In 2018, I was following Bach’s writing in 1725. My last post that year was about this Sunday, Trinity Sunday. Read that post here.
Judging by the cantatas that are left to us, Bach didn’t write any church cantatas during the months of June and July in 1725. Instead, he performed three cantatas by Telemann that summer:
Gelobet sei der Herr, der Gott Israel (TVWV 1:596), on June 24
Der Segen des Herrn machet reich ohne Muhe (TVWV 1:310), on July 1
Wer sich rachet, an dem wird sich der Herr wider rachen (TVWV 1:1600), on July 8
We don’t know why this happened. There are several possibilities:
Bach was exhausted from the 1725 Easter to Trinity season – read more about this in my previous post
Telemann had begged Bach to bring some of his cantatas to the attention of the Leipzig congregations and Bach’s Leipzig orchestra members. Oh, how we all wish that the correspondence between Bach and Telemann had survived! They were good friends since Bach’s Weimar years. Judging from some of Telemann’s letters that did survive, he could make a good pitch.
Bach thought that after two cycles of cantatas in Leipzig (from Trinity 1723 to Trinity 1725) he had created a sufficient amount of music to be used during church services that he didn’t necessarily need to write a new cantata for each Sunday.
I’ll pick up the 1725 thread on August 1st, the 9th Sunday after Trinity, for which Bach finally picked up his pen again, writing Cantata 168 Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort.
Stay tuned for a discussion of this year’s online version of Bachfest Leipzig: “Bach’s Messiah,” which will take place from June 11 to 15.
If you don’t feel like reading a long blog post and just want to learn about this Sunday’s cantatas, please watch Rudolf Lutz’ wonderful lecture/improvisation from 2020 about Cantata 44 and 183here. It is in English. Find my blog post about these same cantatas, highlighting completely different aspects of the pieces, here.
We tend to think that Christmas was the busiest time for Bach in Leipzig, writing cantatas for the three (!) Christmas Days, New Year’s Day, Epiphany, AND all the Sundays that fell in between those days. On the holidays, he would often perform the cantatas twice, once in the St. Nicholas Church, and once in the St. Thomas Church.
While working like this for two weeks in a row does sound crazy to us, we can still relate to it, because the Christmas season is often busy for most of us too.
But especially because of this wanting or needing to relate, I think we often forget that there was another period in the year for Bach in Leipzig that was equally busy: the time from Easter to Trinity. It was perhaps not as non-stop as the Christmas season, but it was much longer in time, and more laden with decision-making, so possibly more draining for the composer. We don’t know.
I would like to go back to my posts from the spring of 2018, when I was following Bach’s writing in the spring of 1725. Going forward, this year, I would like to keep following his cantata compositions from 1725. So let’s look at what this possibly exhausting period looked like for Bach in 1725. All the links in this following list refer to my own blog posts from 2018. The Easter Oratorio was rewritten from a previous work, but every single cantata Bach wrote after that was newly composed that year, 1725.
March 30, Good Friday: The second version of the St. John Passion, with a new opening chorus and several new arias.
April 1, Easter Sunday: First performance of the Easter Oratorio as well as a repeat performance of Cantata 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden (written much earlier in his career)
This Third Sunday after Easter, or “Jubilate” Sunday, was also the start of a three-week-long Trade Fair in Leipzig, lasting until Exaudi Sunday (this Sunday). Leipzig had three such events each year (the others were at Michaelmas and at New Year’s). In the 18th century Leipzig had become the centre for trade with Russia, Poland, and England. During the fairs the population of the city would grow to 30,000. Bach did business himself too during these times. He for example timed the publication of his Clavierübung to coincide with these fairs. In addition to that, I imagine that he would have had visitors in his house, and that he was making time to meet with friends and colleagues who were in town during this time.
April 29: Cantata 108 Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe
Today was Ascension Day. In Bach’s time this was a very important holiday in the churches. Many countries in Europe have a four-day weekend starting on this Thursday. I did too as a kid growing up in the Netherlands. But we didn’t go to church on this day, and I don’t remember my mother playing the Ascension cantatas or the Ascension Oratorio on the turntable at home on this day. Instead we went for a bike ride, visit grandparents, or go camping. I didn’t know Bach’s music for Ascension Day at all until we performed BWV 11 and 43 with California Bach Society in the early 2000s. The choruses from these compositions are among the most fun I have every sung in a choir. I love the syncopated rhythms.
Here is an overview of Bach’s music for Ascension Day, as far as we know, in order of creation:
In 1724, Bach wrote Cantata 37 Wer da gläubet und getäuft wird (Whoever believes and is baptised). Listen to it here. Soloists in this recording by Ton Koopman/Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra are Sibylla Rubens, soprano; Bernhard Landauer, alto; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; and Klaus Mertens, bass.
In 1725, as part of the series of cantatas on texts by Christiane Mariane von Ziegler, Bach wrote Cantata 128 Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein (On Christ’s ascension alone). Listen to it here. Soloists on this live recording by John Eliot Gardiner/English Baroque Soloists are Lenneke Ruiten, soprano; Meg Bragle, mezzo soprano; Andrew Tortise, tenor; and Dietrich Henschel, bass. Find my blog post from 2018 about this cantata, which includes a different recording by Gardiner here.
The last Bach cantata we have for this holiday is from 1726: Cantata 43 Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen (God ascends with shouts of joy). Listen to it here. Soloists in this live recording by Rudolf Lutz/J.S. Bach Foundation are Miriam Feuersinger, soprano; Annekathrin Laabs, alto; Charles Daniels, tenor; and Wolf Matthias Friedrich, bass.
Nine years later, Bach wrote his Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11 Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen (Praise God in His kingdoms), incorrectly labeled as a cantata in the 19th century. Bach might have been inspired by the Christmas Oratorio he had written only five months before that.
On that Ascension Day, Thursday, May 19, 1735, this oratorio was performed in the morning service in the St. Nicholas Church, and again in the afternoon service in the St. Thomas Church. Watch the wonderful opening chorus here in a live performance by Philippe Herreweghe/Collegium Vocale Gent from 2014 from the Chapelle de la Trinité in Lyon, France. Or listen to the entire oratorio by Philippe Herreweghe/Collegium Vocale Gent on a CD recording from 1993 here. Soloists on that 1993 recording are Barbara Schlick, soprano; Catherine Patriasz, alto; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass.