If you don’t feel like reading a long blog post and just want to learn about this Sunday’s cantatas, please watch Rudolf Lutz’ wonderful lecture/improvisation from 2020 about Cantata 44 and 183here. It is in English. Find my blog post about these same cantatas, highlighting completely different aspects of the pieces, here.
We tend to think that Christmas was the busiest time for Bach in Leipzig, writing cantatas for the three (!) Christmas Days, New Year’s Day, Epiphany, AND all the Sundays that fell in between those days. On the holidays, he would often perform the cantatas twice, once in the St. Nicholas Church, and once in the St. Thomas Church.
While working like this for two weeks in a row does sound crazy to us, we can still relate to it, because the Christmas season is often busy for most of us too.
But especially because of this wanting or needing to relate, I think we often forget that there was another period in the year for Bach in Leipzig that was equally busy: the time from Easter to Trinity. It was perhaps not as non-stop as the Christmas season, but it was much longer in time, and more laden with decision-making, so possibly more draining for the composer. We don’t know.
I would like to go back to my posts from the spring of 2018, when I was following Bach’s writing in the spring of 1725. Going forward, this year, I would like to keep following his cantata compositions from 1725. So let’s look at what this possibly exhausting period looked like for Bach in 1725. All the links in this following list refer to my own blog posts from 2018. The Easter Oratorio was rewritten from a previous work, but every single cantata Bach wrote after that was newly composed that year, 1725.
March 30, Good Friday: The second version of the St. John Passion, with a new opening chorus and several new arias.
April 1, Easter Sunday: First performance of the Easter Oratorio as well as a repeat performance of Cantata 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden (written much earlier in his career)
This Third Sunday after Easter, or “Jubilate” Sunday, was also the start of a three-week-long Trade Fair in Leipzig, lasting until Exaudi Sunday (this Sunday). Leipzig had three such events each year (the others were at Michaelmas and at New Year’s). In the 18th century Leipzig had become the centre for trade with Russia, Poland, and England. During the fairs the population of the city would grow to 30,000. Bach did business himself too during these times. He for example timed the publication of his Clavierübung to coincide with these fairs. In addition to that, I imagine that he would have had visitors in his house, and that he was making time to meet with friends and colleagues who were in town during this time.
April 29: Cantata 108 Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe
In an effort to share some more personal thoughts with you, this has become quite a long post. If you prefer not to read it and go straight to the cantatas for this Exaudi Sunday, you can find my post about cantatas 44 and 183 here. It is a story with a wealth of information, gorgeous soprano arias, and recommendations for top-notch recordings. But since there’s always more to learn, I wanted to give some attention to Rudolf Lutz’ English spoken lecture about these cantatas. Find the link at the end of this post.
Over the past several months, while we’ve all been dealing with this global health crisis, I have often felt overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by piles of dishes, by potentially life changing decisions, by not knowing what my role is supposed to be in this crisis, but also by musicians and music organizations. While one is telling me to watch this YouTube video–available this week only!, another invites me to join a lecture on Zoom– please submit your questions ahead of time, yet another is showing me that singing while masked actually sounds pretty good (even though their images scare the * out of me), but wait … there’s a live Facebook Event STARTING NOW!
I understand the reasons behind it. An urge to share music with others, so strong they need to answer it or go insane. A fear of being forgotten by their patrons and thus losing even more income. Creative minds that keep exploring new possibilities. I also understand that there are probably millions of people for whom concert-going was their weekly bread, and that they are all eating this up. But it doesn’t calm me down.
My soul has been soothed much more by the images of sour dough rising, vegetable gardens being planned, blooming gardens, and nature. Two Instagram accounts I have especially enjoyed are those of Les Arts Florissants, who have been posting a wealth of pictures of William Christie’s gardens in France, and of Luc Barrière, a concert photographer who left Paris for the Alps before the strict lockdown happened in France. Yes, I know these are privileged people, and everyone can think of their living situations what they want. To me personally, these two accounts have given me examples of people taking care of themselves and slowing down, and that inspires me and calms me.
Of course stress is not caused by the acts of other people, but by your own reaction to these acts, and fortunately most of the live streams can be watched again at a later time. So I have watched some of them at my own pace (while doing those dishes, folding laundry, or cleaning vegetables) and have realized that amidst the overwhelm there are blessings, because every now and then something new and marvelous emerges that would not have happened without this crisis.
For me, the absolute best example of this has been the series of “one man shows” by Rudolf Lutz, the artistic director of the J.S Bach Foundation in Switzerland. Every month, on the day his choir and orchestra would otherwise have given a concert for an audience, recorded live on video, he has live streamed an excellent and very witty lecture about that same cantata, brilliantly combined with organ improvisations on the music in the cantata, and the meaning behind the cantata. Without the crisis, his international online audience of Bach lovers would never have known what a talented improvisor he is. Without the crisis, he would never have held his lectures in English. (Until now his excellent cantata lectures were only accessible to German speakers, with only a handful of them subtitled in English).
Find Rudolf Lutz’ wonderful lecture/improvisation about Cantata 44 and 183 (from May 19) here. Find my blog post about these same cantatas (highlighting completely different aspects of the pieces!) here.
To learn more about Rudolf Lutz, read his bio here. Find his lecture/improvisation about Cantata 106 (from March 20) here, and about Cantata 4 (from April 17) here.
The title page of cantata 183 in Bach’s handwriting: Dominica Exaudi // Sie werden eüch in den Bann tun // à 4 Voci, 2 Hautb d’Amore, 2 Hautb da Caccia, 2 Violini, Viola, Violoncello piccolo e Continuo // di Joh. Sebas. Bach. Staatsbibiothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz
There are two cantatas for this Sunday Exaudi, aka the Sunday after Ascension, or in the practical reality of the man who had to write the music and rehearse the choir: the Sunday in between Ascension and the three-day-long feast of Pentecost. Because they refer to the same Gospel text, the cantatas share the title Sie werden euch in den Bann tun, but except for the fact that they each contain a glorious soprano aria, they have nothing in common.
I discuss both cantatas in this blog post. Keep reading for Cantata 183, but let’s first look at the one Bach wrote in 1724: Cantata 44 Sie werden euch in den Bann tun.
The soprano aria from this cantata, Es ist und bleibt der Christen Trost, sung by the amazing Peter Jelosits on the Harnoncourt recording from 1975 is among the most happiest music memories of my childhood. I suspect my mom loved it so much that she played it more often than just on this Sunday. I didn’t realize how well this aria is engraved in my brain until I surprised myself during a choir carpool, singing the entire thing from memory, illustrating a story about how some of these boy sopranos could sing very complicated arias.
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.
If you would like to listen to the entire cantata, I recommend Herreweghe’s recording from 2013. The opening tenor/bass duet is the best here, with bass Peter Kooij singing out much more than on their 1993 recording of this same cantata, and his and Thomas Hobbs’ voice matching better than his and Christoph Prégardien’s (as much as I love Prégardien’s voice!).
Also, Herreweghe’s interpretation of the soprano aria on this 2013 recording is the most musical and the most cheerful, not in the least because it has the highest tempo of all recordings I listened to. That this proves a bit of a challenge for the always fabulous soprano Dorothee Mields is only audible in the text: after she comes out of the expertly executed but super tricky long runs, she slips back into the edition she probably studied from, which uses the more modern “für seine Kirche” instead of the edition they’re performing from, which uses the archaic “vor seine Kirche,” so it ends up being a mix of the two texts. While this bugs me a little bit, a retake of the recording would probably have been at the expense of the magic that happens in this aria, so it is probably a good thing that they left it in.
Purchase the Herreweghe recording of cantata 44 on Amazon or on iTunes. (This album also features the beautiful recording of cantata 73 discussed here).
Find the entire German text of cantata 44 with English translations here, and the score here.
Cantata 183 from 1725 is noteworthy because it uses a text by Christiane Mariana von Ziegler and features a striking instrumentation: two oboi d’amore and two oboi da caccia in the bass recitative; a violoncello piccolo in the tenor aria; again the two oboe pairs in the alto recitative; two oboi da caccia in the soprano aria; all these instruments in the closing chorale.
My absolute favorite recording of this cantata is the one by Bach Collegium Japan. They struck gold with this recording, thanks to the combination of Badiarov playing the violoncello piccolo da spalla, fabulous oboe players, and terrific vocal soloists: soprano Carolyn Sampson, countertenor Robin Blaze, tenor Gerd Türk, and bass Peter Kooij. I think the entire album (also featuring the recording of cantata 85 discussed here) is very inspired, and it has become one of my favorite Bach cantata CDs.
Listen to this Bach Collegium Japan recording of cantata 183 on Spotify.
Purchase this Bach Collegium Japan recording of cantata 183 (and 85!) on Amazon or on iTunes.
Find the German text with English translation of Cantata 183 here, and the score here.
Why is this scoring for the oboes so unusual? In Bach’s time there were “regular” oboes (to the right on this photo), oboes d’amore (with a bell-like widening in the wood at the end, second from left), and oboes da caccia (or “hunting” oboes, completely curved, and with a trumpet-like brass bell at the end, far left).
Bach often used the oboe da caccia, but only on a handful of occasions would he write for two da caccias. And even if he would write for two da caccias or two d’amores and “regular” oboes in the same cantata (or passion) they would not all be playing at the same time. On most occasions there were between one or two oboe players in the orchestra, sometimes three, alternating between the different instruments from one movement to the next. The only times Bach needed four oboists in one cantata, playing two da caccias and two d’amores at the same time, was in cantata 2 of the Christmas Oratorio (1734) and in this cantata 183. So there must have been some good oboe playing visitors in town around this time of Ascension and Pentecost in 1725.
The four oboes can be heard clearly in the alto recitative, where Bach has each of them repeat the four-note theme from the “ich bin bereit”-text in the vocal part:
When I hear this, I immediately have to think of the tenor recitative in Bach’s beautiful Trauer Ode, cantata 198, this time reduced to a 3-note theme and without the da caccias:
Or listen to this recitative from cantata 198 on YouTube
It is of course not exactly the same composition, but I wonder if Bach had to think back of this cantata from 1725 when he wanted to illustrate life and death in one and the same piece of music in the Trauer Ode of 1727.
After this alto recitative comes the most glorious soprano aria, richly scored with the two oboes da caccia playing the oboe part in unisono, as well as parts for violin 1, violin 2, and viola. Harnoncourt says that even though both da caccia have this aria written in, he says it is “clearly not intended to be chorally played” and on their recording they decide to have this part covered by only one oboe da caccia. Perhaps the original full score was not available to Harnoncourt at the time he made that decision, because it clearly says: “tutti gli Oboi in unisono:”
One would almost think Bach dreamt of allfour oboes playing this, also the d’amores, but when his copyists double-checked with him, he decided that was just silly, it would overpower the poor boy who had to sing this, and they only wrote it into the parts for the da caccias (it says “Arie Tacet” in the parts for the oboi d’amore).
To learn more about Cantata 183, I wholeheartedly recommend you study with Rudolf Lutz of the J.S. Bach Foundation a little bit. Find a link to his fabulous (English spoken!) lecture and improvisation about this cantata in my blog post from May 24, 2020.
Wieneke Gorter, May 8, 2016, updated May 23, 2020.