The end of the Trinity season

Bach tends to write impressive bass arias for the end of Trinity season. When I first wrote about my favorite recording of Cantata 139, by the J.S. Bach Foundation, the cantata was not available on YouTube in full length, but now it is! For those who can understand (a little) German, there is also a terrific explanation by conductor Rudolf Lutz of everything that happens in the cantata. Find both YouTube links in my post from 2017 here.

Weekly Cantata is back!


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The Servant Sending his Fellow Servant to Prison, from The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, bound in Thesaurus Sacrarum historiarum Veteris et Novi Testamenti, 1585.
Anonymous, Netherlandish. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (not on view).

I’m back! I’m starting with a small step, but stay tuned … a more considerable post is coming next week.

For this coming Sunday, the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, Bach wrote Cantata 89 in 1723, Cantata 115 in 1724, and Cantata 55 in 1726. Two years ago I wrote about the soprano aria from Cantata 115, not really being able to choose between Susanne Rydén with Bach Collegium Japan or Dorothee Mields with Herreweghe. I also included a link to the soprano aria from Cantata 89. Read that post here.

I still recommend the Herreweghe recording from 2017 for an overall recording of this cantata. However, sometimes it is nice to *see* a performance, and I would like to celebrate an important event in the world of Bach Cantata recordings that happened in the past year: The J.S. Bach Foundation in Switzerland (Bachstiftung) decided to make all their live video recordings of their Bach cantata performances available on YouTube, in full length. Previously, they had only made one movement of each cantata available on YouTube, and one would have to purchase the DVD or buy a live stream subscription in order to see the rest of the cantata.

So in this post I would like to share the Bachstiftung recording of Cantata 115. It was recorded on October 21, 2016, and published to YouTube on October 26, 2018.

Find the German texts with English translations here and the score here.

What is so special about this video recording is that you can see wonderful flutist Marc Hantaï at work in the opening chorus and in the soprano aria. He doesn’t appear on video that often, and they made a good choice to put him in front, so you can see his playing, and of course this way also the microphones pick up his sound better. (to hear more of what I believe is his playing, go to this post).

corno da tirarsi

Other instrumentalists to watch in this video: Olivier Picon on corno da tirarsi, and Balázs Máté on violoncello piccolo. Only three cantatas (46, 162, and 67) show the full name corno da tirarsi written in the manuscript, but there are 27 cantatas from Leipzig requiring a corno in which that part is not playable on a natural horn, so must have been written for this corno da tirarsi as well. Cantata 115 is included in that group. Bach is the only composer who ever mentioned this instrument in writing, and most probably his principal brass player Gottfried Reiche was the only one who ever played it. After Reiche’s death in 1734 Bach did not write for this instrument anymore, and for repeat performances of any cantatas containing a corno da tirarsi part, Bach rewrote it for other instruments. Read more about this in Olivier Picon’s article on the “corno da tirarsi” from 2010. The 27 cantatas are mentioned on page 22 of the article.

To find more of the Bachstiftung videos, search their Archive on their website. Most of the videos are “unlisted” on YouTube, so you won’t find them by doing a search within YouTube. Or, for the Dutch readers of this blog, you can use Eduard van Hengel’s new website (another terrific event of this past year!) and click on the links for all YouTube recordings he conveniently provides at the top of each page under the header “Beluister” (for an example, see the one for Cantata 115 here).

Wieneke Gorter, November 15, 2019.

Trinity 1725


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Jesus and Nicodemus, by Dutch painter Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn 

Today’s Cantata 176 Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding, written for Trinity Sunday in 1725, marks the end of Bach’s 1724/1725 cycle of cantatas as well as the end of his series of nine cantatas on texts by Leipzig poet Christiana Mariana von Ziegler.

My favorite recording of this cantata is by Gustav Leonhardt, with the Leonhardt Consort, Knabenchor Hannover, and Collegium Vocale Gent. Vocal soloists are Matthias Echternach (boy soprano, soloist of the Knabenchor Hannover); Paul Esswood, countertenor; and Max van Egmond, bass. Find it here on YouTube.

Find the texts & translations here, and the score here.

The Gospel story for this day is the story 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, hence the reference to Trinity. Find the text of that part of the Gospel of John here.

However, Von Ziegler doesn’t talk about the water baptism or any other aspects of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus at all, but instead focuses, four movements long, on the fact that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. The highlight of the cantata is the soprano aria “Dein sonst hell beliebter Schein,” which very poetically embellishes on Nicodemus’ wish for the sun to go under.

Only in the last aria do the words “was Jesus verspricht” (what Jesus promises) turn up, and is there a short reference to the Holy Trinity.  To make the reference more clear, the closing chorale ends with the following text, almost as a Roman doxology, so that everyone is clear that it is indeed Trinity today:

Gott Vater, Sohn und Heilger Geist,
Der Frommen Schutz und Retter,
Ein Wesen drei Personen.

(God the Father, son and holy spirit
protector and saviour of the devout
one being, three persons.)

Wieneke Gorter, May 27, 2018.

Pentecost 1725


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The Descent of the Holy Ghost by Titian, circa 1545. Altarpiece in Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy.


In Bach’s time, Pentecost was a three-day-long feast, as important in the church year as Christmas and Easter. Most of the Pentecost cantatas have trumpets, timpani, and more pull-out-all-the stops instrumentation, as was appropriate for  feast days. They don’t get performed often today, because Pentecost is not such an important feast anymore, and cantatas with Baroque trumpets and timpani are expensive.

In 1725 Bach performed the following cantatas. All these three cantatas are part of the series of nine cantatas on poetry by Christiana Mariana von Ziegler Bach wrote after Easter that year. Click on the links to find recordings on YouTube.

Sunday May 20, Whit Sunday, or First Day of Pentecost: Cantata 74 Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten.

Find the text of Cantata 74 here, and the score here.

Monday May 21, Whit Monday, or Second Day of Pentecost: Cantata 68 Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, with the famous soprano aria Mein glaübiges Herze – gloriously sung by Peter Jelosits on the Harnoncourt recording.

Tuesday May 22, Whit Tuesday, or Third Day of Pentecost: Cantata 175 Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen. (complete cantata by the Bach Foundation).

Find the text of Cantata 175 here, and the score here.

Bach might have remembered from a year before that writing three cantatas in three days was going to be too much, so he reworked the opening of cantata 59 (a soprano-bass duet) from 1724 into an opening chorus for four voice parts and full orchestra in cantata 74 in 1725. He also transformed the bass-aria with violin solo from cantata 59 into a soprano aria with oboe da caccia in cantata 74.

Wieneke Gorter, May 20, 2018.

Exaudi Sunday 1725


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For today, Exaudi Sunday, or the sixth Sunday after Easter, or the Sunday after Ascension, in 1725 Bach wrote Cantata 183 Sie werden euch in den Bann tun. When I started listening to this cantata I realized I had already written about this one, recommending a golden recording by Bach Collegium Japan, and highlighting the beautiful, unusual instrumentation of this cantata. You can read that post here.

It was a pleasant discovery on a day where I thought I still needed to write two posts (including the belated one for Ascension Day). I can actually spend some time outdoors with my family now. But at the same time it is a bit shocking to me that I’ve apparently now written so many blog posts that I don’t necessarily remember all of them! Up until now I knew if I had written about a cantata or not. It probably means that it is time for me to slow down some more, and then create a good index on this website …

Wieneke Gorter, May 13, 2018.

Ascension Day 1725


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The Ascension of Our Lord by Giotto di Bondone, 1305. Fresco in the Capella Scrovegni, Padua, Italy.


In the Netherlands, where I grew up, most people have a four-day weekend for Ascension Day (Thursday May 10 this year as well as in 1725). The traditional thing to do was go for a long bike ride very early in the morning on the Thursday, and then spend the rest of the weekend doing the first serious gardening of the season, putting annuals in the ground, filling window boxes, etc.

Here in the United States, Ascension Day goes by unnoticed, nobody gets that Thursday day off, never mind the four-day weekend. And here in California we already started gardening a while ago. So, while still digging out from an extremely busy several weeks/months, I forgot about it. I only remembered when my sister, who lives in France, told me they were away for the long weekend.

Following Bach’s writing in 1725, the cantata for Ascension Day 1725 is Cantata 128 Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein. It has a fantastic bass solo with trumpet (the designated instrument to illustrate “heaven”) and a beautiful alto-tenor duet.

My favorite recording of this cantata is from 1993 by Gardiner, with Robin Blaze, countertenor; Christoph Genz, tenor; and Reinhard Hagen, bass. Unfortunately the name of the trumpet player is not published. Listen to it here on Spotify. This recording is not available on YouTube. Please note that this is a completely different interpretation than Gardiner’s crazy high tempo recording from 2012 (a “make-up” recording for the missing one from the Cantata Pilgrimage cycle from 2000).

If you don’t have access to Spotify, you can listen to Harnoncourt’s 1983 recording here on YouTube, with soloists René Jacobs, coutertenor; Kurt Equiluz, tenor; Max van Egmond, bass; and Friedemann Immer, natural trumpet.

Find the text of Cantata 128 Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein here, and the score here.

While the opening chorus is very similar to the great chorale fantasias from January 1725, this cantata is not a true “chorale cantata” anymore. By this time, after Easter 1725, Bach doesn’t follow the same structure that he religiously adhered to for all his cantatas from Trinity, June 11, 1724 to the Annunciation, March 25, 1725. None of the cantatas after March 25 have the chorale tune or text throughout the entire cantata: the closing chorale is a different one than the chorale in the opening chorus, and the inner recitatives and arias are no longer based on the text of the chorale from the opening chorus either.

This cantata is the fourth in the series of nine consecutive cantatas on poetry by Christiana Mariana von Ziegler (103, 108, 87, 128, 183, 74, 68, 175, and 176). Because Von Ziegler’s texts were published, we can see how many changes Bach made to her texts. In the case of this cantata, the most striking change is Bach deleting the planned recitative between the bass aria and the alto-tenor duet. It seems that Bach wanted to increase the musical contrast between the two movements, while at the same time clarifying the connection of the text from one movement (bass aria) to the next (alto-tenor) duet.

Thus he adds Von Ziegler’s original recitative text to the text of the bass aria, starting with an extra line “wo mein Erlöser lebt.” The line doesn’t rhyme with anything, and Von Ziegler must not have been happy with this. However, this way Bach can repeat the instrumental opening of the aria after what was originally the recitative text, and create more contrast between the movements.

He also adds two more lines at the end of that bass aria:

So schweig, verwegner Mund,
Und suche nicht dieselbe zu ergründen!

Thus making it more clear how the text of this movement is related to the next movement.

Below is an overview of all the changes Bach made in this particular libretto, courtesy of Eduard van Hengel.

Wieneke Gorter, May 13, 2018.

text comparison

1. Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein
Ich meine Nachfahrt gründe
Und allen Zweifel, Angst und Pein
Hiermit stets überwinde;
Denn weil das Haupt im Himmel ist,
Wird seine Glieder Jesus Christ
Zu rechter Zeit nachholen.

2. Ich bin bereit, komm, hole mich!
Hier in der Welt
Ist Jammer, Angst und Pein;
Hingegen dort, in Salems Zelt,
Werd ich verkläret sein.
Da seh ich Gott
von Angesicht zu Angesicht,
Wie mir sein heilig Wort verspricht.

3. Auf, auf, mit hellem Schall
Verkündigt überall:
Mein Jesus sitzt zur Rechten!
Wer sucht mich anzufechten?
Ist er von mir genommen,
Ich werd einst dahin kommen,
Wo mein Erlöser lebt.
Mein Augen werden ihn
in größter Klarheit schauen.
O könnt ich im voraus
mir eine Hütte bauen!
Wohin? Vergebner Wunsch!
Er wohnet nicht auf Berg und Tal,
Sein Allmacht zeigt sich überall;
So schweig, verwegner Mund,
Und suche nicht dieselbe zu ergründen!

4. Sein Allmacht zu ergründen,
Wird sich kein Mensche finden,
Mein Mund verstummt und schweigt.
Ich sehe durch die Sterne,
Dass er sich schon von ferne
Zur Rechten Gottes zeigt.

5. Alsdenn so wirst du mich
Zu deiner Rechten stellen
Und mir als deinem Kind
Ein gnädig Urteil fällen,
Mich bringen zu der Lust,
Wo deine Herrlichkeit
Ich werde schauen an
In alle Ewigkeit.

Christiana Mariana von Ziegler

1. Auf Christi Himmelfarth allein
ich meine Nachfarth gründe
und allen Zweifel, Angst und Pein,
hiermit stets überwinde:
Denn weil das Haupt im Himmel ist,
wird seine Glieder JEsus Christ
zu rechter Zeit nachhohlen.

2. Ich bin bereit, komm hohle mich.
Hier in der Welt
Ist nicht, als Jammer, Angst und Pein;
Hingegen dort in Salems Zelt
Wird ich verklähret seyn.
Da seh ich dich
von Angesicht,
Wie mir dein heilges Wort verspricht.

3. Auf! Jubiliert mit hellen Schall,
Verkündiget nun überall,
Mein JEsus sitzt zur Rechten,
Wer sucht mich anzufechten?
Wird er mir gleich weggenommen,
Wird ich doch dahin auch kommen.
Mein Auge wird ihn einst
in gröster Klarheit schauen.
O! könt ich schon allda
mir eine Hütte bauen;
Jedoch vergebner Wunsch,
Er wohnet nicht auf Berg und Thal.
Sein Allmacht zeigt sich überall.

4. Dein Allmacht zu ergründen,
Wird sich kein Mensche finden,
Mein Mund verstummt und schweigt
Ich sehe durch die Sterne,
daß er sich schon von ferne
Zur Rechten seines Vaters zeigt.

5. Alsdenn so wirst du mich
zu deiner Rechten stellen,
und mir als deinen Kind
ein gnädig Urtheil fällen,
mich bringen zu der Lust,
wo deine Herrlichkeit
ich werde schauen an
in alle Ewigkeit.

Needing to slow down

I already received some important signs in the past few days that told me I need to slow down. Sometimes I am too busy and try to do too much, and then I make mistakes. The attentive reader might have noticed that last week, the fourth Sunday after Easter, in my eagerness to tell you about the female librettist, I shared a post about Cantata 87 from two years ago that was actually for the fifth Sunday after Easter, which is today 🙂

The good news is that this Thursday, May 10, it will be Ascension Day, so I’ll be discussing the cantata Bach wrote for that day in 1725, Cantata 128 Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein, on that day.

It of course also means that I still owe you a post about Cantata 108 Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe for the fourth Sunday after Easter in 1725, which I will write sometime in the next few weeks.

Wieneke Gorter, May 6, 2018.

Third Sunday after Easter, 1725


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Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles by Duccio di Buoninsegna, between 1308 and 1311. Tempera on wood. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy.

In 1725, between Easter and Pentecost, Bach set nine cantatas in a row to beautiful poetry by Christiane Mariana von Ziegler: Cantatas 103, 108, 87, 128, 183, 74, 68, 175, and 176. More about this multi-talented female librettist, arts benefactor, and fellow Lutheran “preacher” next week.

The first cantata in this series is Cantata 103: Ihr werdet weinen und heulen, for the third Sunday after Easter in 1725.

My favorite overall recording of this cantata is by Herreweghe, with vocal soloists Damien Guillon, Thomas Hobbs, and Peter Kooij, and Jan Van Hoecke on flauto piccolo. Listen to their opening chorus here on YouTube. Listen to the entire recording by Herreweghe here on Spotify.

However for the best energy and intensity in the tenor aria, I prefer Mark Padmore on the Gardiner recording. Listen to their interpretation of the tenor aria here on Spotify.**

Robin Blaze’s singing and Dan Laurin’s playing in the alto aria on the Bach Collegium Japan recording is exceptional, and perhaps more moving than Damien Guillon’s on the Herreweghe recording. Listen to that aria here on Spotify. And it is a good problem for me, not being able to choose between countertenors 🙂

Find the texts & translations here, and the score here.

Two noteworthy things about this cantata are the dramatic change from sadness to joy, and the use of the sopranino recorder, or “flauto piccolo” in the opening chorus and the alto aria.

The sadness on this “Jubilate” Sunday is because of the Gospel story for this Sunday: 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. Other cantatas Bach wrote for this Sunday are Cantata 12 Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen and Cantata 146 Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal. But in the alto recitative (fourth movement), the turning point is announced: “dass meine Traurigkeit in Freude soll verkehret werden” (that my sorrow will be turned to joy). Bach makes a big deal here of illustrating the word “Freude” and then does that again, even more exuberantly in the tenor aria that follows: there the illustration of the word “Freude” is six measures and almost 100 notes long.

Since his arrival in Leipzig, Bach had used recorders in cantatas quite often (nine times, according to Nik Tarasov’s article “Bach and the recorder”), but this is only the third time  he writes for sopranino recorder, or “flauto piccolo.” The first time was on October 8, 1724, in Cantata 96 Herr Christ der einige Gottessohn, and the second time on March 25, 1725, in Cantata 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.

In both cases, Bach used the sopranino part to illustrate the word “Morgenstern” (Morning Star) in the text, creating an extra constellation over the highest notes of the sopranos with the even higher notes of the recorder. It is not completely clear why Bach uses the sopranino this time, in Cantata 103. There are theories that the instrument is meant to illustrate the “mocking” of the outside world. But, as Bach always paints the entire story of a cantata already in the opening chorus, I think he perhaps might have used the recorder to convey the message of “there will be joy at the end” in the otherwise very sad opening chorus. But who knows, his reason for using the instrument might simply have been that the virtuoso player was in town again, since it was around the time of the big Easter Trade Fair that Bach was writing this music.

Whatever the reason, it is very likely that there was only one person in 1725 among Bach’s colleagues who could play this. When Bach performed the piece again in later years, he changed the accompanying instrument in the alto aria to violin. There are also parts for a transverse flute. Herreweghe, Koopman, and Suzuki use a sopranino recorder in the alto aria, while Gardiner uses violin, and Ponseele (on the Il Gardellino recording) uses transverse flute.

Wieneke Gorter, April 22, 2018.