1724: Bach has returned from his visit to Köthen (see previous post).
2017: I am still in Europe, but my daughter’s choir tour is done, and so is my daily commitment to write a blog for the parents who stayed back in California.
As I continue to follow Bach in 1724, the cantata for today, the 7th Sunday after Trinity, is cantata 107 Was willst du dich betrüben. If you only listen to one cantata this summer I suggest you listen to Herreweghe’s recording of this one. You will not regret the perfect combination of some of Bach’s best writing with Herreweghe’s sensitive interpretation. Find Herreweghe’s recording (from 1993, with Agnès Mellon, soprano; Howard Crook, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass) here on YouTube. Consider purchasing it here — this album also contains the beautiful cantata 93 from two weeks ago. My favorite movements are the fabulous opening chorus, the bass recitative and aria that follows, superbly sung by Peter Kooij, and the tenor aria because of the flutes. I also love Agnès Mellon’s angelic singing in the soprano aria.
A few weeks ago I explained that Bach started his second Leipzig cycle with a series of chorale cantatas, and that he would stick to that same format for nine and half months (read more about this in this post). He built all 44 cantatas in this period on a similar foundation: setting the verses of the chorale verbatim for the opening and closing choruses, while setting poetry based on the verses for the inner movements. While Bach collaborated with a librettist (probably the same one) for all of these cantatas, there was one exception within that 1724/1725 series: all of the words for cantata 107 Was willst du dich betrüben were copied verbatim from the chorale text.
We can only speculate as to why this happened. His librettist might have been sick or away. Or did Bach perhaps compose this cantata during his visit to Köthen (see last week’s post)? We only know that he and Anna Magdalena performed at the court in Köthen, but we don’t know how long they stayed there.
I have loved this cantata 107 since I first heard it on the Herreweghe recording in the early 1990s. Just listen to that opening chorus: Bach’s excellent and poignant writing combined with the fabulous sustained lines of the Collegium Vocale chorus (read my posts about their sopranos here and their altos here) and Herreweghe’s calm tempo, and continuous focus on the direction and destination of the musical lines.
I am in movie-script mode again and taking the liberty to imagine Bach writing this cantata in Köthen, maybe even performing (parts of) it there too with all the wonderful musicians at that court, and Anna Magdalena singing the soprano aria. Bach could very well have been inspired by the change of scenery, time away from his hectic Leipzig house, and enjoying the company of his former colleagues in Köthen, all excellent musicians. If we follow this train of thought, it is not surprising that he assigns 2/3 of the principal music in the opening chorus to the orchestra and only 1/3 to the choir, and writes the closing chorus as if it were one of his orchestral suites. It has been suggested that Bach convinced one of the flute players at the Köthen court, Johann Gottlieb Würdig, to accompany him to Leipzig and stay there for a few months.
Wieneke Gorter, July 27, 2017.