The reading for this Sunday, the 11th after Trinity, is the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (or Tax Collector) from the Gospel of Luke. In the parable, these two men come into the temple to pray around the same time, but talk to God in very different ways. While the Pharisee puts on a fake show about how good he is, the tax collector is very humble, “wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven” and asks for forgiveness.
“There’s something with this Sunday,” I wrote three years ago, and I still feel that way when I listen to the cantatas Bach wrote for this Sunday in 1723 and 1724.
In 1723, his first year in Leipzig, Bach performed two cantatas on this Sunday: Cantata 179 Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht kein Heuchelei sei(See that your fear of God is not hypocrisy) before the sermon, and his solo cantata for soprano Cantata 199 Mein Herze schwimmt in Blut (from his early years in Weimar) afterwards. Cantata 199 is only loosely related to the Gospel story, and was probably never written with this story in mind. Because of its multi-layered history and the many different recordings, I will discuss that composition some other time.
Cantata 179 focuses on the hypocrisy of the Pharisee, and just like cantatas 46 and 102 I discussed last week, it must have been one of Bach’s own favorites, because he re-used three movements in later works. Read all about it in my post from 2016, which I have updated with better images and new video links.
In 1724, Bach wrote cantata 113 Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut, which, surprise, surprise, focuses on the Publican asking for mercy. The only recording that does this cantata justice and gives me the good kind of stomachache is the one by Bach Collegium Japan. Peter Kooij’s and Robin Blaze’s singing is outstanding, and Yukari Nonoshita and Robin Blaze make the duet into a lovely piece of music, which is–judging from a lot of other recordings–not an easy thing to do. I updated my blog post from 2017 with all the correct links to stream or purchase this recording. Please find it here.
We don’t have any letters in which Bach writes about his own compositions, so we officially don’t know which ones were his own favorites. But when we see which cantatas he gave a “second life” in another work, and which cantatas were performed by his sons, we can make an educated guess.
Two of these cantatas, Cantata 46 Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei (from 1723) and Cantata 102 Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben! (from 1726), were written for this Sunday, the 10th after Trinity.
Bach gave the opening chorus from Cantata 46Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgendein Schmerz sei a second life in the Qui Tollis in his Mass in B minor. Find a YouTube video of just that opening chorus, from Herreweghe’s performance at the 2013 Saintes Festival in France, here. Find my post from 2016 about this cantata, with links to translations, score, and my favorite recording here.
Cantata 102 Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben! received even more second lives (see table below), and was performed at least twice in Hamburg by Bach’s second surviving son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach. My favorite performance of this cantata was the one by Herreweghe I attended in January 2018 at the Bruges Bach Festival, with Dorothee Mields, Alex Potter, Thomas Hobbs, and Peter Kooij. Alas there is no recording of this. Of all recordings currently available, my favorite is here on YouTube, by oboist Marcel Ponseele’s Ensemble Il Gardellino, with Damien Guillon, countertenor; Marcus Ullman, tenor; and Lieven Termont, bass. Especially the Aria Weh der Seele, die den Schaden by countertenor Damien Guillon and oboist Marcel Ponseele (both pictured at the top of this post) is to die for, and this combination of singer and oboist is simply unrivaled by any other recordings.
Find the texts & translations of Cantata 102 here, and the score here.
Movement from Cantata 102
Movement in later work
Opening chorus of the Missa Brevis in g minor, BWV 235
Soprano aria “Qui tollis peccata mundi” of the Missa Brevis in F Major, BWV 233
Alto aria “Quoniam to solus sanctus” of the Missa Brevis in F Major, BWV 233
A little more about the early “revival” of this cantata by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach. In 1768, C.Ph.E. Bach succeeded Telemann as music director of the five largest churches in Hamburg, and remained in that position until his death in 1788. As such, he performed a handful of his father’s cantatas, albeit with adaptations. In 1776 or 1777 as well as in 1781, he performed Cantata 102 Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben!
These early “promotions” of this cantata must have inspired more performances or at least discussions about them, and eventually this composition along with some other cantatas likely reached the circle around Mendelssohn. In 1830, shortly after Mendelssohn’s Berlin revival of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in 1829, Adolf Bernhard Marx published three Bach cantatas BWV nrs 101, 102, and 103. It was the firsts time since 1709 that a Bach cantata appeared in print.
In my humble opinion, the best cantata Bach wrote for this 9th Sunday after Trinity is Cantata 105 Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht. This cantata has one of the best opening choruses Bach ever wrote, and I find the soprano aria and the bass arioso very moving. And as far as interpretations and recordings of this cantata go, for me, Herreweghe’s always rises above all others. In my post from 2016 I discuss his 1992 and 2012 recordings of this cantata. Please find that post here. It has all the links for recordings, texts & translations, and score, it tells you what to listen for in the music, and also explains why this Cantata 105 was Bach’s first real Leipzig cantata.
In January 2018, I had the good fortune to attend three Bach cantata concerts by Herreweghe, the first two in Bruges, the third one in Paris.* The program in Paris featured Cantata 105, everyone was in top form, and it was terrific to see Herreweghe conduct this piece that he and his ensemble know so well. It made me wish for a third Herreweghe recording of this cantata, because Dorothee Mields (not singing on the 1992 or 2012 recording), was mesmerizing in the “Wir zittern und wanken” aria and Peter Kooij’s strong rendition of the bass arioso almost brought me to tears.
Wieneke Gorter, August 8, 2020.
*To read more about these concerts in Bruges and Paris, find my posts from January 2018 here and here.
Bach wrote three cantatas for this Sunday, and since my favorite recordings (for now)* of two of those feature my first and second countertenor loves, Gérard Lesne and Kai Wessel, I thought it might be nice to talk a bit about how I came to appreciate these singers.
Because I grew up listening to Bach cantatas from the cantata recording project by Leonhardt and Harnoncourt, hearing these every Sunday from when I was a small child, I was completely used to alto arias being sung by countertenors. I have become better at it, but sometimes I still feel as if I have to consciously switch something in my brain before I can listen to a female alto sing Bach and take it seriously.
However, none of the alto arias from that Leonhardt/Harnoncourt project (1970-1989), stayed with me the way many of the soprano, tenor, and bass arias did. The voices of René Jacobs or Paul Esswood just never blew me away nor did their singing truly move me. I remember enjoying Michael Chance’s singing on recordings of English Baroque composers and in the arias he sang in the live performance of Bach’s St. John Passion with Harnoncourt I mentioned in this post. But still, not blown away.
That all changed the summer of 1988 or 1989. Still a teenager, I had started volunteering for the Utrecht Early Music Festival in 1987. I did that for several years and then was on the summer staff for a few years as well, all this in the team that managed the Exhibition. The booth right around the corner from our own information booth was staffed by the best CD curator I’ve ever met, Joost. He went to all the concerts, and knew all the Early Music recordings, and I LOVED the recordings he recommended. It was through him that I learned about Gérard Lesne. The second or third year I was there, Joost was selling Lesne’s Vivaldi CD from 1988 to everyone with the words “Buy this. Listen to it. If you come back to me, look me in the eye, and can tell me without any sign of emotion that you didn’t like it, I’ll take it back.” (or, as he literally said in Dutch: “Als je me met droge ogen kunt vertellen dat je het niks vond, dan neem ik hem terug.”) I became a fan, and will never forget hearing Lesne live, singing Charpentier, in the Chapelle Royale of Versailles in the Holy Week of 1994.
Gérard Lesne is featured on a live audio recording from 1988 of Cantata 45 Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist which you can find here on YouTube. It is from a concert on October 25, 1988, in the Notre Dame du Travail church in Paris, by La Chapelle Royale (one of Herreweghe’s ensembles), conducted by Gustav Leonhardt. Other soloists are John Elwes, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass.
Bach wrote this Cantata 45 in 1726 for the 8th Sunday after Trinity. Please find the score here, and the texts & translations here.
My blog post from 2016 about Cantata 136 Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz spotlights my second countertenor love: Kai Wessel. His voice and interpretation was nothing short of a sensation for me when Ton Koopman’s recording of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion came out in 1993. That a countertenor could also have such a beautiful tenor quality to his voice was new to me, and I found his singing incredibly moving. Thanks to this, I gained new appreciation for the “Erbarme dich” aria. Because of Kai Wessel singing the alto aria, the Bach Collegium Japan recording I recommended in 2016 is still my favorite interpretation of Cantata 136, though the live performance by the J.S. Bach Foundation from 2011 is very well done too, and that video is exciting because you can see the corno da tirarsi** in action in the amazing opening chorus.
Wieneke Gorter, August 2, 2020.
*This might change soon, because Herreweghe recorded this cantata program, including BWV 45, at the end of January 2020. I will let you know when this recording comes out. It is the first time they have recorded BWV 45 and 118, and I can’t wait to hear Alex Potter in BWV 198, and look forward to hearing BWV 78 with Dorothee Mields and Alex Potter in the famous duet, and Thomas Hobbs in the gorgeous but often overlooked tenor aria.