On Sunday October 8, 1724, Bach introduced a new instrument to his Leipzig cantata audiences: the flauto piccolo, or sopranino recorder, in Cantata 96 Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn. He did this to illustrate the word “Morgenstern” (Morning Star) in the text of the opening chorus, creating a constellation over the highest notes of the choir sopranos with the even higher notes of the recorder.
Thanks to a videoby the J.S. Bach Foundation that was released to YouTube in 2018, you can now watch an excellent recorder player, Maurice Steger, in action on this instrument in this cantata.
Go to my blog post from 2017 (updated with the new recording and a few other things), to read why Bach needed a chorale with the word “Gottessohn” (son of God) for this cantata.
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.
In the summer and fall of 1724, Bach wrote an entire series of chorale cantatas, meaning that each cantata was based on a hymn. If at all possible, it was to be a hymn associated with that particular Sunday in the church year. For this 18th Sunday after Trinity, he chose Herr Christ, der einige Gottessohn (Lord Christ, the only son of God). Keep reading to learn why.
When I first wrote about this Cantata 96 Herr Christ, der einige Gottessohn, in 2017, I recommended Ton Koopman’s recording.Listen to that recording here on Amazon, or here on Spotify. (It is not available on YouTube). Soloists are: Deborah York, soprano; Franziska Gottwald, alto; Paul Agnew, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass; Heiko ter Schegget, sopranino recorder; and Wilbert Hazelzet, transverse flute.
However, since then a wonderful live video registration by the J.S. Bach Foundation has come out: you can find that here on YouTube. This is a terrific recording as well, with the added bonus that you can see the sopranino recorder and all the other instruments. Soloists in this performance are: Noëmi Sohn, soprano; Jan Börner, alto; Julius Pfeifer, tenor; Wolf-Matthias Friedrich, bass; and Maurice Steger, sopranino recorder.
Find the German text with English translation here and the score here.
In the Lutheran Church the chorale Herr Christ, der einige Gottessohn, one of the oldest Protestant hymns, was not so much associated with this 18th Sunday after Trinity, but more with Epiphany/Three Kings (January 6), for its reference to the Morning Star. Bach brings the luster of the Christmas season into this cantata in the most beautiful way. He gives the opening chorus a dusting of starlight by writing a part for flauto piccolo, or sopranino recorder*, over the rest of the vocal and instrumental parts. Since this time it is the altos that have the chorale melody in the opening chorus, Bach can create an ethereal link between the chorus and the flauto piccolo by way of the soprano part in the chorus. In the fifth line of the text, Er ist die Morgensterne (he is the Morning Star),he modulates to the brilliant key of E Major on the word “Morgensterne.”
But why did Bach select this chorale for a Sunday in the Trinity season? It becomes a bit more clear in the alto recitative and tenor aria. They refer to the fact that Jesus is God’s son, not David’s son. This is the only direct reference to the Gospel reading for this Sunday: Jesus giving the Jewish elders a hard time after they had claimed that he was only David’s son, not God’s son (Matthew 22: 34-46). In the tenor aria Bach features his star flute player again.
In the soprano recitative, the focus changes to Jesus as guiding light, referring to the “he is the Morning Star” text from the chorale. The soprano’s statement that it can be hard to stay on the “right path” is illustrated in the bass aria.
We have heard faltering steps in Bach cantatas before (read my post about that here), but this time Bach offers a more theatrical illustration. In the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig a visual and aural effect would have made this even stronger: the violins, playing when the bass sings “zu rechten” (now to the right), would have stood on the right-hand balcony, the oboes, playing when the bass sings “zu linken” (now to the left) would have stood on the left-hand balcony. Also, in Bach’s rhetoric, right meant good and high, left meant bad and low.
The middle part of this cantata, with the text “Gehe doch, mein Heiland, mit” (My saviour please come with me) always moves me, especially when Peter Kooij sings it (listen to that here on Spotify, with Bach Collegium Japan).
Wieneke Gorter, October 15, 2017, updated October 8, 2020.