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Backside of the complex in which Bach rented an apartment in Köthen from 1719 to 1723. His wedding to Anna Magdalena in December 1721 was celebrated in this house, and several of their fellow court musicians had an apartment here too.

This week I’ve been paying a bit more attention to all the YouTube channels I subscribe to. So I can point you just in time to the live recording of cantata 107 Was willst du dich betrüben by the J.S Bach Foundation. Soloists are Julia Doyle, soprano; Makoto Sakurada, tenor; and Wolf-Matthias Friedrich, bass. My favorite recording of this cantata is still the one by Herreweghe from 1993 (the lines in the opening chorus! the bass solos!) but I love this one by the Bach Foundation too. It is very well done and very moving, and with no live concerts here in California at all yet, I appreciate watching live performances even more right now.

Another YouTube discovery I especially enjoy this Covid summer is the “Encountering Bach” documentary series. This wonderful production by Bachfest Malaysia currently has six episodes available, and more are still to come. The episodes are nice and short (between 8 and 13 minutes), but full of information, and very well geared towards a global audience. Bachfest Malaysia’s artistic director David Chin travels to all the places where Bach worked, and he does this together with German Bach specialist Michael Maul.* In all the locations they get help from local experts, from a soprano soloist who’s also a St. Thomas School mom, to the organist who nowadays plays the “Bach organ” in Arnstadt, to a manuscript specialist of the Bach Archives in Leipzig. Believe it or not, but I myself have never visited any of these places, and I travel vicariously through their experiences.

For the benefit of some more background for this blog post, I’d like you to watch episode 5, which is about Bach’s time in Köthen, and how he appreciated his employer there. It is no problem to watch this before you watch the other episodes. If you have more time, treat yourself to the entire series.

Episode 5 explains that Bach’s employer in Köthen belonged to the Calvinist church, where music other than chorale singing and organ playing wasn’t allowed. However the video also shows the Lutheran church where Bach and many of his fellow court musicians would have attended services. The experts suggest that it could have been here that Bach and friends would have performed re-runs of Bach’s Weimar cantatas. When I watched this, it dawned on me that a scenario I came up with in 2017 should be adjusted a bit.

In my 2017 blog post about Cantata 107, I explained that in July 1724, Bach and Anna Magdalena left Leipzig for a while (anywhere from a few days to almost two weeks) in order to visit their previous employer in Köthen and perform at his castle. Bach had been Capellmeister there, and Anna Magdalena a very highly paid soprano.

In that post, I painted a “movie scenario,” imagining that cantata 107 Was willst du dich betrüben would have been “tested” in the castle in Köthen, but I now realize it would probably have happened in the local Lutheran church instead. And in that case it would not have been very likely that Anna Magdalena would have sung the soprano aria. (Though they might have played the music through at the house of one of the other court musicians, who knows. Hoping that David Yearsley’s book on Anna Magdalena Bach will give me some more clarity on this.)

This all also means that I would like to circle back to my post from last week. I said:

“For 1724, it is very likely that Bach never wrote a cantata that year for this Sunday. Because later in his life, Bach most probably wrote Cantata 9 Es ist das Heil uns kommen her for this moment in the church year, in an effort to fill the gaps within his 1724/1725 chorale cantata cycle.”

That is all still true, but I had obviously forgotten to mention the second reason why there is no cantata from 1724 for Trinity 6, namely that Bach was in Köthen that Sunday. For some of my friends it might come as a relief that I forget some things now and then (you know who you are) but I myself was pretty shocked that I had forgotten this story that I had written about only three years ago.

Wieneke Gorter, July 25, 2020

*Michael Maul, born 1978, has been the Artistic Director of the Bachfest Leipzig since 2018, and is the most famous Bach scholar of his generation.