Bach’s Calov Bible after Luther, with Bach’s comment in the right margin of 2 Chronicles 5,13: “NB. Bey einer andächtigen Musiq ist allezeit Gott mit seiner Gnaden Gegenwart” (NB. Where there is devotional music, God with his grace is always present.)
This past October 31 marked the 500 anniversary of the Reformation: Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. Without Luther making the Bible available in German and making music an integral part of faith, Bach would probably not have felt as driven to educate his fellow believers through his music. Without Luther, there might not be any Bach cantatas, and definitely not this special cycle of chorale cantatas I’ve been discussing on this blog since June of this year.
It is interesting to me that when using one of Luther’s original chorales, Bach gives it an “old-fashioned” treatment: he writes the opening chorus in the “old style,” almost like a 16th century motet, and has the equally ancient brass quartet of one cornetto and three sackbutts (early trombones) doubling the vocal parts, as if wanting to confirm the timeless character of Luther’s chorales. A good example of this technique is Cantata 25 from 1723 and Cantata 2 from earlier in 1724, and Cantata 121 for Second Christmas Day 1724. If this was Bach’s preferred way of honoring Luther, he did this also on October 29 in 1724, two days before Reformation day, with this Cantata 38 Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir for the 21st Sunday after Trinity. Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir is on one of Luther’s very first chorales, and was also sung at his funeral.
I prefer Herreweghe’s recording of this cantata. It is available here on YouTube, or please consider supporting the artists by purchasing the entire album “Weinen, Klagen …” here on Amazon. The album also contains my preferred recordings of Cantata 12 (see my post about that here) and Cantata 75 (see my post about that here). Soloists are Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Daniel Taylor, countertenor; Mark Padmore, tenor, and Peter Kooij, bass.
Please find the German text with English translations here, and the score here.
If you have time, it is worth it to first listen to the opening chorus of cantata 2 Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein from June 18, 1724, also based on one of Luther’s own chorales. Make sure you stop after the opening chorus, and then start listening to today’s Cantata 38here, and hear how similar Bach’s setting of the chorale melody is. I don’t think it is a coincidence.
My favorite part of this cantata is the tenor aria: it is a beautiful piece of music, a quartet really, between the two oboe parts, the tenor voice, and the continuo, the way tenor arias often are with Bach, and I appreciate the text “Ich höre mitten in den Leiden ein Trostwort, so mein Jesus spricht” (In the midst of my sufferings I hear a word of consolation spoken by Jesus). I listened to this aria many times in the weeks after my mother passed away (seven years ago this month), Bach’s music being my “Trostwort.”
I also very much like the before-last movement of the cantata, the trio between soprano, countertenor, and bass. Excellent motet writing by Bach, and beautifully sung on the Herreweghe recording. Again this is a nod from Bach to older composition styles, linking back to the opening chorus, and perhaps an additional tribute to Luther.
Wieneke Gorter, November 4, 2017, links updated October 29, 2020.
Trinity is also the start of the part of the church year that deals exclusively with issues of faith and doctrine, instead of celebrating events from Jesus’ life, as was done in the period between Advent and Pentecost. This change must have been important to Bach too, because all three surviving cantatas for Trinity 1 are large-scale, musically ambitious works.
The composition with which Bach made his debut in the St. Nicholas Church (he would not perform in the St. Thomas Church until one week later) was cantata 75 Die Elenden sollen essen, a piece of considerable length, containing no less than 14 movements, seven before the sermon, seven after.
Listen to Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 75 Die Elenden sollen essen (with soloists Carolyn Sampson, Daniel Taylor, Mark Padmore, and Peter Kooy) on YouTube
Purchase Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 75 Die Elenden sollen essen and two other cantatas on Amazon
Find the complete German text with English translation of this cantata here.
The text of the opening chorus is from Psalm 22, but it is strongly related to the Gospel of the day: the story of Lazarus (a poor leper, who lies in front of the door of a rich man’s house, asking the rich man for food every day) and Dives (the rich man, who ends up in hell when he dies because he didn’t share his blessings/wealth with those in need).
When I listen to the opening chorus, I keep wondering if Bach wrote a Kyrie in Köthen which he never finished or which got lost for another reason. This is not backed up by any of the commentary about this cantata, but in these first measures I can’t stop myself from hearing “Ky-ri-e-e-le–” in my head when the choir sings “Die-ie E-e-le–.” The music accents the second syllable of the word Elenden, while in the spoken language the stress would be on the first syllable. I find it strange that Bach would have ignored word stress in such an important composition, which he spent extra time on, and probably already wrote before he arrived in Leipzig (Gardiner notes that the paper of the manuscript was not from Leipzig, and that the handwriting was extremely neat). So I’m hoping something will turn up in my lifetime to substantiate this hunch I have ….
Wherever the opening chorus originated from, it is beautifully written, as are all the arias. The soprano aria has a tender, plaintive oboe d’amore accompaniment, the alto aria floats on a rich blanket of strings, and the bass aria is a show-off piece with virtuosic music for the singer as well as the trumpeter.
There is a symmetry to the order in which the recitatives and arias appear in the cantata which is rarely seen in other Bach cantatas.
But of course it is typical for Bach to use mathematical design when wanting to make a lasting impression with a composition (such as with the St. Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor). Also the fact that there are 14 movements to this cantata is not a coincidence: it is the sum of the numbers B, A, C, and H in the alphabet.
There is more symmetry in the cantata: The text of the first half refers to the Gospel story from Luke about Lazarus and Dives, and talks about earthly life and material possessions. In contrast to this, the second half of the cantata moves up to a spiritual level, and up to heaven. This change is illustrated by the introduction of the instrument that was associated with heaven: the trumpet. In the opening movement of the second half of this cantata the trumpet plays the chorale tune with which the first half had ended, Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, and then later accompanies the bass in a stand-out virtuosic aria.
There is also more “showing off” in this cantata. As Gardiner points out, Bach seems to have wanted to make it clear that he was a skilled court composer (which he had been at Köthen before he took the position in Leipzig): after the French Ouverture of the opening chorus, all the arias together from a French Suite: The tenor aria is a Polonaise, the soprano aria a Minuet, the alto aria a Passepied, and the Bass aria a Gigue.
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.