In my humble opinion, the best cantata Bach wrote for this 9th Sunday after Trinity is Cantata 105 Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht. This cantata has one of the best opening choruses Bach ever wrote, and I find the soprano aria and the bass arioso very moving. And as far as interpretations and recordings of this cantata go, for me, Herreweghe’s always rises above all others. In my post from 2016 I discuss his 1992 and 2012 recordings of this cantata. Please find that post here. It has all the links for recordings, texts & translations, and score, it tells you what to listen for in the music, and also explains why this Cantata 105 was Bach’s first real Leipzig cantata.
In January 2018, I had the good fortune to attend three Bach cantata concerts by Herreweghe, the first two in Bruges, the third one in Paris.* The program in Paris featured Cantata 105, everyone was in top form, and it was terrific to see Herreweghe conduct this piece that he and his ensemble know so well. It made me wish for a third Herreweghe recording of this cantata, because Dorothee Mields (not singing on the 1992 or 2012 recording), was mesmerizing in the “Wir zittern und wanken” aria and Peter Kooij’s strong rendition of the bass arioso almost brought me to tears.
Wieneke Gorter, August 8, 2020.
*To read more about these concerts in Bruges and Paris, find my posts from January 2018 here and here.
“Adoration of the Magi” triptych of Jan Floreins by Hans Memling, 1479. Memling Museum (Old St. John’s Hospital), Bruges, Belgium. The right-hand panel features “The Presentation at the Temple,” with the Temple really being the former St. Donaas church in Bruges.
If you are reading this in the email you received from WordPress, please click on the title of this post to enjoy the paintings and the formatting 🙂
This post is almost two days late, as it was for Friday February 2, the feast of the Purification of Mary, or Candle Mass, or Presentation at the Temple. If you have time, please read how this holiday was strongly connected to folk culture in my post from last year. In Lutheran reality, this was the day when Simeon’s song of praise Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener in Friede fahren or Nunc Dimittis was celebrated. With his chorale Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin Luther turned Simeon’s song of praise into a message of “Now I can die in peace.” This is why all five cantatas (The famous Ich habe genug 82, 83, 125, 157, and 158) Bach wrote for this holiday are mostly about the joy of dying.
Since I’m following Bach’s chorale cantata writing in Leipzig in 1725, I’m featuring Cantata 125 Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, written for February 2 of that year, and based on that same chorale by Luther.
My favorite overall recording of this cantata is Herreweghe’s recording from 1998, with Ingeborg Dantz, alto; Mark Padmore, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass. You can find it here on YouTube. Please consider supporting the artists by purchasing the album on Amazon or on iTunes. It also includes the stunning Cantata 8 (Herreweghe’s personal favorite!) and the beautiful Cantata 138.
Please find the German text with English translations of this cantata here, and the score here.
There are some similarities with last week’s cantata, such as the bass solo that is made up of bits of recitative and bits of chorale melody, but already in the opening chorus a new day is dawning. If you read the history of today’s holiday in my post from last year, you know that Candle Mass was a natural time of year to start with something new.
Could the new inspiration in Bach’s brain be the St. Matthew Passion? It is not unlikely at all. Van Hengel suggests that the opening chorus has elements of the St. Matthew opening chorus, but then argues that that piece was not written yet in 1725. However, Gardiner (in his book Music in the Castle of Heaven) makes a strong case that Bach might have initially planned to have the St. Matthew Passion ready for Good Friday 1725. I’ve pointed out before that we can find preludes to the “Great Passion” in Bach’s cantatas as far back as the fall of 1723 (see posts about cantatas 105 and 46), so it is not unlikely that Bach was working on this in January 1725.
Keeping all this in mind, it is striking that the first aria after the opening chorus is an alto aria in St. Matthew style, full of pietism. Watch a very young Alex Potter (keep reading to find out more about him) sing this aria with the J.S. Bach Foundation here on YouTube. The instrumentation resembles the “Aus Liebe” soprano aria from the St. Matthew Passion: there are no organ chords in the bass, only repeated cello notes, and for the rest it is just flute and oboe da caccia, an unusual combination.
Because of the many connections with this Cantata 125 I’m now going to sneak in a mini review of the Herreweghe/Collegium Vocale concerts I attended in Europe this past week.
Applause at the end of the concert in the Eglise St. Roch in Paris, January 30, 2018. From left to right in front row: Peter Kooij, Thomas Hobbs, Philippe Herreweghe, Alex Potter, Dorothee Mields. Photo by Aube Neau/Luc Barrière, published with permission.
Let’s take the alto aria from Cantata 125. I call this type of aria a “floating aria” because it has no real basso continuo: there is no melodic line in the cello or chords in the organ, i.e. no foundation for the singer to stand on. These floating arias are incredibly beautiful and the stuff of goose bumps, but also incredibly challenging for the vocal soloist. In the terrific concert in Paris on Tuesday January 30, soprano Dorothee Mields had two such arias: the “Qui tollis” from the Mass in A Major (BWV 234)* and the “Wir zittern und wanken” from Cantata 105. She did an absolutely marvelous job in both of them, but her singing was the most mesmerizing in the “Wir zittern und wanken” aria. Cantata 105 stood out during that Paris performance anyway in my humble opinion. It simply has the best opening chorus of all cantatas Collegium Vocale performed in the three concerts I attended. On top of that, the group (including soloists Thomas Hobbs and Peter Kooij) recorded this in 2012, and you could tell it was still in everyone’s bones and it was a pleasure to see Herreweghe direct the strings as well as the soloists. One of my favorite bass ariosos occurs in that cantata (it makes me think of the “Am Abend da es kühle war” from the St. Matthew) and Peter Kooij’s strong rendition almost made me cry.
Detail of right-hand wing of the “Adoration of the Magi” Jan Floreins triptych by Hans Memling, showing the Presentation at the Temple, or Mary presenting Jesus to Simeon
And then on to countertenor Alex Potter. It was in Bruges’ St. John’s Hospital museum that I saw the Memling painting featured in this post, and this is also where I ran into Alex Potter and was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his singing on Friday January 26. During the concert in Paris on January 30 he even sang a soprano recitative, in that wonderful cantata 105, and did an excellent job at it. But his most impressive performance was the “Quoniam” aria from the Mass in A Major (BWV 234)**, which I heard in Bruges on Sunday January 28 and again in Paris on Tuesday January 30. He had a clear understanding of the text, made the music soar, and seemed to passionately enjoy what he was doing. It was a joy to watch and listen to.
It is now the 13th Sunday after Trinity — time for the story of the Good Samaritan. For a sublime cantata that stays close to that Gospel text, read my earlier post about cantata 77 Bach wrote for this Sunday in 1723.
When Bach receives the libretto for Cantata 33 Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ in 1724, it is -except for one line- not related to the Bible story at all. Maybe he already knows this, since he himself was probably responsible for selecting the chorale to serve as the basis for this cantata: a hymn of penitence from 1540, asking Christ to be freed of the pressing burden of sins. The part of the libretto that might have moved him the most* is this:
Wie furchtsam wankten meine Schritte, Doch Jesus hört auf meine Bitte Und zeigt mich seinem Vater an. Mich drückten Sündenlasten nieder, Doch hilft mir Jesu Trostwort wieder, Dass er für mich genug getan.
How fearfully were faltering my footsteps, but Jesus listens to my entreaties and bears witness for me to his Father. The burden of my sins weighed down heavily on me, but Jesus’ word of comfort reassures me that he has done enough for me.
Wie zittern und wanken Der Sünder Gedanken, Indem sie sich untereinander verklagen Und wiederum sich zu entschuldigen wagen. So wird ein geängstigt Gewissen Durch eigene Folter zerrissen.
How tremble and waver the sinners’ thoughts while they bring accusations against each other and on the other hand dare to make excuses for themselves. In this way a troubled conscience is torn apart through its own torments.
Bach is in general also still exploring ways to get more drama and text illustration into the music of his cantatas without it coming across as too operatic. So after a delicate opening chorus (Gardiner describes this as “an antique ring” in which the ornate beauty of the orchestral setting almost eclipses the inner gem of the hymn setting) and a powerful bass recitative, he writes a heart-wrenching alto aria on the moving text.
Click on this link to hear the amazing interpretation by countertenor Damien Guillon and the instrumentalists of Belgian ensemble Il Gardellino. Nobody delivers such a fantastic combination of completely “getting” the text and wonderful, seemingly effortless singing. And listen to how he pronounces the consonants r-ch-t-s in the word “Furchtsam” without any concession to the vowel sounds.
When the libretto finally comes to the only quote of the Good Samaritan story: “I may love my neighbour as myself” in the fifth movement, Bach takes the opportunity to write a striking duet, including the parallel thirds and sixths characteristic of the amorous duets in Venetian operas of the time. If you thought that the famous soprano-alto duet from cantata 78 came out of the blue, here is the artist’s study for it, one week before 🙂
A wonderful live performance of this cantata by the J.S. Bach Foundation is available here on YouTube. Soloists in this video registration are Ruth Sandhoff, alto; Andreas Post, tenor; Markus Volpert, bass.
Wieneke Gorter, September 8, 2017, updated September 3, 2020.
*of course I don’t know for a fact that this was the part of the libretto that moved Bach most. It is the text that moves me most, and of course that is partly because of Bach’s beautiful setting of it.
**and of course I don’t know this for a fact either, but it is the first thing I wrote down when I listened to this cantata, without having read Gardiner’s notes, which state that this alto aria from cantata 33 “bears a striking kinship in mood, subject-matter, and even melodic outline” to the soprano aria from cantata 105. So I am not alone in noticing this.
Pietà (It is enough) / Pietà (Es ist genug), plate 11 from a series of 11 lithographs O Ewigkeit, Du Donnerwort by Oskar Kokoschka, 1914/1916. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In Vienna, they were all talking about Bach’s cantata 60 O Ewigkeit, Du Donnerwort. The astonishing harmonization in the closing chorale as well as the structure of a “dialogue” between Fear (alto) and Hope (tenor) made it one of the most unusual among his cantatas, and apparently something worth discussing. In the first half of the 20th century, that is. In 1935 Alban Berg used the “modern” harmonization from the closing chorale Es ist genug in the final movement of his violin concerto To the Memory of an Angel–an instrumental Requiem for Manon Gropius, daughter of Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and Mahler’s widow, Alma Schindler.
Several years before, the same Alma Schindler had a short-lived affair with Czech painter Oskar Kokoschka. After they broke up, Kokoschka processed his torment by making a series of 11 lithographs to illustrate the cantata. The dialogue between Fear (the alto) and Hope (the tenor) in the cantata became a dialogue between Alma and himself, in pictures only: click here to see the entire series. Many thanks to Eduard van Hengel for pointing this out.
Listen to Bach Collegium Japan’s recording of this cantata on Spotify, with countertenor Robin Blaze and tenor Gerd Türk. Find the German text with English translations here, and the score here.
Bach wrote this cantata 60 O Ewigkeit, Du Donnerwort for the 24th Sunday after Trinity in 1723, the Sunday normally linked to the Gospel story of the Raising of Jairus’ Daughter. However, in 1723–as now in 2016–this day fell on the first Sunday in November: All Hallows Sunday, All Saints Sunday, however you want to call it, but the Sunday on which the congregation would have commemorated all who had passed away that year. None of the commentaries I have read mention this, but I think it is important, because I feel this cantata is much more about how horrible it might be to die, or the thoughts one has when sitting at a loved one’s deathbed, than it is about the Raising of Jairus’ Daughter.
Of all the recordings I listened to, I like Bach Collegium Japan’s the best, because of Robin Blaze’s interpretation of the alto part. I always love his voice, but he is usually quite understated in his singing. He explains this well in this interview on San Francisco Classical Voice. I sometimes wish he would indeed sing with Kate Bush and “let go” a little, so I was thrilled to hear that in this cantata he actually does go a bit wild, for his standards at least, and that Suzuki lets him do it. His conviction in the opening chorale is already terrific (also note the wonderful blend with the horn doubling his part), but the way he sings the text “Und martert diese Glieder” (and tortures these limbs) in movement 2 is amazing, spot-on, and unrivaled by any others I listened to.
As we have seen before in the course of these 1723 Trinity Season cantatas (read for example my post on cantata 105) there are elements of Bach’s passions already present in this cantata. The agitated singing of the tenor in the stunningly beautiful duet (movement 3) resembles the Ach, mein Sinn! tenor aria from the St. John Passion. The repeated tremolo in the violins in movement 1 is something Bach often uses to illustrate fear, and this will show up again in the tenor arioso O Schmerz! Hier zittert das gequälte Herz in his St. Matthew Passion.
For further reading, including all the amazing harmonies in this piece which impressed the Viennese composers of the early 20th century, as well as other insights, I can highly recommend Gardiner’s journal entry about this cantata (start reading on page 5).
Wieneke Gorter, November 6, 2016, updated November 21, 2020
Thank you for following this blog, and thank you for reading this long post all the way to the end!
For Trinity 11, which was last Sunday (August 7 in 2016, August 8 in 1723) we’re listening to Cantata179 Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei, with a superb opening chorus and one of the most beautiful soprano arias Bach ever wrote.
I prefer Bach Collegium Japan’s recording of this cantata. It’s a special recording, with Miah Persson singing the soprano aria. She’s having quite a career now, recently starring in Michel van der Aa’s opera Blank Out, singing Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at the Scala in Milan in September and October, and going on a recital tour in the USA later this season [2016/2017], so I think we’re lucky to have her beautiful voice and sensitive interpretation on this recording from 1999.
Listen to this recording on Spotify. Please consider purchasing this recording on jpc.de, ArkivMusic, Amazon, or iTunes. Soloists on this recording are Miah Persson, soprano; Makoto Sakurada, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass.
The BBC recorded Gardiner’s live performance of this cantata in 2000, and you can watch that here on youTube. Soloists in this performance are Magdalena Kožená, soprano; Mark Padmore, tenor; and Stephan Loges, bass.
Find the score here (it’s fun to read along with the recording, especially in the opening chorus, to see what Bach does with the fugue).
Find the German text with English translation here.
It is now more than two months since Bach started his new job in Leipzig, and he is about three weeks into writing a brand new composition every week, and I’m sorry if I sound too casual here, but he’s on a roll. He must now have a vision of what it is he really wants to do for these churches (see the tiny preludes to his Passions he incorporates in cantatas 105 and 46), and he must have the classes at the St. Thomas School organized, and his singers sufficiently trained, so that he can now have them sing a new and challenging opening chorus every week. Just listening to the opening choruses alone, starting with the one of cantata 136 for Trinity 8, I marvel at what he comes up with every time. Every single one of them is stunning, but at the same time completely different from the one of the previous Sunday. This time Bach chooses to write a perfect “old style” (Palestrina-style) motet fugue as opening chorus.
As always, to fully understand the cantata and not miss any of Bach’s hidden messages, it is important to look at the Gospel reading for the day. In this case it is the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (or Pharisee and the Tax Collector), a story Jesus tells as an illustration on how to pray: the Pharisee is full of himself, telling God how good he is, while the Publican in his own prayer merely asks for mercy, and tells God how bad he is. This concept of “how to be a good Christian before God” was very important to Bach and apparently his librettist got the message loud and clear. He or she uses the opportunity to first write a strong protest against fake religion and hypocrisy in “Christianity today” in movements 1 to 3 (probably having certain people in Leipzig in mind), after which he/she states that all Christians should take the humbleness of the publican as example in movements 4 to 6. For another example of how Bach interprets this Bible story, read my post about Cantata 113, written for this same 11th Sunday after Trinity, in 1724.
The most special feature of the fugue in the opening chorus is that since the text talks about beautiful outer appearance versus a bad character, Bach uses a mirror-fugue, which he used as well in fugues 5-7 from the Art of the Fugue (the theme of six bars is first introduced by the basses, and then is answered by the tenors in an “inversion:” every step up from the basses becomes a step down in the tenor part.)
To understand how Bach built this intricate fugue I am sharing the excellent music example and diagram by Dutch Bach writer Eduard van Hengel, with his permission:
Even though the text here is in Dutch, the diagram speaks for itself, with this quick explanation of the numbers and symbols:
1 = The theme (or first half-sentence of the text: Siehe zu, dass deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei). Note the ascending line on the word “Gottesfurcht” (fear of God/love of God) and the descending line on the word “Heuchelei” (hypocrisy).
2 = The counter-subject (or second half-sentence of this text: und diene Gott nicht mit falschem Herzen). Note here that there is a chromatic line every time the word “falschem” appears in the text: for the chromatic line the composers needs accidentals that are not part of the key the piece is written in, which in the “old polyphony” would be seen as “falsch” (not right, off-key).
2* = a more compact (only 4 bars instead of 6 bars long) theme which is derived from the first counterpoint/counter-subject on the words und diene Gott nicht mit falschem Herzen, still with the chromatic line on falschem Herzen.
The numbers at the top are measure (“maat”) numbers.
Bach himself must have greatly valued this cantata. About 15 years later, he used no less than three movements from this cantata for use in his short masses, or Lutheran masses.**
The opening chorus was later “recycled” as the first movement (Kyrie) in the Mass in G Major, BWV 236. Keep listening, or scroll to 18:00 and you’ll discover that the tenor aria Quoniam (sung here by Thomas Hobbs) was, with some changes and a much slower tempo, recycled from the tenor aria in this cantata 179. In cantata 179 the tenor aria gets a colorful accompaniment of two oboes and first violins in unison. The second violins and violas fill in the meaningless middle part (representing the “nothingness, emptiness”). When recycling this later for the Quoniam in the Mass in G Major, Bach uses only one solo oboe for the accompaniment, and completely leaves out all strings (confirming that with a different text, the meaningless middle part is not relevant anymore).
This cantata’s wonderful soprano aria (with two oboi da caccia and basso continuo) was later reworked into the Qui Tollis for the Mass in A Major, BWV 234 (with two flutes and only high strings as continuo). This was actually how I first knew and loved this soprano aria, I didn’t know cantata 179 until I started listening to it for this blog. Please click on this link and listen to the amazing Agnès Mellon sing the Qui Tollis from the Mass in A Major.
Wieneke Gorter, August 14, 2016, updated August 21, 2020.
** These are called “short” or “Lutheran” masses because they consisted of only the Kyrie and Gloria part of the traditional Catholic mass. Bach wrote four of them (BWV 233-236), and they are all made up of existing movements from cantatas, but reworked and compiled in a very smart way and they are all absolutely beautiful. You can purchase an album with Herreweghe’s recording of all of them on jpc.de, iTunes, or Amazon.
Purchase this recording on Amazon (the album also includes last week’s cantata 105, and two more cantatas from the 1723 Trinity season).
Listen to this Herreweghe recording from 2012 on Spotify.
Or, listen to this same recording on YouTube, via playlist I created (if this shows up as a visual on your screen, and clicking on the main “play button” results in a “this video cannot be played” message, click on the icon on the top left where it says 1/6, and it should work):
I especially enjoy this cantata because of the beautiful opening chorus, the dramatic bass aria (with corno da tirarsi!) and the alto aria.
You’ll recognize the first part of the opening chorus. Bach must have liked this enough to re-use it later as the Qui Tollis in his Mass in B minor. The illustration of the “Schmerz” with two recorders and two oboi da caccia in the orchestra is beautiful.
Last week, with cantata 105, Bach started using features that preluded his passions. In the alto aria in this cantata 46, there is again a reference to the St. Matthew Passion. The pastoral character of the music, as well as the text reference to Küchlein (chicks) make me think of the Sehet Jesus hat die Hand alto aria. I am a huge fan of counter-tenor Damien Guillon. In 2011, I heard him sing for the first time in a live performance of the St. Matthew Passion by Herreweghe in Europe, and have been collecting his recordings since then. He appears on recordings with his own ensemble Le Banquet Celeste, cantata recordings by Herreweghe from 2011 and later, and on several recordings of Marcel Ponseele’s ensemble Il Gardellino. Watch an interview with him (with English subtitles) on YouTube:
Wieneke Gorter, July 30, 2016, links updated August 16, 2020.
My apologies for the delay in posting this – the cantata for Trinity 9 (July 25, 1723 / July 24, 2016) is cantata 105 Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht.
In the previous episode of this special 1723 Leipzig Trinity series we saw how Trinity 8 marked the start of the shorter cantata, containing only around 6 movements instead of 10 to 14 movements. However, that weeks’ cantata was probably still based on earlier compositions. This means that cantata 105 Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht could be considered the start of the true Leipzig cantata.
Two striking “Leipzig only” features make an appearance in this cantata: clear references to Bach’s future Passions (see below), and the “corno da tirarsi” (slide horn).
Only three cantatas (Trinity 10’s cantata 46, as well as 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 105 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 inOlivier Picon’s article on the “corno da tirarsi” from 2010.
Herreweghe has recorded this cantata105 Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht twice: first in 1992 (with soloists Barbara Schlick, Gerard Lesne, Howard Crook, and Peter Kooij), and again in 2012 (with soloists Hana Blazikova, Damien Guillon, Thomas Hobbs, and again Peter Kooij).
Though that first recording from 1992 is excellent, and the soprano aria on that recording has more character to my taste, I recommend the 2012 recording for the following reasons:
At the time of the 1992 recording, no corno da tirarsi was available, which means that on that recording the tenor aria on that recording has an oboe accompaniment. The recording from 2012 does feature a corno da tirarsi in this aria.
The “Herr, Herr” exclamations are more prominent in the opening chorus of the 2012 recording, and the tempo of the opening chorus is also a bit faster, which I like.
The album, which includes three other cantatas, focuses on 1723 Trinity cantatas only, which of course is extra special for this blog’s special 1723 Trinity series.
Listen to this 2012 recording by Herreweghe on Spotify.
Listen to this 2012 recording on YouTube, by way of a playlist I created (it is possible that this only works for readers in the USA):
Support the artists and purchase this recording on Amazon or on iTunes. (it’s always worth it, but this time you’ll get three more cantatas in that same album that will be discussed on this blog in the coming weeks!)
Read the German text with English translations here, and find the score here.
Listen for the “Herr, Herr” exclamations in the opening chorus. They will appear in the opening chorus of the St. John Passion in early 1724. The exquisite soprano aria has no bass instrument in the continuo. Bach will later use that feature more often in other Leipzig cantatas, to either show purity or uncertainty, and it is a strong feature of the Aus Liebe aria from the St. Matthew Passion. And last but not least: when I listen to the bass arioso from this cantata 105, I am strongly reminded of the bass arioso Am Abend da es kühle war from the St. Matthew Passion. The music is not 100% the same, but very similar, and there are also references in the text.
Other stunning features of this cantata 105: the strings accompanying the soprano aria illustrate the “shivering” and “quavering” in the text, and those same “uncertain” strings turn up again in the orchestra part of the closing chorale.
Wieneke Gorter, July 30, 2016, links updated August 8, 2020.