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.
The Ascension of Our Lord by Giotto di Bondone, 1305. Fresco in the Capella Scrovegni, Padua, Italy.
In the Netherlands, where I grew up, most people have a four-day weekend for Ascension Day (Thursday May 10 this year as well as in 1725). The traditional thing to do was go for a long bike ride very early in the morning on the Thursday, and then spend the rest of the weekend doing the first serious gardening of the season, putting annuals in the ground, filling window boxes, etc.
Here in the United States, Ascension Day goes by unnoticed, nobody gets that Thursday day off, never mind the four-day weekend. And here in California we already started gardening a while ago. So, while still digging out from an extremely busy several weeks/months, I forgot about it. I only remembered when my sister, who lives in France, told me they were away for the long weekend.
Following Bach’s writing in 1725, the cantata for Ascension Day 1725 is Cantata 128 Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein. It has a fantastic bass solo with trumpet (the designated instrument to illustrate “heaven”) and a beautiful alto-tenor duet.
My favorite recording of this cantata is from 1993 by Gardiner, with Robin Blaze, countertenor; Christoph Genz, tenor; and Reinhard Hagen, bass. Unfortunately the name of the trumpet player is not published. Listen to it here on Spotify. This recording is not available on YouTube. Please note that this is a completely different interpretation than Gardiner’s crazy high tempo recording from 2012 (a “make-up” recording for the missing one from the Cantata Pilgrimage cycle from 2000).
If you don’t have access to Spotify, you can listen to Harnoncourt’s 1983 recording here on YouTube, with soloists René Jacobs, coutertenor; Kurt Equiluz, tenor; Max van Egmond, bass; and Friedemann Immer, natural trumpet.
Find the text of Cantata 128 Auf Christi Himmelfahrt alleinhere, and the score here.
While the opening chorus is very similar to the great chorale fantasias from January 1725, this cantata is not a true “chorale cantata” anymore. By this time, after Easter 1725, Bach doesn’t follow the same structure that he religiously adhered to for all his cantatas from Trinity, June 11, 1724 to the Annunciation, March 25, 1725. None of the cantatas after March 25 have the chorale tune or text throughout the entire cantata: the closing chorale is a different one than the chorale in the opening chorus, and the inner recitatives and arias are no longer based on the text of the chorale from the opening chorus either.
This cantata is the fourth in the series of nine consecutive cantatas on poetry by Christiana Mariana von Ziegler (103, 108, 87, 128, 183, 74, 68, 175, and 176). Because Von Ziegler’s texts were published, we can see how many changes Bach made to her texts. In the case of this cantata, the most striking change is Bach deleting the planned recitative between the bass aria and the alto-tenor duet. It seems that Bach wanted to increase the musical contrast between the two movements, while at the same time clarifying the connection of the text from one movement (bass aria) to the next (alto-tenor) duet.
Thus he adds Von Ziegler’s original recitative text to the text of the bass aria, starting with an extra line “wo mein Erlöser lebt.” The line doesn’t rhyme with anything, and Von Ziegler must not have been happy with this. However, this way Bach can repeat the instrumental opening of the aria after what was originally the recitative text, and create more contrast between the movements.
He also adds two more lines at the end of that bass aria:
So schweig, verwegner Mund,
Und suche nicht dieselbe zu ergründen!
Thus making it more clear how the text of this movement is related to the next movement.
Below is an overview of all the changes Bach made in this particular libretto, courtesy of Eduard van Hengel.
Wieneke Gorter, May 13, 2018.
1. Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein
Ich meine Nachfahrt gründe
Und allen Zweifel, Angst und Pein
Hiermit stets überwinde;
Denn weil das Haupt im Himmel ist,
Wird seine Glieder Jesus Christ
Zu rechter Zeit nachholen.
2. Ich bin bereit, komm, hole mich!
Hier in der Welt
Ist Jammer, Angst und Pein;
Hingegen dort, in Salems Zelt,
Werd ich verkläret sein.
Da seh ich Gott
von Angesicht zu Angesicht,
Wie mir sein heilig Wort verspricht.
3. Auf, auf, mit hellem Schall
Mein Jesus sitzt zur Rechten!
Wer sucht mich anzufechten?
Ist er von mir genommen,
Ich werd einst dahin kommen,
Wo mein Erlöser lebt.
Mein Augen werden ihn
in größter Klarheit schauen.
O könnt ich im voraus
mir eine Hütte bauen!
Wohin? Vergebner Wunsch!
Er wohnet nicht auf Berg und Tal,
Sein Allmacht zeigt sich überall;
So schweig, verwegner Mund,
Und suche nicht dieselbe zu ergründen!
4. Sein Allmacht zu ergründen,
Wird sich kein Mensche finden,
Mein Mund verstummt und schweigt.
Ich sehe durch die Sterne,
Dass er sich schon von ferne
Zur Rechten Gottes zeigt.
5. Alsdenn so wirst du mich
Zu deiner Rechten stellen
Und mir als deinem Kind
Ein gnädig Urteil fällen,
Mich bringen zu der Lust,
Wo deine Herrlichkeit
Ich werde schauen an
In alle Ewigkeit.
Christiana Mariana von Ziegler
1. Auf Christi Himmelfarth allein
ich meine Nachfarth gründe
und allen Zweifel, Angst und Pein,
hiermit stets überwinde:
Denn weil das Haupt im Himmel ist,
wird seine Glieder JEsus Christ
zu rechter Zeit nachhohlen.
2. Ich bin bereit, komm hohle mich.
Hier in der Welt
Ist nicht, als Jammer, Angst und Pein;
Hingegen dort in Salems Zelt
Wird ich verklähret seyn. Da seh ich dich von Angesicht,
Wie mir dein heilges Wort verspricht.
3. Auf! Jubiliert mit hellen Schall,
Verkündiget nun überall,
Mein JEsus sitzt zur Rechten,
Wer sucht mich anzufechten? Wird er mir gleich weggenommen, Wird ich doch dahin auch kommen. ………………………………………..
Mein Auge wird ihn einst
in gröster Klarheit schauen.
O! könt ich schon allda
mir eine Hütte bauen; Jedoch vergebner Wunsch,
Er wohnet nicht auf Berg und Thal.
Sein Allmacht zeigt sich überall. ……………………………………………….. ………………………………………………….
4. Dein Allmacht zu ergründen,
Wird sich kein Mensche finden,
Mein Mund verstummt und schweigt
Ich sehe durch die Sterne,
daß er sich schon von ferne
Zur Rechten seines Vaters zeigt.
5. Alsdenn so wirst du mich
zu deiner Rechten stellen,
und mir als deinen Kind
ein gnädig Urtheil fällen,
mich bringen zu der Lust,
wo deine Herrlichkeit
ich werde schauen an
in alle Ewigkeit.
Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Pietro di Giovanni d’Ambrogio, 1435-1440. Pinacoteca Stuard, Parma, Italy.
Following Bach’s cantata writing in 1725, we have now come to Cantata 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, an oh so pretty composition with two horns in the orchestra, also the very last of Bach’s 1724/1725 cycle of chorale cantatas. And Bach probably knew that when he was writing it. It is based on the chorale about the Morning Star, a metaphor for Christ.
The recording of this cantata I like best is the one by Montreal Baroque, with soprano Monika Mauch, counter-tenor Matthew White, tenor Charles Daniels, and bass Stephan MacLeod. Please find it here in my playlist on Spotify. If you don’t have access to Spotify, you can purchase the album here on Amazon or listen to Harnoncourt’s recording on YouTube.
This cantata was the first I ever wrote about. It was in college, as an assignment for Frits de Haen: we had to compare a modern-instrument and a period-instrument recording of a piece of our choice. I don’t remember why I selected this cantata. At the time the only period-instrument recording I had was the one by Harnoncourt. Frits loved the review I wrote (in Dutch) and kept giving me nudges to write more. For several years in a row after that first review I wrote for his class, I would run into him at the Utrecht Early Music Festival or at another concert, and he would always ask “are you still writing?” or “why aren’t you writing?” and told me that I should really write every day or every week. His words have always stayed with me and are one of several reasons why I started writing this blog in January 2016.
You might think it is because of Palm Sunday that there was music in the Leipzig churches again on this Sunday. However, in Leipzig Palm Sunday was firmly part of Lent (the 40 days of introspection before Easter): no thinking beyond the crucifixion until Good Friday, and thus not celebrated with music. Or was it?
An exception was always made for the Annunciation of Mary: if that day, March 25, fell within Lent, it would still be celebrated, an thus Bach could write a cantata for that day.
The only surviving Bach cantatas for the Annunciation of Mary, Cantata 182 Himmelskönig, sei wilkommen from 1714** and Cantata 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern from 1725 were written for days when this holiday fell on Palm Sunday. And perhaps not surprisingly, both these cantatas are also very much Palm Sunday cantatas, or at least Bach’s librettist interprets the Annunciation as yet another announcement of the arrival of Christ. The references to the coming of Christ outnumber the references to Mary, in the text as well as in the music.
I think it is striking that in Cantata 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern Bach uses a chorale that was so strongly associated with the Christmas season, and writes music that is festive and perhaps even regal, but at the same time humble, with horns in the orchestra instead of the trumpets and timpani he would have used for a bigger holiday. Whether he was indeed illustrating the Palm Sunday story (a humble king entering Jerusalem, riding on a donkey) I don’t know, but it is very well possible.
Two days after performing Cantata 125, Bach performed Cantata 126 Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, on Sexagesima Sunday (the before-last Sunday before Lent), February 4, 1725.
My favorite recording of this cantata is the one by Harnoncourt, especially because of Thomas Thomaschke singing the bass aria. Find it here on YouTube.
Find the text of this Cantata 126 here, and the score here.
The two most striking elements of this cantata are the military trumpet in the opening chorus and the equally militant bass aria. It is all because of Luther’s chorale. When Luther wrote this, most probably around 1541/42, he was worried about the peace treaty (since 1536) between the Pope, France, and the Turkish troops that had by then advanced all the way to Vienna. Together Luther saw them as the antichrist and a threat to his Reformation.
In Bach’s time, the Turkish troops had been defeated (in 1683), thus the meaning of the chorale had changed, but Bach obviously still wanted to convey the military character of Luther’s original intent. And who knows, if Bach knew that his cycle of chorale cantatas was going to come to and end soon, he might have wanted to pull out all the stops.
Again we have a little glimpse of the St. Matthew Passion: Van Hengel says the bass aria “Stürze zu Boden” makes him think of the “Sind Blitze, sind Donner” chorus from the St. Matthew Passion and I completely agree.
Below are all the seven verses that were in the Dresdener Gesangbuch Bach and his librettist used and paraphrased. The two verses by Jonas were apparently added later than Walther’s, judging by Buxtehude’s setting of this chorale, which only uses Luther’s and Walther’s verses.
1. Erhalt uns Herr, bei deinem Wort,
und steur des Papsts und Türken Mord,
die Jesum Christum deinen Sohn,
wollen stürtzen von seinem Thron.
2. Beweis dein Macht, Herr Jesu Christ,
der die Herr aller Herren bist,
Beschirm dein arme Christenheit,
das sie dich Lob in Ewigheit.
3. Gott, Heiliger Geist, du Tröster werth,
gib deim Volk einerlei Sinn auf Erd,
Steh bei uns in der letzten Not,
gleit uns ins Leben aus der Tod.
4. Ihr’ Anschlag’, Herr, zu Nichte mach,
laß sie treffen die böse Sach,
und stürz sie in die Grub hinein,
die sie machen den Christen dein.
5. So werden sie erkennen doch,
daß du, unser Gott, lebest noch,
und hilfst gewaltig deiner Schar,
die sich auf dich verlassen gar.
6. Verleih uns Frieden genädiglich,
Herr Gott, zu unsern Zeiten,
es ist doch ja kein ander nicht,
der für uns könnte streiten,
denn du, unser Gott, alleine.
7. Gib unsern Fürsten und aller Obrigkeit,
Fried und gut Regiment,
daß wir unter ihnen,
ein geruh’g und stilles Leben führen mögen,
in aller Gottseligkeit und Ehrbarkeit, Amen.
For this Sunday, the third after Epiphany in 1725, Bach wrote Cantata 111 Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit.
In the church year, we have now arrived at the time where the Gospel reading talks about a new miracle every Sunday. Last week it was turning water into wine at the Marriage at Cana, this week it is about Jesus healing a leper. In my post from two years ago about cantatas 72 and 73, I explained what to Bach were the most important words from this Bible story:
Da er aber vom Berg herabging, folgte ihm viel Volks nach. Und siehe, ein Aussätziger kam und betete ihn an und sprach: Herr, so du willst, kannst du mich wohl reinigen. Und Jesus streckte seine Hand aus, rührte ihn an und sprach: Ich will’s tun; sei gereinigt!
(When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean. Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, I am willing; be cleansed.)
When, in 1725, in the context of his chorale cantata cycle, Bach needed to find a chorale that would underline this theme, he found the perfect match in Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit, a chorale from 1547.
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t really found a satisfying recording of this cantata. At the beginning of this week I listened to many different recordings, and I was often unhappy with the tempo of the opening chorus, and sometimes also with the interpretation of one of the other movements.
So I’ll fall back on the Harnoncourt recording because I like the instrumental part of the opening chorus the best of all recordings I listened to. You can find that recording here on YouTube. If you prefer to watch a live video recording, you can find the live performance by the J.S. Bach Foundation here.
Find the text of Cantata 111 here, and the score here.
A very nice and unusual element in this cantata is the alto/tenor duet (movement 4). It doesn’t happen very often that Bach writes for this combination of voices. They walk happily, even if it is to the grave. Note how the two voices are apart, written in canon (following each other) on most of the text, but together on the text zum Grabe führt (leads me to the grave). To make sure that everyone really got the message that if it is God’s will, even death is blessed, Bach and his librettist stress it again in the soprano recitative.
Wieneke Gorter, January 21, 2018. Links updated January 25, 2020.
In Bach’s time, there were three Christmas Days. In many countries in Europe there are still two Christmas Days. In the Netherlands, a country so small that you can easily travel to all your relatives within a day, people are expected to visit one side of the family on Christmas Day, and the other side on Second Christmas Day. Or at least that is how I remember it.
Of course, you could continue listening to the Christmas Oratorio, via the links for either Harnoncourt’s recording or Herreweghe’s recording I gave you yesterday. The second cantata is a charming one, evoking the pastoral scene of the shepherds on the field. But this composition has never grabbed or moved me the way the first or fourth cantata of the Christmas Oratorio do. The cantata I am eager to share with you today is cantata 40 Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes, written for Second Christmas Day in 1723.
The interpretation I grew up with is Leonhardt’s recording from 1974, with countertenor René Jacobs, tenor Marius van Altena, and bass Max van Egmond. There is a good live recording by Herreweghe of this cantata from a concert in Paris in 2015. You can watch this here on YouTube. Soloists are Damien Guillon, alto; Thomas Hobbs, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass.
This cantata is really Christmas for me. I don’t know exactly why: perhaps because on Second Christmas Day we didn’t have to go to church, so I associate it with a more relaxed, unscheduled day. Perhaps because of the horns in the orchestra in the opening chorus and the tenor aria (I have a soft spot for horns or trombones in Bach cantatas), because of the impressive “Höllische schlange” (Snake of Hell) bass aria (yes, I have a soft spot for bass arias too), or because of the closing chorale that is so pretty, going up so high on the text Wonne, Wonne über Wonne! Er ist die Genadensonne. (Delight, delight upon delight! He is the son of mercy.) I sang this cantata in a Bach cantata reading group mid November this year, sitting directly behind the horns, standing next to one of my best friends, and I couldn’t believe my luck I got to sing this closing chorale.
Wieneke Gorter, December 26, 2016, updated December 24, 2019.
Growing up in the Netherlands, my sister and I did not expect gifts at Christmas, and certainly not under the tree. We had already received our gifts on the eve of St. Nicholas, December 5. At the dinner with relatives on Christmas Day, we would maybe receive one book, or a small piece of jewelry. It would be well coordinated between mother and grandmother that this would amount to only one present per person, and it would be next to our plate when we arrived at the extremely well-dressed Christmas dinner table.
However Christmas Morning was something we immensely looked forward to. The Christmas Morning breakfast was the most wonderful breakfast of the year, even better than the Easter breakfast. We would have crispy rolls from the oven, artisan sliced ham, boiled eggs, cheese, jams, and of course the sweet breakfast sprinkles American kids can’t believe Dutch kids get to eat for breakfast. And Kerststol, or Christmas Stollen, a fruit bread with an almond paste filling.
There was an unwritten rule that my parents would set out the breakfast (including my father carving a bell or Christmas tree out of the butter) and us kids would stay in bed until my mom would sound the special alarm. And the special alarm was: Harnoncourt’s recording of the opening chorus of Part One of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at full volume, the sound of the timpani rocking the whole house. I usually play the Herreweghe recording in my own house nowadays. You can find that here on YouTube.
In 2012, Herreweghe’s performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Brussels was recorded and released on DVD. It is a beautiful registration, and has some of my favorite soloists: Dorothee Mields, soprano; Damien Guillon, alto; Thomas Hobbs, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass. For my readers in Germany, and countries not to far from there, you can buy the regular DVD here, or the blu ray version here. For readers in the USA, if you have Amazon Prime, you can stream it here.
Read more about the history of Christmas in Europe and the USA in this extremely interesting article and join me again tomorrow for a cantata for Second Christmas Day.
Wieneke Gorter, December 24, 2016, links updated December 24, 2019.
The Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto, ca. 1305. Fresco in the Scrovengni Chapel, Padua, Italy.
Bach performed this cantata 61 Nun komm der Heiden Heiland in Leipzig on November 28, 1723, as a “rerun” of the first performance in Weimar in 1714. Why did he not write a new cantata? The prevailing scholarly answer is that Bach was giving himself a break from composing in between the three-week frenzy of cantatas 60, 90, and 70 and the new works (including a Magnificat) he was planning for the Christmas days. I think Bach was proud of his Weimar cantatas, and I believe he wanted to show off the special features in this cantata to his colleagues and to the thousands of Lutherans that he knew would flock to the Leipzig churches on holidays.
I myself am proud of having followed Bach’s cantata writing of 1723 every week for the entire Trinity season. After all this listening and reading, I see a pattern in Bach reviving some of his Weimar cantatas on Leipzig feast days*, and I now look at cantata 61 Nun komm der Heiden Heilandin a new way.
I had always found the bass recitative that precedes it very charming, with the musical illustration of the knocking on the door, but not more than that. I had seen this recitative in the context of all the Bach cantatas and passions that I knew, and had compared it with other typical Bach “Vox Christi” writing for bass. But those were all written after November 28, 1723. So now, after having tried to place myself in the shoes of the Leipzig congregations for the entire 1723 Trinity season, I am fully aware that they had not heard a “Vox Christi” at all in any of the cantatas leading up to this one.** And thus I finally realize how it must not have been charming, but truly moving to them to hear this announcement presented in this way, on the first Sunday they started looking forward to the birth of Christ.
In the text of the recitative, Jesus says: “See, I am in front of your door! I’m knocking!” The librettist means the door of the believer’s heart, in which he’s planning to live. The pizzicato in the strings, as well as the staccato and the intervals in the voice part illustrate the knocking, and the dissonances at the beginning only resolve until the final “klopfe an.” The form of this recitative is highly unusual, and perhaps also something Bach wanted to show off in Leipzig.
However Bach’s greatest source of pride was probably the opening chorus of this cantata. To understand this, we need to do a mini music history class. First, in the 4th century, Ambrosius created the hymn Veni Redemptor Gentium, beautifully sung here on this video by Giovanni Vianini, director of the Schola Gregoriana Mediolanensis in Milan, Italy. Then, in 1524, Luther turned that hymn into Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, which sounds like this and which all Lutherans in Bach’s time knew very well.
In Weimar Bach had come into contact with French and Italian court music, and had adopted the habit of writing almost every opening chorus or opening sinfonia of his cantatas as a royal “entrada,” to show off his skills in French ouverture writing as well as to please the Duke.
So now Bach needed/wanted to merge the timeless hymn with a fashionable French ouverture. And the result is stunning. Or, as Eduard van Hengel says: Bach wrote “brilliant fusion” at the age of 29. Listen to this in the recording by Philippe Herreweghe on YouTube (Sybilla Rubens, soprano; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; Peter Kooij, bass).
Find the German text with English translations here and the score here.
The first line of the hymn is sung one voice part at a time, an illustration of the Bible reading for this Sunday: the people greeting the messiah who is riding into Jerusalem. The second line is then sung as a simple four-part hymn, while the instrumental parts keep playing the first part of the ouverture. The third line becomes a mini motet in the fast and happy (“Gai”) middle part of the ouverture, in 3/4.
The fourth line of text is then again a simple four-part setting on the third part of the ouverture.
For the closing chorale, Bach chose the last two lines of Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern as melody. And again he marries the chorale tune beautifully with the instrumental writing.
Wieneke Gorter, November 26, 2016, updated December 1, 2019.
** unless they had a really good memory, and were present at Bach’s “audition” in February 1723. There is a Vox Christi in Cantata 22 which he presented at that time, but didn’t repeat in Leipzig until that same time in the church year in 1724.
The Parable of the Great Supper / the Great Banquet, by anonymous Dutch painter “the Braunschweig (Brunswick) Monogrammist,” ca. 1525
Trinity season in the Lutheran Church year means no feast days until Christmas, no stories about Jesus’ life in the Gospel texts, and no Vox Christi bass recitatives. To still keep this blog exciting for myself and you loyal readers, I decided to make it into a true weekly series, and will be following all of Bach’s 1723 Leipzig cantatas until Advent, without taking any detours to his Weimar cantatas or later Leipzig cantatas.
A few things that make it irresistible for me to try this: Bach started working in Leipzig on the first Sunday after Trinity in 1723 (see last week’s blog post); the dates of the Lutheran Church year in 2016 are practically the same as in 1723 – off by only one day; and I believe that by following this 1723 sequence, we can better imagine how it must have been for the Leipzig audiences (congregation) to hear one cantata after the other, and perhaps get a little insight in how it must have been for Bach himself to write one after the other.
The second Sunday after Trinity in 1723 marked Bach’s debut in the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church). On Sunday June 6, he performed cantata 76 Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes there, and this one is even more impressive than 75, and includes a festive opening chorus which makes me think of Bach’s later Ascension Oratorio.
There are many similarities between cantata 75 and 76, the most obvious one being that they share the ambitious length of 14 movements in total, divided over two parts. From a superficial point of view, both cantatas start with a psalm text in the opening chorus, have challenging soprano arias, feature bass arias with trumpet, and -never seen again in later cantatas- an instrumental sinfonia at the start of the second part (after the sermon). However there are more (hidden) similarities and cross-references between the two, so that one could almost think about these two first cantatas of the 1723/1724 cycle as a diptych.
I appreciate Gardiner’s interpretation of cantata 76 the most of all recordings I listened to. And the universe will have it that this one was recorded in the Basilique de Saint-Denis (directly north of Paris), which was my subway stop for four fabulous music-filled months in 1994. In his journal from 2000, Gardiner writes that they were very concerned about the enormous size of this Gothic cathedral, and feared that a large audience (needed to balance out the acoustics) wouldn’t show up because it was the night of the France-Italy final in the Euro soccer competition. But everything turned out fine: there were more than 1200 people in the audience, and France won.
Listen to Gardiner’s recording of cantata 76 Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes
Cantata 76 starts with a text about heaven: the first and third verse of Psalm 19, Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes. To illustrate this, the heavenly trumpet (in cantata 75 not introduced until the start of the second half) is heard right away. The fugue on the text “Es ist keine Sprache noch Rede, da man nicht ihre Stimme höre” is fantastic, Bach at his best in my opinion.
After this, the text of the cantata refers to the Gospel reading of the day: the parable of the Great Supper from Luke 14: 16-24 about a man who has invited many guests to a Dinner/Supper/Banquet, receives one cancellation after the other, after which he decides to invite all the beggars and cripples his servant can find, and serves them the dinner instead, not leaving one place open for any of the previously invited guests. All this combined with the “Brotherly love” theme from the Epistle reading of the day: 1 John 3: 13-18.
Another example, though through a completely opposite story as the one from cantata 75, of why it is good to share food and love with others.
Besides the incredible opening chorus, the highlights of this cantata for me are: the soprano aria with violin/cello accompaniment (no. 3), the bass aria with trumpet (no. 5), the incredible sinfonia for oboe d’amore and viola da gamba at the start of the second half (no. 8), the dramatic, operatic tenor aria (no. 10, fabulously performed by James Gilchrist, including the “shake” Bach wrote on the word “Hasse”), and the alto recitative with viola da gamba (no. 11).
For those who have extra time: listen to the violin/cello duet in the soprano aria accompaniment in an unrivaled (as far as I am concerned) interpretation by Alice and Nikolaus Harnoncourt on their recording from 1976 (scroll to 06:11)
Nikolaus & Alice Harnoncourt, 1951, before they were married, on tour with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra
Read the German text with English translations of this cantata here, and find the score here.
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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.