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.
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.
2020 update: If can afford to financially support the artists, please consider purchasing your favorite recording. Just click on the Amazon or iTunes link at the end of the paragraph that describes the recording.
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. Read more about this multi-talented female librettist, arts benefactor, and fellow Lutheran “preacher” in this post.
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. If you like this recording, please purchase it on Amazon or iTunes.
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. If you like this recording, please purchase it on Amazon or iTunes.
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 🙂 If you like this recording, please purchase it on Amazon or iTunes.
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.
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.
To learn more about this cantata, you can now (2020) watch the excellent introduction (“Workshop”) by Rudolf Lutz of the J.S. Bach Foundation here on YouTube. The J.S. Bach Foundation just added English subtitles this video, so it is now also accessible to those who don’t understand German.
On the Road to Emmaus by Duccio, 1308-1311. Museo del’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy.
After the rewritten St. John Passion on Good Friday (read more about this in my post from this past Friday) and the “recycled” birthday cantata with new recitatives for the Easter-Oratorio (read more about this in yesterday’s post), Bach was now, in 1725, getting ready for performances of three new cantatas that form a beautiful sub-group within the cantatas of the 1724/1725 cycle.
Cantata 6 Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden for Easter Monday (Bible story: Jesus appeared before two of his disciples while they were walking on the road to Emmaus).
Cantata 42 Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, for the first Sunday after Easter (Bible story: while a small group of his disciples are inside a house in Jerusalem, with all the doors and windows locked, Jesus appears in their midst).
Gardiner believes that in Bach’s ideal plan, these cantatas were actually meant for the Easter season in 1724, not in 1725. In his book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,” he explains why cantata 6, 42, 67 and 85 share more characteristics with other 1724 cantatas, and were thus probably planned for that year. When Bach got behind with cantata composing because of the Passion according to St. John in 1724, he must have tabled the ideas for 6, 42, and 85 for 1725, and only wrote 67 in 1724.
My favorite recording of Cantata 6 Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden is by Herreweghe, recorded live at a concert on June 12, 2014 in the Eglise Saint-Roch in Paris. Find the recording (audio only) here on YouTube.
Soloists are Dorothee Mields (soprano), Damien Guillon (countertenor), and Peter Kooij (bass).
On the left the rebuilt Thomas School Anno 1732. The apartment of the Bach family was on the left of the building. On the right is “a part of the Cather(ine) Street”. Zimmermann’s Café which hosted Bach’s Collegium Musicum was located in the center building labeled “2”.
Around this time in 1725, Bach was still on a break from writing cantatas (they were not to be performed in Leipzig during the 40 days before Easter), but was by no means resting. On the contrary, he was likely rather stressed out about his passion music for Good Friday 1725.
We know that on Good Friday 1725, Bach performed a revised version of his St. John Passion from 1724. We don’t know why he revised it, and some scholars such as John Elliot Gardiner even suggest that Bach had been planning to perform a St. Matthew Passion instead.*
If we could only travel back in time and find out what happened. If it was indeed Bach’s plan to perform a completely new composition, why did he not perform it until 1727? Did he simply run out of time, or did the Leipzig city council not approve of the piece? And why exactly did he revise the St. John Passion? Did he want to change it himself, or had the presentation of Jesus as victor** in the original 1724 version irked the city council?
Now for some music, related to my previous blog post, but completely unrelated to the passion stress story above:
Following up on my post from two weeks ago, there are two more cantata movements that show up in Bach’s “Schübler” organ chorales:
The fifth movement of Cantata 10 Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (live performance in the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig by alto Bogna Bartosz, tenor Jörg Dürmüller, and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Ton Koopman) disguised as organ chorale BWV 648 (Ton Koopman on the historic Müller organ (1724) of the Grote Kerk in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands) with the same title. Click on the links to watch and listen on YouTube.
*In his book Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Elliot Gardiner makes a strong case that Bach might have initially planned to have the St. Matthew Passion ready for Good Friday 1725. Read this blog post to find out why that is not an unlikely scenario at all.
There is no cantata for this Sunday, as no figural music was allowed in Leipzig in the 40 days before Easter, with the exception of the feast of the Annunciation (March 25).
For me this means I now finally have time to share some of what I learned during the Bach Festival in Bruges. On Friday January 26 I attended an all-day lecture by Professor Ignace Bossuyt about how Bach “reworked” his own music and the music of others in his compositions. The biggest eye-opener for me was that all Bach’s “Schübler Chorales” for organ (named after their publisher, Johann Georg Schübler) from 1747/1748 are actually arrangements of movements from Bach’s 1724/1725 cycle of cantatas I have been discussing on this blog since June 2017.
While I am not an organist at all, I did grow up in the land of organs and miss hearing them. My mother comes from a family of organists on her mother’s side. When other little boys dreamed of cars, my father dreamed of being an organist and built organ keyboards from blocks at home and would pretend to play them (sadly because of class perception his parents didn’t deem it appropriate to send him for lessons). Thus my parents were extremely picky where we went to church – there had to be a good organist. So I heard my share of Bach chorale preludes and Schübler Chorales, even before I knew what they were.
Because of the funeral service for my mother in the Kloosterkerk in The Hague I already referred to last week, I also have a soft spot for Bach’s “Schübler Chorale” BWV 645, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, because the incomparable Jan Hage (now organist at the Dom Church in Utrecht) played this at the end of the service, as we were walking out behind the coffin. This music, together with smiles of dear friends we passed by, gave me great comfort at a moment that could otherwise have been unbearable. Listen to this chorale, played by Jan Hage on that same organ of the Kloosterkerk in The Hague, here on YouTube. Another wonderful, and historically significant, performance of this chorale by Ton Koopman, on the Silbermann organ* (1714) in the Freiberg Cathedral, Germany, can be found here on YouTube. Bach and Silbermann knew each other, and Bach might have played on this organ too.
What I didn’t know until Professor Bossuyt’s lecture is that this piece of music was taken from the fourth movement of Cantata 140 with the same title. This cantata is officially not part of the 1724/1725 cycle, but in Bach’s head in 1747 it probably was. Bach wrote Cantata 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme in 1731, most likely in an attempt to leave a complete chorale cantata cycle for posterity. During the chorale cantata cycle of 1724/1725, there had been no 26th or 27th Sunday after Trinity (by that time it was already Advent and it is of course no coincidence that Bach uses an Advent chorale in this cantata). Watch the tenor solo from this Cantata 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme by all the tenors and baritones of the Amsterdam Baroque Choir (on a live recording conducted by Ton Koopman) here on YouTube.
I have two more beautiful examples of how Bach arranged an existing chorale cantata movements into his “Schübler Chorales”:
Bach turned the fourth movement of Cantata 93 Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten into the Schübler Chorale with the same title, BWV 647. Watch the duet from Cantata 93 by the J.S. Bach Foundation with soprano Miriam Feuersinger and alto Jan Börner here on Youtube. Watch the Schübler chorale played by Michael Schultheis on the organ of the Basilica in Seligenstadt, Germany, here on YouTube.
The last example is from a cantata that is nowadays not considered a true chorale cantata, but if Bach used it for the Schübler chorales, we can assume that he himself did regard it as such. It is Cantata 6 Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden for Easter Monday in 1725. Hear Dorothee Mields sing the third movement from Cantata 6 live here on YouTube. Then listen here on YouTube to Dutch organist Wim van Beek play the Schübler Chorale with the same title, BWV 549, on the historic Schnitger-Hinsz organ (1740) in the Martini church in Groningen, The Netherlands.
Wieneke Gorter, February 17, 2018, links updated December 2, 2019
In Leipzig in Bach’s time, the period between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas was a “tempus clausum,” when no figural music was allowed in the churches. So if I would follow Bach’s cantata writing in 1724 very strictly, I would not have any music for you today.
So let’s take a detour to 1725. Sometime in that year, Bach wrote a congratulatory cantata for a teacher at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig. The cantata, with the title Schwingt freudig euch empor, had nine movements: an opening chorus, four recitatives and three arias. The cantata also featured a closing chorus alternated with recitatives for all the soloists, the way Bach would also use that in the before-last movement of his St. Matthew Passion. For the text of this cantata, please see this entry on Eduard van Hengel’s website. Scroll all the way down to find a table with all the different texts for the different cantatas.
In the fall of 1726, Bach received a request from his previous employer, prince Leopold of Köthen, to write a cantata for this birthday of his second wife, princess Charlotte Friederike Wilhelmine, on November 26 of that year. Scholars think that at the same time Bach was reworking this cantata from 1725 into this Birthday cantata, he was also reworking it into an Advent cantata. However the music of that particular cantata has not survived.
In 1731 Bach again, or finally, was able to make the original of 1725 into an Advent cantata, by replacing all the recitatives with chorales. This is cantata 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor, one of three cantatas for the first Sunday of Advent that have survived. (The other two are Cantata 61 I discussed last year, and Cantata 62 I discussed last week). Again please see Eduard van Hengel’s table of the different texts of all the various cantatas here. Find the English translations of Cantata 36 here, and find the score of Cantata 36 here.
My favorite recording of the entire cantata is the one by Herreweghe from 1997 (from the same album I discussed last week). I like this recording the best because of the most sparkling interpretation of the opening chorus, gorgeous singing by Christoph Prégardien in the tenor solos and by Peter Kooy in the bass aria, and a wonderful soprano/alto duet by Sybilla Rubens and Sarah Connolly. Find this recording here on YouTube. Or follow the links in my post from last week to purchase the entire album of Advent cantatas by Herreweghe. It is a great Christmas gift 🙂 !
If you prefer to watch a live recording, I recommend the one by the J.S. Bach Foundation. They just released the entire video recording of this cantata this week, and this performance contains my absolute favorite interpretation of the soprano aria by Nuria Rial.
Wieneke Gorter, December 9, 2017, links updated and photo added December 3, 2019.
I don’t know if it is because the oboes already announce the chorale melody in the instrumental part of this opening chorus, or because of the overall Advent sparkle, but I have always found the first movement of Cantata 62 Nun komm der Heiden Heiland one of the most beautiful of all Bach’s cantata opening choruses. I especially cherish the Herreweghe recording from 1997. Find that recording here on YouTube. Soloists are Sibylla Rubens, soprano; Sarah Connolly, alto; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass. This cantata also features an impressive recitative and aria for bass.
I remember an anecdote from my mom’s time as a member of the Twents Bachkoor, somewhere in the early 1980s. Bass soloist Harry van der Kamp showed up for an Advent concert, thinking he was coming to sing the other cantata with the same Nun komm der Heiden Heiland title, Cantata 61, which includes a beautiful recitative for bass (discussed on this blog here), but nothing really challenging for bass otherwise. He found out during the warm-up rehearsal that it was in fact 62. He did a fabulous job and part of my admiration for him stems from witnessing that as an audience member during that concert.
In the bass recitative, listen for Bach’s musical illustration of the words “laufen” (walking — upwards sequence), “Gefall’ne” (fallen — 7th down), and “heller Glanz” (bright luster — a sparkling highest note).
Find the text of Cantata 62 here, and the score here.
Bach wrote this cantata for the first Sunday in Advent in Leipzig in 1724, as part of his series of chorale cantatas of 1724/1725. For nine and a half months, starting on June 11, 1724, 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.
I have been following all these chorale cantatas in the order they were written in 1724 on this blog. If you missed it, you can start reading here. If you subscribe to this blog (on the left-hand side of this text when reading on a desktop computer, or at the bottom of this text when reading on a smartphone) you will receive an email every time I have posted a new story.
There is also a wonderful live performance by Herreweghe of this cantata on YouTube, albeit with different soprano, alto, and tenor soloists (Grace Davidson, soprano; Damien Guillon, countertenor; Thomas Hobbs, tenor), but again with Peter Kooij singing bass, and again Marcel Ponseele playing first oboe. It was recorded in the St. Roch Church in Paris in 2015 and you can find it here on Youtube. The camera direction in the beginning is a bit strange: perhaps the TV director didn’t know the piece or didn’t have the score in front of her/him, because the camera is on the altos when the sopranos have an entrance, and on the back of the basses and tenors when the altos have an entrance, but later on it gets better, and it is a wonderful selection of Advent and Christmas cantatas they present there in that concert.
The CD recording from 1997 is part of a very good album, which also includes the two other Advent cantatas: Cantata 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor from 1731 (more about this in the next few weeks) and Cantata 61 Nun komm der Heiden Heiland from 1713 (discussed here on this blog). Please consider supporting the artists by purchasing this album in its reprint from 2014. Or purchase the box from 2010, which also includes two CDs with Christmas cantatas.
Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael, ‘Landscape with a waterfall’, circa 1668, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Last week it was the 7th anniversary of my mother’s passing. I wasn’t sure what to write about that, so ended up not posting that day. If you would like to read more about the woman who still is my main inspiration for this blog, you can read my tribute to her here.
But as it turns out, it is not a bad thing to combine the cantatas Bach wrote for Trinity 23 & 24 in 1724 in one and the same blog post, since they both stand out for their bass arias. It is noteworthy that Bach ended both his 1723 and 1724 Trinity seasons in Leipzig with cantatas featuring impressive bass arias*. That the “End of Life/End of Time/Judgement Day” theme was on every Protestant’s mind in the 18th century around this time of year of course had a lot to do with this. Bach often associates the bass voice with this theme, see for example Cantata 20 O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort, discussed here on this blog.
Regarding Cantata 139 Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott, for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity (which was last week), I prefer the recording by the J.S. Bach Foundation (Bachstiftung). Especially the tenor aria is very well done by tenor Johannes Kaleschke and violinists Renate Steinmann and Martin Korrodi. Update from 2019: when I first wrote about this performance in 2017, the cantata was not available on YouTube in full length, but now it is! You can find it here. 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 available on YouTube here. You can even download the same worksheet (“Lutzogramm”) as the audience is looking at here. Rudolf Lutz is at his best here, very clever, witty, and informative. He spent a lot of time prepping for this workshop, including entering entire orchestrations into his “Lady Yamaha,” which is very effective for understanding Bach’s incredible composition. Soloists are Susanne Frei, soprano; Antonia Frey, alto; Johannes Kaleschke, tenor; Ekkehard Abele, bass.
However, since the subject of this post is bass arias … the best interpretation of the extremely unusual bass aria appears on the Bach Collegium Japan recording. Peter Kooy does a fabulous job bringing out the different character for the 11 (!) different sections of the aria. I created a playlist on Spotify of this Bach Collegium Japan recording here. Soloists are Yukari Nonoshita, soprano; Robin Blaze, countertenor; Makoto Sakurada, tenor (he doesn’t convince me or capture my attention, and I find his pronunciation of the word “getrost” a bit distracting); Peter Kooy, bass.
Find the text of Cantata 139 here, and the score here.
Peter Kooy/Bach Collegium Japan again wins “best interpretation of the bass aria” in Cantata 26 Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig for the 24th Sunday after Trinity in 1724.Listen to Bach Collegium Japan’s recording via a playlist I created here on Spotify. This cantata was released on the same album as Cantata 139, so the soloists are again Soloists are Yukari Nonoshita, soprano; Robin Blaze, countertenor; Makoto Sakurada, tenor; and Peter Kooy, bass.
Find the text of Cantata 26 here, and the score here.
And what a bass aria this is! The calmly babbling brook from the lovely tenor aria earlier in the cantata has become a white water river in this bass aria. And the combination of bass voice with the oboes makes me think of Hades in Monteverdi’s Orfeo. Peter Kooy is great and my mother loved him very much, but in my humble opinion, the luckiest people today are those attending the cantata service in the Kloosterkerk in The Hague, Netherlands, where my good friend and favorite Bach bass Marc Pantus will be singing this aria. The Kloosterkerk was also my mother’s church for the last decade of her life, so I have now successfully circled back to her in this post, and miss her much more today than I did last week.
Wieneke Gorter, November 26, 2017, updated November 21 & 24, 2019.
*The first cantata Bach ever wrote for this particular time of year was Cantata 163 in Weimar. It contains a bass aria accompanied by two cellos, an instrumentation Bach never ever used after that. The last two cantatas of the 1723 Trinity season were Cantatas 90 and 70. Read my post about Cantata 90 for the 25th Sunday after Trinity here and my post about Cantata 70 for the 26th Sunday after Trinity here.
Susanne Rydén. Photo by Elin Ericsson/Sveriges Radio.
About a decade ago, I first heard the soprano aria from Cantata 115 sung live in a concert. It took my breath away. The next day, I started looking for recordings of the aria, and decided that my favorite was the one by Susanne Rydén with Bach Collegium Japan, with Liliko Maeda on transverse flute, and Hidemi Suzuki on violoncello piccolo. I purchased only that movement on iTunes and played it many times. However, I never listened to the rest of the cantata …
It took me until this past week to realize that the entire cantata is beautiful, also contains a fabulous alto aria, and …. that this year, Herreweghe released a recording of it, with Dorothee Mields singing the soprano aria and Damien Guillon singing the alto aria. For those of you who know how much I love Dorothee Mields (read more about that here) you will understand I now had a problem: Susanne Rydén or Dorothee Mields? I feel that within the framework of the rest of the movements of Herreweghe’s recording, Mields’ interpretation of the soprano aria fits perfectly, is very moving, and extremely well done. But as a stand-alone aria, I still love Susanne Rydén’s the best, because of the quality of her voice on that recording, and because her ability to blend so perfectly with the flute.
For the entire cantata, I recommend Herreweghe’s 2017 recording. This recording is not available on YouTube, but you can find it here on Spotify. Please consider supporting the artists by purchasing the entire album here on Amazon.
Find the German texts with English translations here and the score here.
Herreweghe is the best at giving the music direction, always focusing on the phrasing. In addition to all of that, there is a wonderful expansiveness, freedom in the sound and the musical lines present in almost all of the movements. Also, Peter Kooy’s singing in the bass recitative/arioso is much more lively and adventurous than on the Bach Collegium Japan recording, and then there’s of course counter-tenor Damien Guillon. I was smiling the whole time when I first listened to his aria. How he can move from a low, full note to a clear, spot-on high note is just so good.
If you would like to hear more beautiful music for this Sunday, or are wishing for a more upbeat soprano aria, there is a terrific rendition of the soprano aria from cantata 89 Bach wrote for this same Sunday in 1723 here on Youtube, sung by the incomparable Nuria Rial with the J.S. Bach Foundation.
Wieneke Gorter, November 11, 2017, updated November 15, 2019.
The mirror-hall, now called “Bach hall” in Köthen, where Bach worked from 1717 to 1723.
A concert weekend, successful, but fueled almost exclusively by adrenaline; the overwhelming fatigue thus following; my favorite breakfast cook/violin practice coach/morning chauffeur/bedtime enforcer away on a business trip all week; much needed family hike on Saturday; me not being superwoman: It sometimes leads to a late blog post 🙂 Thank you for understanding.
The 1724 cantata for yesterday, Cantata 180 Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (Adorn yourself, beloved soul) is full of luster, with an opening chorus, a tenor/flute aria and a soprano/orchestra aria that make me think of the orchestral suites Bach wrote at the court of Köthen between 1717 and 1723. With all this joy already from the beginning, it sounds like a wedding cantata.
The recording I appreciate most is the one by the Swiss J.S. Bach Foundation from 2009, because I feel they bring the most light into the opening chorus and the soprano aria, illustrate the “knocking” the best in the tenor aria, and the singers do a great job bringing out the text. Soloists: Maria Christina Kiehr, soprano; Jan Börner, counter-tenor; Julius Pfeifer, tenor; and Fabrice Hayoz, bass. Update from 2020: When I first wrote about this cantata, in 2017, only the soprano aria from this recording was available on YouTube, but in 2018 they made it available in full length. You can find it here.
Find the German text with English translation here, and the score here.
Why all this luster in this cantata? In Bach’s time, the Gospel reading for this Sunday, the parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22: 1-14) was seen in relation to the union of the faithful with Christ, both during communion as well as during the heavenly banquet in the afterlife. If you then realize that that union between the soul of the faithful and Christ was in that time often compared to the marriage between bride and groom, it was not unusual to present something that sounds like wedding music on this communion Sunday. Expressing the love-like relationship of Jesus and the soul was not a foreign concept for Bach. He did it beautifully in the duet in Cantata 21 from Weimar (read my post about that cantata here) and later also in Cantata 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.**
In addition to this important link to the Bible texts, I think Bach might have an ulterior motive to bring so much splendor in a cantata for a Communion Sunday. On those Sundays, the congregations in the Leipzig churches would have been larger, and more prominent (read: wish-to-be-seen) families would have been present. Having followed Bach’s cantata compositions in the order he wrote them in Leipzig for almost two years now, I am seeing this pattern around large events in Leipzig: important audience = time to show off his star players and singers and his composition skills.
In his lecture (2020 update: now with English subtitles!), Rudolf Lutz, the director of the J.S. Bach Foundation, points out all the musical elements that make the opening chorus so utterly joyful and full of splendor. If you start watching at 19 minutes, you can see/hear how he shows that the bass notes are already signs of happiness, similar to the way how Bach expresses that in his Magnificat from 1723 and his Cantata 140. He then goes on to explain how the recorders build a “dome” over all of it, and the unisono violins and viola express the utter pleasure of lovers, or as Lutz says: “I love you, I love you, I say it to you again! Oh! Ah!”
In the tenor aria Christ is knocking on the door of the believer. This is a reference to the Revelations chapter from the Bible. When Bach received the libretto for this cantata, he must have thought back to an earlier cantata in which this Bible text was quoted literally: Cantata 61 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland from Weimar. In that cantata, the “Vox Christi” bass sings:
Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür und klopfe an. So jemand meine Stimme hören wird und die Tür auftun, zu dem werde ich eingehen und das Abendmahl mit ihm halten und er mit mir.
See, I stand before the door and knock. If anyone will hear my voice and open the door I shall go in and have supperwith him and he with me.
This recitative/arioso is accompanied by staccato continuo, illustrating the knocking. Bach uses this feature again in the continuo for this tenor aria from Cantata 180. Except this Christ is more impatient than the one from Cantata 61. For the rest it is pure blissful music, again putting Bach’s fabulous flute player in the spotlight. The theme of the flute part is likely based on the first three notes of the chorale melody. Julius Pfeifer does a great job singing this on the J.S. Bach Foundation recording.***
Note Christophe Coin on violoncello piccolo in the soprano chorale. My most favorite part of this recording by the J.S. Bach Foundation is the soprano aria. Sublime interpretation by all, with levity, freedom, and abandon in the orchestra and superb singing by Maria Christina Kiehr. If you wonder where you know her voice from: she appears on many Savall recordings alongside Montserrat Figueras.
Wieneke Gorter, October 30, 2017, updated October 25, 2020.
** Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme was really also a Trinity, almost Advent, cantata, but is nowadays better known as “The Wedding Cantata” (incorrectly suggesting that Bach wrote only one Wedding cantata) because of that subject matter.
***Another fabulous recording of this aria is the one by Cristoph Prégardien on the Christophe Coin CD. Listen to it here.