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.
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.)
“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.
In my opinion, one of the absolute best background videos on AllofBach is the one in which countertenor Alex Potter explains the different layers of solo cantata 170 Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust from 1726. I remember how happy and impressed I was when I first found this video. So instead of offering you my own discussion, I suggest you watch Alex Potter’s here on YouTube.
Then watch the excellent and moving live performance of this cantata by Alex Potter with the Netherlands Bach Society here on YouTube.
A lot more information, including the German text with English translations, a list of all participating instrumentalists, the staff that made this beautiful document possible, and a short but insightful interview (in text only) with organist Leo van Doeselaar, can be found here on AllofBach.
Bach’s first two cycles in Leipzig didn’t include a cantata for this Sunday (the 6th after Trinity). My speculations for why this might have happened in 1723 are mentioned in this blog post. 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.
There’s a wonderful live performance of Cantata 9 on YouTube, by the J.S. Bach Foundation under direction of Rudolf Lutz. Watch it here. My favorite part of this cantata is the glorious duet Herr, du siehst statt guter Werke, beautifully sung by soprano Julia Doyle and alto Alex Potter. I love how well their voices and singing style match for this! This performance also features exquisite music-making by flutist Marc Hantaï, violinist Amandine Beyer, and tenor Charles Daniels.
Cantata 93 Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten from 1724 is one of my favorite Bach cantatas, but because this one always falls in the summer vacation, I have never actually discussed it. I don’t have time to get into it this year either, but I have some interesting links for you.
In July 2017, I shared my favorite recording (Herreweghe) of this cantata along with some pictures of Greece where I was at the time. You can find that post here. Update: one day after I posted this, the J.S. Bach Foundation Made their full-length video of this cantata available on YouTube, and it’s a very good one. You can find it here: https://youtu.be/in5XDlJnrB8
Bach recycled the most splendid movement from this cantata, the soprano-alto duet, into one of his “Schübler Chorales” for organ. How exactly that works, you can read in my post from February 2018.
And if you understand a little German, watch Rudolf Lutz of the J.S. Bach Foundation explain everything about this Cantata 93 in this workshop on YouTube.
Wieneke Gorter, July 10, 2020, updated July 19, 2020.
In an effort to share some more personal thoughts with you, this has become quite a long post. If you prefer not to read it and go straight to the cantatas for this Exaudi Sunday, you can find my post about cantatas 44 and 183 here. It is a story with a wealth of information, gorgeous soprano arias, and recommendations for top-notch recordings. But since there’s always more to learn, I wanted to give some attention to Rudolf Lutz’ English spoken lecture about these cantatas. Find the link at the end of this post.
Over the past several months, while we’ve all been dealing with this global health crisis, I have often felt overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by piles of dishes, by potentially life changing decisions, by not knowing what my role is supposed to be in this crisis, but also by musicians and music organizations. While one is telling me to watch this YouTube video–available this week only!, another invites me to join a lecture on Zoom– please submit your questions ahead of time, yet another is showing me that singing while masked actually sounds pretty good (even though their images scare the * out of me), but wait … there’s a live Facebook Event STARTING NOW!
I understand the reasons behind it. An urge to share music with others, so strong they need to answer it or go insane. A fear of being forgotten by their patrons and thus losing even more income. Creative minds that keep exploring new possibilities. I also understand that there are probably millions of people for whom concert-going was their weekly bread, and that they are all eating this up. But it doesn’t calm me down.
My soul has been soothed much more by the images of sour dough rising, vegetable gardens being planned, blooming gardens, and nature. Two Instagram accounts I have especially enjoyed are those of Les Arts Florissants, who have been posting a wealth of pictures of William Christie’s gardens in France, and of Luc Barrière, a concert photographer who left Paris for the Alps before the strict lockdown happened in France. Yes, I know these are privileged people, and everyone can think of their living situations what they want. To me personally, these two accounts have given me examples of people taking care of themselves and slowing down, and that inspires me and calms me.
Of course stress is not caused by the acts of other people, but by your own reaction to these acts, and fortunately most of the live streams can be watched again at a later time. So I have watched some of them at my own pace (while doing those dishes, folding laundry, or cleaning vegetables) and have realized that amidst the overwhelm there are blessings, because every now and then something new and marvelous emerges that would not have happened without this crisis.
For me, the absolute best example of this has been the series of “one man shows” by Rudolf Lutz, the artistic director of the J.S Bach Foundation in Switzerland. Every month, on the day his choir and orchestra would otherwise have given a concert for an audience, recorded live on video, he has live streamed an excellent and very witty lecture about that same cantata, brilliantly combined with organ improvisations on the music in the cantata, and the meaning behind the cantata. Without the crisis, his international online audience of Bach lovers would never have known what a talented improvisor he is. Without the crisis, he would never have held his lectures in English. (Until now his excellent cantata lectures were only accessible to German speakers, with only a handful of them subtitled in English).
Find Rudolf Lutz’ wonderful lecture/improvisation about Cantata 44 and 183 (from May 19) here. Find my blog post about these same cantatas (highlighting completely different aspects of the pieces!) here.
To learn more about Rudolf Lutz, read his bio here. Find his lecture/improvisation about Cantata 106 (from March 20) here, and about Cantata 4 (from April 17) here.
I now have my own Westerland rose growing against the front of my house. The abundance of flowers, the range of color, and the glorious scent are daily blessings this time of year. And while in 2017 I still had to piece together my favorite recording of Cantata 86 from some of Gardiner’s and some of Koopman’s, there now is the fabulous live recording of the Netherlands Bach Society on YouTube, published on September 7, 2018. It even has two of my heros in the alto aria: Shunske Sato on violin and Robin Blaze singing countertenor. Other wonderful soloists on this recording: Marion Strijk, soprano; Daniel Johannsen, tenor; and Stephan MacLeod, bass.
Sato and Blaze present a very clear explanation of how Bach illustrates the “breaking” of the roses in the alto aria in this short video. Worth all the four and a half minutes of your time.
For the text and translations of cantata 86, please visit this page, and for the score, please go here.
In John 16:20, Jesus announces to his disciples that he is going to leave them, and that they will go through a period of hardship during which the rest of the world will mock them. For this 3rd Sunday after Easter, this is the story on which Bach and his librettists had to base their cantatas.
In 1714 in Weimar, Bach made this into a true lament, that he would later rewrite into the Crucifixus of his Mass in B Minor: Cantata 12 Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen.
The librettist of this cantata (and of all other cantatas Bach wrote in Weimar) was Salomo Franck, librarian to the Duke of Weimar. Franck very cleverly portrays the “sorrow to joy”-theme of this cantata. The alto aria is a good example: after the Gospel quote in the recitative “Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal” (we have to go through tribulation) comes an upbeat aria illuminating how “Kreuz und Krone” (cross and crown) and “Kampf and Kleinod” (conflict and jewel) are always connected.
While I love everything about this cantata, my absolute favorite part is the tenor aria Sei getreu. Find out why in my blog post from 2016, where you can also find links to my favorite recordings of this cantata.
Most of the texts Bach had to work with in Leipzig were not nearly as good as Franck’s libretti. But there arguably was one exception: in 1725, between Easter and Pentecost, Bach set nine cantatas in a row to beautiful poetry by Christiane Mariana von Ziegler. Von Ziegler was a single woman who had known much sadness in her life already: her father was in prison, she was twice widowed, and had also lost all her four children. However, her family fortune was still intact and at her disposal, and the sad circumstances meant that she didn’t have to answer to a father or a husband. She thus enjoyed much more freedom than any other woman in Leipzig at the time, and could publish under her own name.
For the third Sunday in 1725, Bach wrote Cantata 103: Ihr werdet weinen und heulen on a libretto by Von Ziegler. This cantata also starts out very sad, but there is much “Freude” (joy) in the music. A sopranino recorder illustrates the “mocking” Jesus predicted, or does it? Read it all in my blog post from 2018, which also includes a link to the excellent introduction to this cantata (now with English subtitles!) by Rudolf Lutz of the J.S. Bach Foundation in Switzerland.
While I have been silent on this blog since Palm Sunday this year, of course Bach’s life in Leipzig was far from quiet. In fact, Easter was a time of non-stop work on cantata compositions for him, perhaps even more intense than the Christmas season.*
Today is the second Sunday after Easter, for which Bach wrote Cantata 104 in 1724, and Cantata 85 in 1725, all on the theme of Jesus as “The Good Shepherd.” I have updated the posts I wrote about those cantatas in 2016 and 2017, making sure all the links work, and adding a link to the live performance of Cantata 85 by the J.S. Bach Foundation. If you have some extra time, you can listen to the beautiful sub-group of cantatas Bach wrote after Easter in 1725: BWV 6, 42, and 85. Just follow in the links in my post about Cantata 85.
If you can afford to financially support the artists (especially important now, while they have no income from performances!) please consider purchasing their recordings. I have included links for that too in every post.
Wieneke Gorter, April 26, 2020.
*Before Christmas in Leipzig, he would have the four-week break of Advent, while before Easter he would have been busy rehearsing, rewriting, and performing whichever Passion he performed that year.
We’re on Day 20 of “shelter in place” here in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re counting our blessings, trying to figure out how we can be most helpful to others while also taking good care of ourselves, and trying to wean ourselves off spending too much time on social media. I definitely need my “church” of regular check-ins with family and friends, daily mindfulness exercises, and lots of yoga classes to stay sane through all of this.
Back to Bach’s church. Today is Palm Sunday! Bach never officially wrote a cantata for this Sunday, since no music was to be performed in the churches during Lent. However, in 1714, Palm Sunday fell on the same day as the feast of the Annunciation of Mary, March 25. This way, while specifying “for the feast of the Annunciation of Mary” on the title page of the cantata manuscript, Bach could still write music for Palm Sunday with cantata 182 Himmelskönig, sei wilkommen! (Welcome, King of Heaven!)
If you’re not in the mood for a long story and would just like to listen to a short piece of calming music, I recommend the live performance of the opening sinfonia of this cantata on the YouTube channel of Voices of Music, with two fabulous soloists: Hanneke van Proosdij on recorder and Rachel Podger on violin. You can find that video here.
Many of Bach’s Weimar cantatas start with an elaborate instrumental ouverture or sinfonia.* There are two possible reasons for this. First of all, it was in Weimar that Bach studied lots of French and Italian compositions, and he might have wanted to “show off” that he could also write such a fashionable ouverture. But there might have also been a more practical reason: such an opening movement was the perfect piece of music during which the Duke and his entourage would slowly walk into the chapel and take their seats, and not miss anything of the cantata itself.
For the entire cantata, my all-time favorite still is the recording by Montreal Baroque. Listen here on Spotify, or here on YouTube. Their one-on-a-part performance is similar to how this would have sounded from the small organ loft in Weimar, and features fabulous singing all around (soprano Monika Mauch, countertenor Matthew White, tenor Charles Daniels, bass Harry van der Kamp).
Find the text of cantata 182 here, and the score here.
If you would like to learn more about Bach’s time in Weimar, please visit my post about Bach in Weimar I wrote in 2016. I’ve just updated it with some new photos, including a picture of the organ loft, and it has all the same links for the recording, text, and score as mentioned here.
In Leipzig in 1724, Bach performed this cantata again, on the feast of the Annunciation of Mary, which that year fell eight days before Palm Sunday.