The perfect combination of Bach’s writing & Herreweghe’s interpretation

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The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Jacopo Tintoretto, circa 1545-1550, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

1724: Bach has returned from his visit to Köthen (see previous post).

2017: I am still in Europe, but my daughter’s choir tour is done, and so is my daily commitment to write a blog for the parents who stayed back in California.

As I continue to follow Bach in 1724, the cantata for today, the 7th Sunday after Trinity, is cantata 107 Was willst du dich betrüben. If you only listen to one cantata this summer I suggest you listen to Herreweghe’s recording of this one. You will not regret the perfect combination of some of Bach’s best writing with Herreweghe’s sensitive interpretation. Find Herreweghe’s recording (from 1993, with Agnès Mellon, soprano; Howard Crook, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass) here on YouTube. Consider purchasing it here — this album also contains the beautiful cantata 93 from two weeks ago. My favorite movements are the fabulous opening chorus, the bass recitative and aria that follows, superbly sung by Peter Kooij, and the tenor aria because of the flutes. I also love Agnès Mellon’s angelic singing in the soprano aria.

Find the text and translations here, and the score here.

A few weeks ago I explained that Bach started his second Leipzig cycle with a series of chorale cantatas, and that he would stick to that same format for nine and half months (read more about this in this post). He built all 44 cantatas in this period on a similar foundation: setting the verses of the chorale verbatim for the opening and closing choruses, while setting poetry based on the verses for the inner movements. While Bach collaborated with a librettist (probably the same one) for all of these cantatas, there was one exception within that 1724/1725 series: all of the words for cantata 107 Was willst du dich betrüben were copied verbatim from the chorale text.

We can only speculate as to why this happened. His librettist might have been sick or away.  Or did Bach perhaps compose this cantata during his visit to Köthen (see last week’s post)? We only know that he and Anna Magdalena performed at the court in Köthen, but we don’t know how long they stayed there.

I have loved this cantata 107 since I first heard it on the Herreweghe recording in the early 1990s. Just listen to that opening chorus: Bach’s excellent and poignant writing combined with the fabulous sustained lines of the Collegium Vocale chorus (read my posts about their sopranos here and their altos here) and Herreweghe’s calm tempo, and continuous focus on the direction and destination of the musical lines.

I am in movie-script mode again and taking the liberty to imagine Bach writing this cantata in Köthen, maybe even performing (parts of) it there too with all the wonderful musicians at that court, and Anna Magdalena singing the soprano aria. Bach could very well have been inspired by the change of scenery, time away from his hectic Leipzig house, and enjoying the company of his former colleagues in Köthen, all excellent musicians. If we follow this train of thought, it is not surprising that he assigns 2/3 of the principal music in the opening chorus to the orchestra and only 1/3 to the choir, and writes the closing chorus as if it were one of his orchestral suites. It has been suggested that Bach convinced one of the flute players at the Köthen court, Johann Gottlieb Würdig, to accompany him to Leipzig and stay there for a few months.

Wieneke Gorter, July 27, 2017.

 

 

 

A mini-break with Anna Magdalena

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Köthen court plan

There is no cantata for Trinity 6 from 1724.  A little research gives the reason: Bach took a trip with his wife Anna Magdalena to the court of Köthen, where they had both worked until their move to Leipzig in 1723.

According to The New Bach Reader, the court account books state the following for July 18, 1724:

“To the Director Musices Bach and his wife, who performed, in settlement rthl* 60”

We don’t know what they performed and for exactly how many days they stayed, but Bach was back in time to compose and rehearse the cantata for Trinity 7 that year.

*rthl = Reichsthaler

Wieneke Gorter, July 15, 2017.

Blogging from Greece

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Kaisariani monastery near Athens, Greece

bloggingfromGreeceFor today, the 5th Sunday after Trinity, I’m running out of time to write a post about the beautiful cantata 93 Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten Bach wrote for this Sunday in 1724. So I’ll just give you my favorite recording (by Herreweghe, with soloists Agnès Mellon, soprano; Charles Brett, countertenor; Howard Crook, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass), the text & translations, and the score.

My reason is a good one: I’m on tour with my daughter’s youth choir to Greece, and I’m in charge of the blog for that tour (so parents who stay at home know we’re still alive and happy) and that’s taking up most of my limited wifi time on the island of Syros. It’s a really hard life being a blogger here 😉

kaisariani_interior.jpgI’m very happy, because at the beginning of this week I got to see the 11th/12th century Kaisariani monastery, about 10 kilometers outside of Athens. I found out about this building once while looking for images for this blog. The cross-in-square, domed church has some beautiful wall and ceiling paintings dating from the 18th century; those in the narthex date back to 1682.

I loved seeing the paintings “live” and took lots of pictures to use in future blog posts, but also very much enjoyed the quiet (only a handful of other tourists were there), the forest air, and the gardens:

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Wieneke Gorter, July 15, 2017.

A double bill for July 2

In my effort to follow Bach’s compositions in the order in which he wrote them in 1724, I sometimes get a bit confused, because in 2017 the Sundays of the church year are exactly one week later than in 1724. Where it gets tricky is around the Feast days of St. John and the Visitation of Mary, which are always on the same date: June 24 and July 2 respectively.

See how the dates of 1724 compare to the dates of 2017 in this table here below, and you’ll understand my dilemma for today: in Bach’s time, if the feast of the Visitation fell on a Sunday, it would cancel out the theme and thus the cantata for that Sunday. That is why there is no cantata for Trinity 4 from 1724, and why Weekly Cantata will be on break next week.

So officially, I should present you only with the cantata for the feast of the Visitation today, but since we are listening in order of 1724, I give you some highlights of cantata 135 Ach Herr mich armen Sünder first. My favorite recording of this cantata is by Bach Collegium Japan with countertenor Pascal Bertin, tenor Gerd Türk and bass Peter Kooij.

The cantata is the last of the set of four I described in this post, and thus has the cantus firmus in the bass in the opening chorus, very well done by the basses of Bach Collegium Japan. Listen to this entire recording on Spotify, or to just the tenor aria and the bass aria on YouTube.

While the boy sopranos have a bit more work in the opening chorus (as was the case the last two weeks), there is again no soprano aria in this cantata. The Leipzig congregations haven’s heard a soprano solo since Trinity Sunday.

But then, on July 2, 1724, they get to hear the cantata for the feast of the Visitation: cantata 10 Meine Seel erhebt den Herren. With a soprano aria directly after the opening chorus, and a virtuoso one too. It might be that a talented new student had enrolled in the school, or Bach was finally ready training one, or there is a talented boy visiting for the holiday.* There is a very nice live video of Ton Koopman performing this in the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig during the Bach Festival there in 2003, with Deborah York singing the soprano aria.

*Read more about the possibility of musicians visiting for this feast day in my post from last year about the Visitation. Read more about the soprano problem in this post.

Sunday/Feast day 1724 2017 Cantata
Trinity 1 June 11 June 18 20: O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort
Trinity 2 June 18 June 25 2: Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein
St. John (Johannis) June 24 June 24 7: Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam
Trinity 3 June 25 (July 2) 135: Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder
Visitation (Mariä Heimsuchung) July 2 July 2 10: Meine Seele erhebt den Herren
Trinity 4 July 2 July 9 (no cantata from 1724 because same day as Visitation)
Trinity 5 July 9 July 16 93: Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten
Trinity 6 July 16 July 23 (no cantata from 1724 because of Bach’s visit to Köthen)
Trinity 7 July 23 July 30 107: Was willst du dich betrüben
Trinity 8 July 30 Aug 6 178 Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält

The Feast of St. John 1724

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The Naming of St. John the Baptist by Fra Angelico, 1434 or 1435. Basilica di San Marco, Florence, Italy.

As I explained in my post for the first Sunday after Trinity in 1724, Bach most probably intended for the first four chorale cantatas of this 1724 Trinity season to form a set, or at least to present some kind of order:

  1. For the first Sunday after Trinity in 1724, June 11: Cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort: French Overture, with cantus firmus in the soprano
  2. For the second Sunday after Trinity in 1724, June 18: Cantata 2 Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein: Chorale motet, cantus firmus in alto.
  3. For the Feast of St. John in 1724, Saturday June 24: Cantata 7 Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam: Italian concerto, cantus firmus in tenor.
  4. For the third Sunday after Trinity in 1724, June 25: Cantata 135 : Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder: Chorale fantasia, cantus firmus in bass.

The Feast of St. John, celebrating the birth of St. John the Baptist, always falls on June 24 (exactly six months before Jesus’ birth). Read more about this feast day in my blog post from last year. This means that in 1724, this date came *after* the second Sunday after Trinity, while of course this year (2017) it came *before* that date.

Because I’m trying to follow the order in which Bach wrote his cantatas in 1724, I did not write about this cantata this past Saturday, but feel it should be presented within the order Bach wrote them in: between this past Sunday and next Sunday. So after the French Overture in cantata 20 and the chorale motet in cantata 2, Bach now presents you with an Italian concerto in this cantata 7 Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam. The performance I like best is the one by Montreal Baroque, because of the opening movement and because of  Charles Daniels singing the tenor aria. Other soloists are Daniel Taylor, countertenor, and Stephan MacLeod, bass. You can enjoy this performance here on YouTube. I realize that Charles Daniels doesn’t have enough power to let the cantus firmus come out in the opening chorus, but the phrasing of the orchestra is beautiful and overall this recording is much more thoughtful and satisfying to me than many others I listened to.

Find the German text with English translation of this cantata here, and the score here.

Wieneke Gorter, June 27, 2017.

The Herreweghe altos (Trinity 2 in 1724)

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The title page of cantata 2 Ach Gott tom Himmel sieh darein, written by Bach’s lead copyist, J.A. Kuhnau. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a soft spot for the Herreweghe choir sopranos*. But the alto section of Collegium Vocale Gent is often equally impressive, and they deserve a special mention for their fabulous sound in the cantus firmus of this cantata’s opening chorus. Listen to Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 2 Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein on YouTube.

Find the text of this cantata here (read along so you can see the brilliant text-illustration in the music), and the score (where you can see which instruments double which vocal parts) here.

Bach wrote this cantata for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity, which fell on June 18 in 1724.  As I explained last week, this is the second in a series of four cantatas at the start of Bach’s 1724/1725 Leipzig cycle, and according to the master’s orderly design for these first four chorale cantatas, the cantus firmus of the hymn tune (always the same as the cantata title) is now in the alto part.

This Herreweghe recording is from before the time that soloists joined the choir sections of Collegium Vocale, which means that alto soloist Ingeborg Danz does not sing in this excellent group of one mezzo (Mieke Wouters), two contraltos (Yvonne Fuchs and Cécile Pilorger), and one countertenor (Alex Potter). Also the blend with the instruments doubling this alto part (two oboes and one trombone) is so marvelous it gives me goose bumps. Then again, there aren’t many things in music that move me more than a Bach opening chorus with trombones.

Whenever Bach uses the archaic form of chorale motet as opening chorus, especially when he combines it with the use of the Renaissance/Early Baroque trombone quartet (1 cornetto and 3 trombones), he wants to stress the timeless importance, the authoritative character of a message. In this case the at that point already two centuries old message is the chorale, one of Luther’s own.  For readers who understand German: Eduard van Hengel’s website (in Dutch) has a very insightful overview of the original German text of Psalm 12, the text of Luther’s chorale, and how Bach’s librettist changed that into the text for the cantata.  You can find it at the bottom of this page.

Bach alto and tenor arias are at their prettiest, I find, when they are written as a trio sonata, and there is a wonderful example of that in the alto aria Tilg, o Gott in this cantata. It is a plea for help in fighting the “Rottengeister,” or the sectarians amidst the Lutherans. Alto soloist Ingeborg Danz does a terrific job interpreting the text. When the alto starts singing the word Rottengeistern, we see that it was that word we had already heard many times in the triplets of the violin part. As Eduard van Hengel says, it is the “popular easy talk of the sectarians, and that is also the reason why the other two parts don’t have this motive” [to further illustrate the schism].

In his effort to educate his fellow Lutherans (the Leipzig congregations) with his music, Bach wants to make it clear that he’s still preaching by means of the well-known chorale, and uses longer notes for the direct quotation (in music and text) of the chorale in this aria: der uns will meistern.

The best interpretation of the tenor aria Durchs Feuer wird das Silber rein actually appears on another recording, that of Bach Collegium Japan with tenor Gerd Türk. You can listen to that aria here. Here we have arrived at the solution/salvation part of the cantata, and so this music is more pleasant, easier to listen to. But Bach is still preaching: there are some crossing (!) lines in the music, and in the middle section, which tells the listeners to be patient (sei geduldig) and Bach stresses the words Kreuz und Not.

So one wonders: was Bach’s decision to focus on chorales for this 1724/1725 cantata cycle inspired by his need to make things easier for the boy sopranos, or by a wish to explain the theology to the congregations in a way that was more obvious to them than the more complicated, sometimes perhaps too hidden, messages he had so far delivered by way of his music? Or had the City Council or the church elders told him to to this?

*Read more about that in this post.

Wieneke Gorter, June 25, 2017

Shaking things up at the start of the second Leipzig cycle

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Last Judgement by Hieronymus Bosch, created between 1482 and 1516. Flames, as mentioned in the tenor aria, everywhere on the middle and right panel, “Posaunen” (trumpets) in the middle panel, as mentioned in the bass aria, and God hovering above the clouds (left panel, at top) as mentioned in the chorale at the end of Part I : “So lang ein Gott im Himmel lebt und über alle Wolken schwebt.”

On this First Sunday after Trinity (or “Trinity 1” for short) in 1724, Bach started his second cycle of cantatas in Leipzig.* He was well aware of the importance of this occasion, and wrote one of his most dramatic cantatas for this day: cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort. The cantata features a wealth of opera-style writing for the soloists, and such a stately French overture, that one wonders if the use of this style was ironic: see, if you behave in this rich, arrogant way, things will end horribly for you. A lesson like this would be fitting for this cantata, because the Gospel  reading for this Trinity 1 Sunday was that of Lazarus and Dives: The poor leper Lazarus lies in front of the rich man Dives’ house, asking him for food every day. Dives ends up in hell when he dies because he didn’t share his blessings/wealth with those in need.

Over the course of writing this blog, whenever a cantata contains significant operatic writing, I tend to give the prize for best recording/interpretation to Gardiner, because he and Harnoncourt seem to be the only ones not shy to “overdo” it in these cases. This time it is no different. I especially love Paul Agnew in the tenor aria and Wilke te Brummelstoete and Paul Agnew together in the duet, where they illustrate the “chattering of teeth” perfectly.  Bass Dietrich Henschel does a good job too, though I’m not sure I prefer him over Peter Kooy on the Herreweghe recording. Listen to Gardiner’s recording of cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort : nos 22-32 of this playlist on YouTube

Find the text here, and the score here.

Bach marked this “second beginning” in Leipzig in several different ways, for himself as well as for others:

 

First of all,  on this Sunday he starts an entire series of new** cantatas, which we now call his chorale cantatas. For nine and a half months, including the entire Christmas season, he would write every cantata according to this same template: the opening movement is a chorale fantasia on the first stanza of an existing Lutheran hymn or chorale, with the tune appearing as a cantus firmus. The last movement has the last stanza of the same hymn as text, in a four-part harmonization of the tune. The text of those choral, outer movements was used verbatim, while the text of the solo, inner movements was paraphrased, but still based on the inner stanzas of the same hymn.

If you believe in the theory that Bach lost his soprano soloist sometime in the spring of 1724, and was having trouble training a new one, this concept of a chorale cantata would have been a brilliant move to solve this problem. This way, Bach still presented a series of impressive cantatas (arguably more impressive than his 1723/1724 cycle), while limiting the rehearsal hours needed with the choir boys. In many of these cantatas, as is the case for today’s cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, the choir boys would only have to sing the chorale melody in the opening chorus, and there would be no soprano recitative or aria among the inner movements at all. If in later cantatas in this series the boys would get assigned something a bit more complicated, it would still be based on the chorale melody they already knew by heart, so it would require much less rehearsal time with them.

As if with this dramatic cantata 20 Bach didn’t already make enough of a splash, he most probably intended for the first four chorale cantatas of this 1724 Trinity season to form a set, or at least to present some kind of order,  if you look at the composition form of the opening movement, and which voice has the cantus firmus of the chorale tune in that chorus:

  1. Cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort: French Overture, with cantus firmus in the soprano
  2. Cantata 2 Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein: Chorale motet, cantus firmus in alto.
  3. Cantata 7 Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam: Italian concerto, cantus firmus in tenor.
  4. Cantata 135 : Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder: Chorale fantasia, cantus firmus in bass.

We know that Bach liked to use order and symmetry when he wanted to impress other people with a composition. But perhaps he was also thinking of his legacy. When he started composing cantatas at the Weimar court in 1714, albeit on a monthly instead of weekly basis, his first four cantatas formed a similar portfolio of composition styles in the opening choral movements:

  1. Cantata 182 Himmelskönig, sei wilkommen: Choral fugue
  2. Cantata 12 Weinen, klagen, sorgen, zagen: Passacaglia
  3. Cantata 172 Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!: Concerto
  4. Cantata 21 Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis: Motet.

This symmetry with his Weimar days must have been lost on others, even his fellow musicians, since they heard all these Weimar cantatas in Leipzig over the course of the 1723/1724 cycle, but not in this order they were created in Weimar.

In today’s cantata, cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, there are more links to other compositions nobody or only a few fans would have noticed: In the music as well as the text, Bach makes some pretty strong references to the first and the last cantata of the 1723 Trinity season. References to the first one (cantata 75, discussed here on this blog) appear in the decision to go back to this long, two-part format, the use of the trumpet as symbol for the heavens, and the illustration in the music of the word “Flammen” (flames). References to the last one (cantata 70, discussed here on this blog) present themselves in the selection of the chorale that talks about the Day of Judgement, and the operatic writing for the soloists, especially the bass and tenor.

After having followed Bach’s weekly compositions during the Trinity season of 1723, I feel it could be interesting to see this cantata 20, the first of the 1724 Trinity season, as the immediate successor of cantata 70, the last of the 1723 Trinity season. I realize that by doing so, I would ignore a few gems from early 1724, and an entire St. John Passion, but I do believe that as educator of his fellow Lutherans, Bach found Trinity season the most important part of the church year, and perhaps sometimes in his mind indeed ignored all the other stuff in between.

During the Trinity season, the theology moves away from the stories about the life of Christ, and instead focuses on the Lutheran doctrine, how one behaves before God, and on doing good deeds. So with this cantata, and the series that was to come, I think Bach wanted to make sure the Leipzig congregations were fully aware that the Trinity season was starting. The text “Wacht auf, wacht auf” (Wake up, wake up!) in the bass aria is testament to this, but also the writing of the opening chorus and the alto-tenor duet: it all makes you sit up and pay attention.

Wieneke Gorter, June 19, 2017.

*Bach had made his Leipzig debut on Trinity 1, 1723, with cantata 75 Die Elenden sollen essen. Read more about that fabulous cantata in this blog post.

**During this period, there will be no repeats of existing cantatas at all. It is stunning to realize that Bach made this huge commitment to himself, knowing how often during the 1723/1724 cycle he “recycled” music from Köthen and cantatas from Weimar.

Back to the books for Trinity Sunday in 1724

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part of my new office space, with a space for my mom, and a space for my books 🙂

I did not write about Pentecost last week, even though in Bach’s time this was a three-day holiday with a cantata on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. And I am late with this Trinity post. Even her in California it is not Sunday anymore. However, it is all for a good reason …

Over the last couple of months I started missing my Bach books (which were scattered all over the house and which I sometimes did not even read anymore) and yearned for a space in my house that’s dedicated to my blog. So, after some visits to the local hardware store and the Swedish furniture store (always a little bit like going home for me) and a lot of help from my wonderful family,  I now have a streamlined, quiet looking office, where I can look out of a window while I sit at the computer, and where I have the Bach books right by my side.

And how happy I was to go back to the books, the real research, instead of relying mostly on websites for my information. In my reading for Trinity Sunday in 1724, I discovered a very interesting new fact, something I wished I had known in October 2016.

I won’t beat myself up about it, since I still vividly remember October 2016 as my busiest month of the last five years, so I’ll forgive myself that I brought you a bit of fake news:  I stated in this post that Bach didn’t write a cantata for Trinity 23 in 1724 because it was Reformation Day, October 31. If I had checked the “chronology” chapter in “The New Bach Reader” by David, Mendel, and Wolff, I would have seen that in that week in 1723, Bach went to inspect a new organ in the nearby town of Strömthal. He wrote a 12-movement-long cantata for the dedication of the new organ and the new church building in that village on November 2, 1723: cantata 194 Höcherwunschtes Freudenfest.

He repeated this cantata on Trinity Sunday 1724, though perhaps not in its entirety. Gardiner suggests Bach performed only the first six movements instead of all twelve in Leipzig, but I can’t find any explanation for this anywhere, so I’ll need to do more research on that subject, or, who knows, ask Gardiner? Would he email me back?

Listen to the opening chorus and the soprano aria from cantata 194 Höcherwunschtes Freudenfest by Bach Collegium Japan on YouTube, with soprano Yukari Nonoshita.

Find the German text with English translations here, and the score here.

When listening to this music, two things might jumped out at me:

  1. This cantata, especially the opening chorus, sounds more like court music than church music. This is because Bach based the music for the Strömthal cantata on music he wrote for the court of Anhalt-Köthen where he worked from 1716 to 1723.
  2. In the opening chorus, the sopranos go up to a high C, which happens only in one other Bach cantata: BWV 151 Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen. Based on instructions Bach wrote in the string parts for the players in Leipzig, scholars think that the organ as well as the oboes in Strömthal must have been tuned to “tiefer Cammerton” (A=390). Gardiner writes that this posed a “huge problem” for his performances of this cantata in 2000, and says they were obliged to transpose all the parts down, and he wonders why Bach had not done the same for his Leipzig revivals. The way some of Gardiner’s colleagues solve this problem with regards to the beautiful but extremely high bass aria, is to contract a famous baritone for this occasion, as on this recording of Harnoncourt with Thomas Hampson.

If indeed only the first half of this cantata was performed on Trinity Sunday in 1724, Bach would have added cantata 165 O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad, which bears a much stronger relation to the Gospel of the day: Jesus’ nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, stating that only those who are reborn through water baptism and the Spirit (or Holy Ghost) can reach eternal life. (Find the text of that part of the Gospel of John here).

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Jesus and Nicodemus, by Dutch painter Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn (1601-1645)

This cantata 165 was not a new composition either: Bach wrote it in Weimar in 1715. It is not completely certain that this cantata was also performed on Trinity Sunday in 1724, but most sources mention it and it is an interesting cantata with pretty arias and good word painting in the music, so I decided to include it here.

No recording of this cantata was satisfying to me in all the movements, so I made a playlist on YouTube with the soprano, alto, and tenor from the Gardiner recording (Ruth Holton, Daniel Taylor, Paul Agnew), and the bass from the Leonhardt recording (Max van Egmond). The opening aria is extremely hard and Ruth Holton does the best job of all recordings I listened to.

Find the text of cantata 165 O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad here, and the score here.

Listen for:

  • the river in the soprano aria;
  • the dark harmonies in the first bass recitative, illustrating the words sündig (sinful), Tod (death), and Verderben (destruction);
  • the steadfastness (including a steadily moving river?) in the alto aria;
  • the dramatic ending of the second bass recitative: on the words “wenn alle Kraft vergeht”  (when all my strength fails) the bass part reaches its lowest note, Bach tells the violins to play piano, the keyboard player to not play any chords, and on the final note the strings have nothing, there is only one note of the continuo left;
  • the healing snake in the tenor aria (in the strings), noting that in the preceding bass recitative, we have learned that the “old” snake (the venomous one/the one who seduced Eve) has turned into a new,  healing snake.

Wieneke Gorter, June 11, 2017.

*Bach started working in Leipzig on the first Sunday after Trinity in 1723.

The soprano student finally ready, or a good one visiting?

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Boys of the St. Thomas school on their way to St. Thomas church, 1723.

In last week’s post, I pointed out that Bach might have lost his soprano soloist this spring of 1724. There might not have been a boy in his choir good enough to sing complicated solo arias. Or perhaps there was a boy who had a good voice, but who needed several weeks of coaching by the maestro before he was ready to sing an aria. Because during this spring semester of 1724 in Leipzig, Bach’s cantatas featured a soprano aria (not counting solos consisting of only a chorale tune) only every 3-4 weeks.

Some writers suggest Bach might have been training a new soprano in the weeks between Easter and Pentecost of 1724, so this boy would be able to sing the aria for this Sunday (Exaudi, or the Sunday after Ascension) and the arias in the upcoming Pentecost cantatas. I myself think that Bach’s problems with the boys of the school might have persisted for the long-term, but that he had a temporary solution for these few weeks. What if  one of the boys who had moved away earlier in the year would be back temporarily, visiting Leipzig with his family for the Pentecost holiday –a three-day holiday in Leipzig, as important for the church as Easter and Christmas? Or perhaps Bach knew that one of the extra oboists or trumpet players would be bringing his talented son with him? After all, as I’ve come to believe over the course of doing research for this blog, it is likely that musician friends and musician relatives visited Leipzig for two weeks or longer around the time of major holidays.

Whatever the background story, on this Sunday in 1724 there was finally a glorious soprano aria in the churches again, a favorite from my childhood. I wrote about it last year in this post.

Wieneke Gorter, May 27, 2017