Easter Monday 1724

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Excerpt from the title page of Bach’s manuscript from 1735 of cantata 66 Erfreut euch ihr Herzen. The manuscript from 1724 did not survive.

In Bach’s time there were three Easter days, as there were three Christmas days and three Pentecost days. I wrote yesterday that Bach planned to write four new works between April 10 and 23, 1724, but that is only somewhat true, it depends who you ask …

Gardiner believes that what Bach planned to do after Easter 1724,  was to write cantata 6 for Easter Monday, 42 and 67 for the first Sunday after Easter, and 85 for the second Sunday after Easter, instead of writing 6, 42, and 85 in 1725. As he painstakingly explains in his book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,”  Gardiner believes that the work (composing and rehearsing) on the Passion according to St. John must have cost Bach much more time than he thought, and he thus had to adjust his plans.

Following Gardiner’s theory, when Bach realized he had too much on his plate for Easter 1724, including having to write a cantata for Easter Tuesday he might not have planned on, he decided to write parodies (using existing music with some changes, but with different texts) for Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday of that year.

For Easter Monday 1724, he wrote cantata 66 Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen. Most of the music of this cantata is based on the secular cantata 66a Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück (Heaven thinks of Anhalt’s Fame and Fortune) , composed by Bach in 1718 to celebrate the 24th birthday of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. If you have 40 minutes, listen to a reconstruction of the entire Birthday cantata 66a from 1718 here, with soprano Gudrun Sidonie Otto, alto Wiebke Lehmkuhl, tenor Hans Jörg Mammel, and bass Karsten Krüger. If you only have 10 minutes, scroll to 11:17 for the soprano/alto duet with violin.

Listen to Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 66 Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen here. Soloists: alto Kai Wessel, tenor James Taylor, and bass Peter Kooij. I like Herreweghe’s recording of this cantata the best of all I listened to, because to me the tempo of the opening chorus is perfect for me, Collegium Vocale’s singing is fabulous as always, and I enjoy listening to Peter Kooy in the bass aria.

Find the text of cantata 66 here, and the score here.

Since we only have a manuscript of this cantata from 1735, when Bach repeated this cantata in Leipzig, we don’t know for sure what Bach changed in 1724.  However, based on what we know, and comparing the two recordings I present in this post, Bach used the following movements from the Köthen Birthday cantata 66a in the Leipzig church cantata 66: The impressive and very festive opening chorus of 66 is the closing chorus of 66a, the bass aria of 66 is the alto aria of 66a, and the alto-tenor duet (beautifully sung by Kai Wessel and James Taylor) with violin of 66 is the soprano-alto duet with violin from 66a.

Movement 4 and 5 (the recitative and duet for alto and tenor) are written as a dialogue. Whenever Bach uses that technique in his church cantatas, the two characters are usually Jesus and the Soul (see for example cantata 21). In this case, the Happiness of Anhalt (the alto) from 66a has been transformed to Furcht (Fear) in 66, and  Fama (the godess of fame and reputation, soprano in 66a) has been transformed to Hoffnung (Hope, tenor in 66). With these two characters Bach refers to the Gospel reading of the day: two followers of Jesus walk to the town of Emmaus, only a few days after Jesus’ death and burial. They talk about their hope that he was the Messiah, but are at the same time fearful having heard the news that his body has disappeared from the grave.

In the Birthday cantata 66a, the two characters are in agreement, and therefore sing the same notes. However in cantata 66 Furcht and Hoffnung often disagree, even though they are still singing the same notes. Normally Bach would never have let this happen, but perhaps this is an illustration of how quickly he had to work on this cantata for Easter Monday.

Wieneke Gorter, April 17, 2017

Easter in Leipzig 1724

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The Resurrection by Titan, 1542-1544

This post is really three posts in one, because I’ve realized over the past weeks that for this Easter season, I would like to follow Bach’s cantata performances of 1724 the same way I did that for the Trinity Season of 1723. Thanks for reading to the end!

In the year 1724 in Leipzig, the last Sunday service with music in the churches had been on February 20, when Bach performed the same cantatas (22 and 23) as on that Sunday in 1723, when they were part of his audition in Leipzig.

Bach’s reason for repeating two existing cantatas for that last Sunday before Lent might have been that he was busy writing his Passion according to St. John. However, he might have had extra reasons: cantata 22 features the Vox Christi (voice of Christ). By reminding the Leipzig audiences of the role of Christ in the scripture and his music, they would–in Bach’s mind– hopefully be well prepared for the St. John, in which the figure of Christ is powerfully prominent, much more than in passion compositions of Bach’s predecessors, and even much more than in Bach’s later St. Matthew Passion, even though the singer portraying Christ has more notes to sing in that piece.

The long monologue by Christ occurs almost right away in the opening of cantata 22. Listen to it here on YouTube, performed by the Netherlands Bach Society, with bass Christian Immler. (If you are wondering what that string instrument is on the shoulder of the medieval-looking guy, it is Sigiswald Kuijken playing the violoncello da spalla, and you can read more about it in this post). If you have time, keep watching the YouTube video of this performance, because it has a wonderful interview with Sigiswald Kuijken at the end, in which he explains the meaning of Bach’s writing.

Then, a month later, on Saturday March 25, outside of the regular church year, there was the performance for the Annunciation, as I discussed here. In that cantata, 182, written much earlier in Weimar but not known to the Leipzig audiences until March 25, 1724, there’s also a Vox Christi, singing the words “Siehe, ich komme, im Buch ist von mir geschrieben …” (Lo, I come: in the book it is written of me…). So here we have another “convenient” performance for Bach: no new music to write for the first part of the service*, and a good reminder of the Vox Christi for the listeners.

Despite Bach’s efforts to put his audience in the right frame of mind for the St. John Passion, they were surprised (according to some accounts even shocked) when they heard it on Good Friday, April 7, 1724. I’m pretty sure that Bach himself had not expected this. The passion must have been on his mind already such a long time, and I have no problem picturing this brilliant but nerdy musician who was somewhat incapable of putting himself in the shoes of those with shallower minds. Why I believe the Passion according to St. John must have been on his mind for months already: the tenor aria “Ach mein Sinn” already presents itself in October 1723 in cantata 109 (read more about that here), in November 1723 in cantata 60 (read more about that here), and in January 1724 in cantata 154 (which also has a Vox Christi, read more about it here). Also, the “Herr, Herr” exclamations from the opening chorus first appear as early as July 1723 in cantata 105 (which also has previews of the St. Matthew Passion, read about it here).

Already the opening chorus is of such a dramatic intensity – nobody had every heard anything like it. In the liner notes with his recording, Gardiner says it well: “Even when approaching it from the vantage point of the preceding church cantatas, with their astonishing array of distinctive opening movements, this grand tableau is unprecedented both in scale and Affekt.” What is more, while the instrumental opening suggests lament, the text of the vocal parts turns out to be a praise of Christ as a majestic figure: not a victim, but a victor. Perhaps this vision is what stung the elders and city council members the most, because a year later, in his drastic 1725 revision of the Passion, Bach completely replaced this victorious opening chorus with a lamenting one, later also used as the final movement of the first half of the St. Matthew Passion.

For Easter 1724, on Sunday April 9, Bach performed a cantata from his Weimar years and one from his Mühlhausen years: cantata 31 Der Himmel Lacht, die Erde Jubilieret (discussed here on this blog) and the nowadays well known cantata 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden. Why no new composition for this Easter Sunday? Perhaps he was proud of these cantatas and wanted to show off to the Leipzig congregation and to his colleagues. But most probably he had been extremely busy working on the Passion, and since he was planning no less than four new cantatas for the period between April 10 and 23 of that year, he simply didn’t have time to write anything new.

Watch this live performance by Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam of cantata 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden. It is by no means an impeccable performance, but it is nice to see a live performance of this, and as so often I am moved by Dorothee Mields’ interpretation. I adore how she blends with the cornetto in the alto/soprano duet (starts at 5:27), and her duet with tenor Charles Daniels (a fabulously sensitive and knowledgeable singer, but sometimes overpowered by the orchestra in this performance) is exquisite (starts at 6:10).

Happy Easter!
Wieneke Gorter, April 16, 2017.

* Bach performed two cantatas on that Saturday March 25, 1724, and he did write new music for the second one.

The Annunciation of Mary, March 25

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The Annunciation, aka The Cestello Annunciation, 1489, by Botticelli. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

In 1714, Palm Sunday fell on the same day as the Annunciation of Mary, March 25. The Annunciation was one of the three Marian feast days Luther kept on the calendar (the other two being the Purification of Mary, February 2, and the Visitation of Mary, July 2).

Thus it happened that in that year, in Weimar, Bach wrote a cantata that is mostly a Palm Sunday cantata, but can also work for the feast of the Annunciation, since that also celebrates the coming of Christ. I squeezed this cantata 182 Himmelskönig, sei willkommen into my post about Bach in Weimar I wrote last year. As I mentioned there, the cantata was repeated a few times in Leipzig, but never on Palm Sunday, as the Leipzig rules dictated that no music was performed during the period of Lent (the 40 days before Easter).

However, the Leipzig council made an exception for the Annunciation, so in 1724 Bach could perform this cantata during Lent, eight days before Palm Sunday, on Saturday March 25. As so often on holidays, there were two cantatas this day, one before the sermon, and one after. The other, newly written, piece for Saturday March 25, 1724, was more literally about the Annunciation: Siehe, eine Jungfrau ist schwanger (Behold, a Virgin is pregnant). The text of this cantata survived, and can be found here, but unfortunately the music is lost.

I still recommend the recording of cantata 182 by Montreal Baroque, but since I wrote my post last year, a terrific live video of the Sonata (instrumental opening) of this cantata has come out on the YouTube channel of Voices of Music, with two fabulous soloists: Hanneke van Proosdij on recorder and Rachel Podger on violin, so I would love to share that here as well. You can find that video here.

Find the text of cantata 182 here, and the score here.

Wieneke Gorter, March 24, 2017.

On my mother’s birthday, March 24

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my mother with my daughter, The Hague, summer of 2009

This year, on March 24, my mother would have turned 71. Sadly, she left us on November 19, 2010, after a tragic illness we only understood to be a terminal one on September 5 of that same year. To say that those months were an emotional roller coaster for all involved is an understatement. Normally very liberal and progressive in her Christianity, my mother turned very pious in her last weeks, and during that time she didn’t really let any persons in anymore, only music.

One of the major reasons I started this blog in January 2016 was to continue my mother’s legacy of playing the cantata for the appropriate Sunday every week, but also to remember the joy of going to concerts with my mother and listening to recordings together with her.

So I would like to think of this post as a short radio program with beautiful Bach music, featuring three soprano arias I strongly associate with my mother, sung by singers she and I adore(d).

A fond childhood memory is my mother, my sister, and I taking the bus from the little town we lived in to a town 15 kilometers (9 miles) away, where my mother was going to sing a solo in a wedding service. I remember what she wore: a light blue dress with tiny white and red flowers on it, a narrow red belt, and red sandals with heels. The solo she was singing was the aria “Sehet in Zufriedenheit” from cantata 202. I remember being in awe that she was standing there on the organ loft and singing it so beautifully. A gorgeous example of this aria, in the exact tempo in which my mother liked to perform it, is this recording of Nancy Argenta with Ensemble Sonnerie under the direction of Monica Huggett:

Sehet in Zufriedenheit
See in contentment
Tausend helle Wohlfahrtstage,
a thousand bright and prosperous days,
Dass bald bei der Folgezeit
so that soon as time passes
Eure Liebe Blumen trage!
your love may bear its flower!

Much later, my parents had a subscription to the series of cantata performances by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra with Ton Koopman, and there they got to see and hear many different soprano soloists. I remember them being impressed with Caroline Stam. Hear her sing the aria “Es ist und bleibt der Christen Trost” from cantata 44, one of my mother’s favorite Bach cantata arias of all time,  with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Ton Koopman.

Es ist und bleibt der Christen Trost,
The consolation of Christians is and remains
Dass Gott vor seine Kirche wacht.
God’s watchful care over his church.
Denn wenn sich gleich die Wetter türmen,
For even though at times the clouds gather,
So hat doch nach den Trübsalstürmen
yet after the storms of affliction
Die Freudensonne bald gelacht.
the sun of joy has soon smiled on us.

We felt extremely blessed that Caroline Stam agreed to sing at my mother’s funeral service. We asked her to sing Purcell’s “Evening Hymn,” since that had been in the top 5 on my mother’s iPod in her last weeks. But for the Bach aria, we let Caroline pick what she would like to sing. I am still very grateful for that decision. Always very conscious of texts, Caroline chose the hauntingly beautiful “Die Seele ruht” from cantata 127. For years, I have not been able to listen to this aria, but now I can again, though it still makes me cry a little. Hear Dorothee Mields sing this aria with Collegium Vocale Ghent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe:

Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen,
My soul rests in the hands of Jesus,
Wenn Erde diesen Leib bedeckt.

Though earth covers this body
Ach ruft mich bald, ihr Sterbeglocken,
Ah, call me soon, you funereal bells,
Ich bin zum Sterben unerschrocken,

I am not terrified to die
Weil mich mein Jesus wieder weckt.

Since my Jesus will awaken me again.

If you would like to read more, here are five posts from 2016 in which I talk about my mother a lot or a little bit:

The order of things

Glorious soprano arias and unusual instrumentation

The Crown on Bach’s 1723 Trinity season

Many things to be proud of

Our Christmas Morning

Wieneke Gorter, March 24, 2017

My favorite sopranos for the third Sunday before Lent

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Parable of the workers in the vineyard by Salomon Koninck. Between 1647 and 1649. Hermitage Museum.

Of course this Sunday, February 19, 2017, is the second Sunday before Lent, not the third. However, when I made my calendar recently, I misread something in my list, so labeled the Sundays incorrectly. While I thus owe you a post about cantata 18 this week, this post here below is for last week.

On the third Sunday before Lent in 1724, Bach performed cantata 144 Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin. Read all about this short but wonderful work in my blog post from last year, in which I discuss an unrivaled recording by Gardiner with mezzo soprano Wilke te Brummelstoete and soprano Miah Persson.

In that cantata from 1724 Bach wrote one soprano aria on the concept of “Genügsamkeit” (being satisfied with what you have), but three years later, he dedicated an entire solo work for soprano to this theme: cantata 84 Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke (I am content in my good fortune), featuring the delightful aria Ich esse mit Freuden mein weniges Brot (It is with joy that I eat my meager piece of bread). We can probably take this as proof that Genügsamkeit was very important to Bach.

I myself count among my blessings that Herreweghe’s recording of this cantata features one of my favorite sopranos, Dorothee Mields. Read more about her in my post about the Herreweghe sopranos. Those who understand German can listen here to a lovely and very insightful radio interview she did for WDR Tonart in March 2016.

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Dorothee Mields

Enjoy Dorothee Mields’ singing on Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 84 Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke on YouTube or on Spotify. The cantata appears on Herreweghe’s album Christus der ist mein Leben, which also includes the fabulous cantata 95 (discussed in the Herreweghe sopranos post mentioned above). If you like these recordings, please consider purchasing the MP3 of this album on Amazon.de or on Amazon.com. In doing so, you will support the artists as well as this blog (I receive a small percentage of all sales made on Amazon through links on this blog).

For cantata 84, find the German texts with English translations here, and the score here.

Wieneke Gorter, February 18, 2017.


A revision of my Trinity 17 post

There is no cantata left to us for this Sunday, Epiphany 5. So I decided it was the perfect time to fix something that had been bothering me for a while: my post about cantata 148 from September 2016.

Sitting in the music library this week, doing research for cantata 83, I was very excited. At first it was the sheer pleasure of being in that building and feeling like a musicology student again, but while reading, I realized that Dirksen’s article is an excellent argument for my hypothesis that Bach had guest musicians playing in his Leipzig orchestra around feast days. And what is more, I was now convinced cantata 148 was written in 1725 and not in 1723. So I decided to completely revise my post from September 2016 about the cantata with the violin solo that moved me to tears. Read it here.

Wieneke Gorter, Feburary 3, 2017

Come out of your hole to hear a violin concerto

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Presentation in the Temple (1640/1641) by Simon Vouet (1590-1649). Musée du Louvre, Paris.

In many traditions, from pre-Christian European to contemporary American, February 2 marks the end of the dark part of the winter.  Feasts on this day celebrate the daylight, looking ahead to spring, and the start of new things. Growing up in a Calvinist protestant culture in the Netherlands, I wasn’t aware of any of these holidays.

Let’s start with the silly American holiday on February 2: Groundhog Day. If the groundhog (some sort of marmot) comes out of her hole on this day while it is cloudy, spring will be early; if it is sunny and the groundhog will thus see her own shadow when she comes out of her hole, she will be scared and go back inside and spring won’t start for another six weeks. Grown men actually observe the groundhogs on February 2.

People from Celtic cultures celebrate Imbolc or Brigid’s Day on February 2 because it is the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The holiday is a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.

The Catholic feast of Candlemas also originates in pre-Christian times, and originally marked the end of a period of light feasts which started around mid November. After the early Christians established that Jesus was born on December 25, it was easy to declare Saint Martin (Nov 11, 40 days before Christmas) the start of the great Christmas season and February 2 (40 days after Christmas) the end of it. I read that in some countries people leave their Christmas decorations up until Candlemas. I would have loved to have that tradition in the Netherlands too, because I had serious trouble with the bleak, grey, uneventful month of January there. And all procrastinators are now absolved: you didn’t know it, but you were doing the right thing to leave those lights up until February!

The Catholic Church merged Candlemas with the feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. In the Jewish tradition, a new mother was “unclean” for the first 40 days after giving birth. On the 40th day, she would have to visit the temple for a purification ceremony, and to present her son to the priests. Luther kept this Catholic feast on the calendar, but  focused much more on the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple  than on the Purification of Mary.  What is more, he turned Simeon’s song of praise into a message of “Now I can die in peace.” This is why all five cantatas (BWV 82 (the famous Ich habe genug), 83, 125, 157, and 158) Bach wrote for this holiday are mostly about the joy of dying. But not to worry, the cantata from 1724 is actually very festive.

Listen to cantata 83 Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde by Bach Collegium Japan on Spotify. For those without access to Spotify, you can find Koopman’s recording of this cantata on YouTube.

The first and third movement  are written like a violin concerto and celebrate the “new” era. According to an excellent study by Dutch musicologist Pieter Dirksen, presented at a Bach Symposium in Germany in 2000, the impressive violin part was most likely written for violin virtuoso Johann Georg Pisendel from Dresden. Dirksen makes a very convincing case that Bach wrote this past Sunday’s operatic cantata 81 and this cantata 83 (both from the same week in 1724) specifically to please musicians and perhaps also dignitary guests from Dresden, giving them the two musical forms the Dresden court favored most: an opera in the form of cantata 81 and a concerto in the form of cantata 83. There are no documents supporting the suggestion that Pisendel was in Leipzig around the time this cantata was played. However, as I have mentioned before in this blog, it seems evident from Bach’s writing around special holidays that there were either guest musicians or colleagues to impress in those weeks. Also, Dirksen gives many plausible examples of links to Dresden in the style and instrumentation of these compositions, and argues that Bach had no other violinist available, including himself, who would have been able to play this and that this is why he didn’t write virtuoso violin solos in any cantatas from the first Leipzig cycle.

The second movement symbolizes the “old” tradition Simon stands for in the Gospel story. In a way he has never done this in any other cantata, Bach sets Luther’s translation of Simeon’s words (“Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener in Friede fahren …”) to the old Gregorian psalmtone for Nunc Dimittis, which was the Roman version of Simeon’s words. It is likely he wanted to show the Catholic guests from Dresden he was familiar with their tradition too, or perhaps he wanted to honor the Catholic history of this feast day.

My apologies for length of this post .. it was too exciting to finally sit in a music library again, studying a serious article, and looking up all the music examples. And it is late too! It is now already one whole hour into February 3 as I finish this. It has been a bit hard to concentrate and focus this week. To everyone who feels the same I just want to say: don’t stay in your holes! Enjoy the daylight, go for a walk, look for those early signs of spring, celebrate love, music, art, and people. Put that oxygen mask on yourself every week. Only then can you stand up for others and be there for others for months and years to come.

Wieneke Gorter, February 2, 2017.

Last year’s post and a calendar

If I would have to come up with a “top 5” of blog posts, the one about cantata 81 for today, the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, is definitely one of them. There is lots to read and learn, and a marvelous tenor aria to listen to. You can find that post here.

I’ve created a Google calendar for the upcoming Sundays and other holidays. You can find that here. When you click on the Sunday or holiday, you will find a link to the blog post connected to that day.

Coming up this Thursday: a post about the feast of the Purification of Mary on February 2. In preparation for this, (re-)read my post about the Visitation of Mary on July 2, and Mary showing up in a cantata about the Marriage at Cana.

Wieneke Gorter, January 28, 2017

Third Sunday after Epiphany

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There are four Bach cantatas for this Sunday, the third after Epiphany. Last year I wrote about two of them: cantatas 72 and 73. You can read that post here.

This year I’d like to share a little bit about cantata 156 Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe. I did not grow up with this cantata, my mother didn’t play this one for us. Whether this was because the Harnoncourt recording of this cantata is not very satisfying, or because she liked the three other cantatas for this Sunday much better, I don’t know.

I heard cantata 156 for the first time around 2008 or so, on a recording by American Bach Soloists from 1992, and was blown away by the rich sound of the strings and by the  “groove” the ensemble finds so easily (it seems) in the opening movement and in the tenor aria. I have not heard such comfort with the rhythm in any other recording of this cantata. It is also a historic recording: it is one of the few ABS cantata recordings on which  director Jeffrey Thomas sings the tenor arias himself. While Thomas’ voice is perhaps not as full as Gerd Türk’s on the recording by Bach Collegium Japan, I enjoy the music-making in this movement so much that it was comfort-music for me in the weeks and months after my mother passed away in 2010, and it is still one of my favorite Bach cantata recordings.

Other soloists on this recording: oboe: John Abberger; violin: Jörg-Michael Schwarz; counter-tenor: Steven Rickards; bass: James Weaver. Choir sopranos singing in the tenor aria: Julianne Baird, Christine Earl, and Claire Kelm.

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

You might recognize the opening movement of this cantata as the second movement of Bach’s harpsichord concerto, BWV 1056. However, Bach based both the cantata movement and the harpsichord concerto movement on an oboe concerto from Cöthen which is now lost.

Wieneke Gorter, January 21, 2017.

 

Mary’s lament

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The Marriage at Cana, c. 1500, by Gérard David. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Mary pleads and worries, but Jesus says: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.”

This week, I watched a very good video by the Swiss Bach Foundation (Bachstiftung) about today’s cantata 155 Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? I found it very insightful, helpful, and even entertaining, but was struck by its Calvinist character and was a bit disappointed by the director’s statement that he doesn’t know why this cantata starts with a movement for solo soprano. When reading Gardiner’s and Van Hengel’s discussions of this cantata, I liked their suggestions that the soprano lament refers to  Mary’s role in the Bible story of this Sunday, the Marriage at Cana. It made sense to me. This cantata, from 1715 and repeated in 1724, contains references to the wine as well as to the fact that Jesus says to his mother: “my time has not come yet.”

While the Lutheran church in Bach’s time did not regard Mary as a saint, let alone a mediator between God and the people, she was still an important person in the faith, and thus probably also for Bach. The three Marian feast days*  Luther kept on the calendar were important holidays and Bach wrote cantatas for all of them. Also, Bach wrote this cantata 155 in his Weimar years, when he explored a large number of works by (Catholic) Italian composers.

Listen to Montreal Baroque’s recording of cantata 155 on YouTube through a playlist I created. With Monika Mauch, soprano; Franziska Gottwald, alto; Charles Daniels, tenor; Harry van der Kamp, bass; Anna Marsh, bassoon.

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

The cantata is not so much a musical play with the soprano taking the role of Mary, but more a reference to her role in the Gospel story and an exploration of that theme: try to trust that everything will be okay in the end, try to not be in control all the time. The first movement has the character of a lament in music and text, you can picture the hand-wringing, the desperation. There is also the steady pedal point in the bass, similar to what Bach will use later in the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion.

However it is the second movement, not even sung by the soprano, and with text that is trying to urge her to “let go,” that secretly is the true lament, in the music that is. To hear or see this, the video by the Swiss Bach Foundation is terrific. They explain extremely well (with music examples) how the notes of the solo bassoon part form in fact a lament for three voices. watch from 12:10  By the way: the composition I had to think of when hearing the “lamento bass” was Monteverdi’s  Lamento della Ninfa

If you would like to explore other cantatas for this second Sunday after Epiphany, I invite you to read my post about cantata 3 from 1725 here. It is all about hidden messages in the music of a an extremely beautiful composition with an equally heart wrenching—but completely different—opening movement as this cantata 155.

Wieneke Gorter, January 14, 2017

*The Purification of Mary on February 2, The Annunciaton of Mary on March 25, and the Visitation of Mary on July 2.