is Bach deleting the planned recitative between the bass aria and the alto-tenor duet. It seems that Bach wanted to increase the musical contrast between the two movements, while at the same time clarifying the connection of the text from one movement (bass aria) to the next (alto-tenor) duet.
Thus he adds Von Ziegler’s original recitative text to the text of the bass aria, starting with an extra line “wo mein Erlöser lebt.” The line doesn’t rhyme with anything, and Von Ziegler must not have been happy with this. However, this way Bach can repeat the instrumental opening of the aria after what was originally the recitative text, and create more contrast between the movements.
He also adds two more lines at the end of that bass aria:
So schweig, verwegner Mund,
Und suche nicht dieselbe zu ergründen!
Thus making it more clear how the text of this movement is related to the next movement.
Below is an overview of all the changes Bach made in this particular libretto, courtesy of Eduard van Hengel.
Wieneke Gorter, May 13, 2018.
1. Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein
2. Ich bin bereit, komm, hole mich!
3. Auf, auf, mit hellem Schall
4. Sein Allmacht zu ergründen,
5. Alsdenn so wirst du mich
|Christiana Mariana von Ziegler
1. Auf Christi Himmelfarth allein
2. Ich bin bereit, komm hohle mich.
3. Auf! Jubiliert mit hellen Schall,
4. Dein Allmacht zu ergründen,
5. Alsdenn so wirst du mich