I always write about bass arias around this time of year (see this post). But let’s not forget about the tenor arias. As I’ve said before, I believe that Bach wrote some of his best trio sonatas in the form of tenor arias. Wonderful examples of this are the following tenor arias from the Fall of 1724:
from Cantata 78, sung here by Howard Crook on the Herreweghe recording from 1988
from Cantata 5, sung here by Raphael Höhn with the J.S. Bach Foundation
from Cantata 38, sung here by Johannes Kaleschke with the J.S. Bach Foundation — this is the “consolation” aria I mentioned in my previous blog post.
And for today, the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, the fabulous tenor aria from Cantata 139 Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott, sung here by Johannes Kaleschke with the J.S. Bach Foundation. When I looked at the text of this aria again today, I realized that if Cantata 139 were an opera, this aria would be Joe Biden’s:
Gott ist mein Freund; was hilft das Toben, So wider mich ein Feind erhoben! Ich bin getrost bei Neid und Hass. Ja, redet nur die Wahrheit spärlich, Seid immer falsch, was tut mir das? Ihr Spötter seid mir ungefährlich.
God is my friend; what use is all the raging that an enemy has raised against me! I am consoled in the midst of envy and hate. Yes, though you speak the truth only rarely, though you are always false, what is that to me? You scoffers are to me no danger.
Of this cantata 78 Jesu, der du meine Seele most people only know the soprano-alto duet Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten. The best rendition of this I have ever heard in my life is by Julianne Baird and Allan Fast on the Rifkin recording from 1988. Listen to it here. Fast passed away in 1995 at age 41.
Bach wrote this cantata for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, September 10, 1724. It was not the first time he wrote a “cute” duet — there are gorgeous examples in sacred and secular cantatas from his Weimar and Köthen years. However, at the start of his second Leipzig cycle, for the Trinity season of 1724, there are more and more duets in his cantatas. Alto-tenor duets appear in cantatas 20 and 10, spaced three weeks apart. A series of soprano-alto duets follows on July 9 in cantata 93, a month later in cantata 101, and the next week in cantata 113. Then there’s the terrific tenor-bass duet in cantata 33 on September 3, and this duet on September 10.
This is why I like it so much to listen to Bach’s cantatas in the order he wrote and performed them. I would never have noticed connections such as these otherwise.
The rest of the cantata is wonderful too, especially the opening chorus, which is among the most complex Bach ever wrote. For those who read Dutch, I encourage you to read Eduard van Hengel’s splendid article about this cantata here.
For the entire cantata I prefer Herreweghe’s recording, also from 1988. Soprano: Ingrid Schmithüsen; Alto: Charles Brett; Tenor: Howard Crook; Bass: Peter Kooy. Find the recording here on YouTube. Find the German text and English translations of the cantata here, and the score here.
More listening for this Sunday: cantata 25 from 1723. It has a much bigger orchestra, including many brass players. Find my explanation for that here.
Wieneke Gorter, September 17, 2017, updated September 10, 2020.
The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Jacopo Tintoretto, circa 1545-1550, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
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.
Find the text and translations here, and the score here.
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.
For today, the 5th Sunday after Trinity, I’m running out of time to write a post about the beautiful cantata 93 Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten Bach wrote for this Sunday in 1724. So I’ll just give you my favorite recording (by Herreweghe, with soloists Agnès Mellon, soprano; Charles Brett, countertenor; Howard Crook, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass), the text & translations, and the score.
My reason is a good one: I’m on tour with my daughter’s youth choir to Greece, and I’m in charge of the blog for that tour (so parents who stay at home know we’re still alive and happy) and that’s taking up most of my limited wifi time on the island of Syros. It’s a really hard life being a blogger here 😉
I’m very happy, because at the beginning of this week I got to see the 11th/12th century Kaisariani monastery, about 10 kilometers outside of Athens. I found out about this building once while looking for images for this blog. The cross-in-square, domed church has some beautiful wall and ceiling paintings dating from the 18th century; those in the narthex date back to 1682.
I loved seeing the paintings “live” and took lots of pictures to use in future blog posts, but also very much enjoyed the quiet (only a handful of other tourists were there), the forest air, and the gardens:
There are many Bach cantatas for New Year’s Day, or the Feast of the Circumcision and naming of Jesus. Apart from the fourth cantata of the Christmas Oratorio I discuss here, those are: BWV 190 from 1724, BWV 41 from 1725, BWV 16 from 1726, and BWV 171 from 1729. They are all impressive, usually with trumpets and timpani in the orchestra, but rarely get performed anywhere. I hope that will change sometime.
Today is also the first Sunday after Christmas. If that day did not fall on Third Christmas Day, Bach would write a cantata for that too, as you can see in this overview. It means there is an overwhelming treasure trove of cantatas to choose from today.
The ones I like best are cantata 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein (for the first Sunday after Christmas in 1724) and the fourth cantata from the Christmas OratorioFallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben (for New Year’s Day or the Feast of the Circumcision and naming of Jesus in 1735).
Listen to Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein on YouTube. It’s only 14 minutes long, but contains so many jewels. With soprano Vasiljka Jezovsek (stunning performance in the recitative), alto Sarah Connolly, tenor Mark Padmore, and bass Peter Kooij. I love every part of this cantata, but as a child I was most excited about the choruses: they still sounded like pretty Christmas music, but talked about the New Year!
Find the text of cantata 122 here, and the score here.
For Herreweghe’s interpretation of the 4th cantata from the Christmas OratorioFallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben you have two options: There is a beautiful CD recording from 1989, which you can purchase here. Soloists on this recording are soprano Barbara Schlick, tenor Howard Crook, and bass Peter Kooij.
There is also a wonderful DVD recording from 2013, with soloists Dorothee Mields, countertenor Damien Guillon (not singing in part 4), tenor Thomas Hobbs, and bass Peter Kooij. I can highly recommend watching this. This DVD is available at ArkivMusic, Barnes and Noble, and can also be streamed on Amazon Prime.
Find the text of cantata 4 from the Christmas Oratoriohere, and the score here.
I love this part of the Christmas Oratorio the best, because of the moving bass-soprano duet, the trio sonata disguised as a tenor aria with two violins, the famous echo-aria for soprano, and of course because it has horns in the orchestra! The presence of horns in the orchestra is the reason this cantata is often skipped in concert performances of the Christmas Oratorio. The entire oratorio is a bit too long for a regular concert program, there are no horns required in any of the other five parts, and natural horn players are expensive and hard to find, so presenters can save on production costs by not hiring any horn players at all.
By the way: Bach never intended for the Christmas Oratorio to be performed as a whole. He wrote each cantata for the six consecutive church Holidays in 1734/1735: First Christmas Day, Second Christmas Day, Third Christmas Day, New Year’s Day (or Feast of the Circumcision), Sunday after New Year, and Epiphany, and the separate cantatas were performed during the church services on those days. The music for the oratorio was largely based on existing choruses and arias from secular works. In this case of the fourth cantata, the opening chorus, soprano aria, and tenor aria all come from BWV 213 Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen aka Hercules at the Crossroads written in 1733 for the 11th Birthday of Prince Friedrich Christian, son of the Elector of Saxony.
I wish you a good 2017!
Wieneke Gorter, December 29, 2016, links updated December 28, 2019.
This post is about Cantata 42 Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, written for the 1st Sunday after Easter in 1725.
For Bach, Easter season in Leipzig was extremely busy. Immediately after the passion on Good Friday, he needed to have three to four cantatas ready to go: two cantatas for Easter Sunday, one for Easter Monday, and one for Easter Tuesday. And then five days later, again one for the Sunday after Easter, the one I am discussing here. If we imagine Bach having to work on most of these in the week before Easter, that same week in which he was rehearsing the Passion for Good Friday, and often adjusting the score still too, it is not so strange that he often re-used existing music at this time of year. It would either be a repeat performance of an Easter cantata from his time in Mühlhausen (Christ lag in Todesbanden) or Weimar (Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde Jubilieret!) or a new cantata, with new text, but largely based on existing secular music he had written for the Weimar or Köthen courts.
In 1725, the performance list looked like this:
Good Friday: St. John Passion, 2nd version, significantly rewritten from the year before.
Easter Sunday: Easter-Oratorio, largely based on existing court music from Köthen + a repeat of Christ Lag in Todesbanden (Bible story: Maria Magdalena and Maria Jacobi finding the empty tomb)
(If you have time, it is helpful to listen to cantata 6 (here on YouTube) before you listen to today’s cantata 42, because 42 refers to 6 in style and thought, and the use of the “two and three” in the text of the alto aria of cantata 42 might even be meant to “remind” us of these *two* disciples in that story of Easter Monday.
Easter Tuesday: we don’t know what was performed on this day in that year.
1st Sunday after Easter: Cantata 42 Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, opening sinfonia and alto aria based on existing court music from Köthen (Bible story: while a small group of his disciples are inside a house in Jerusalem, with all the doors and windows locked, Jesus appears in their midst).
Ever since I started this blog at the beginning of this year, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this first Sunday after Easter, so I can finally introduce you to cantata 42 from 1725. It is one of my favorites because of the many gems strung together: a Brandenburg concerto-like sinfonia (as if Bach wanted to continue the kind of instrumental opening he had written for the Easter Oratorio from last week), a bit of Evangelist recitative (which is missing from the Easter Oratorio, so is more a reference to the St. John Passion), a terrific alto aria, a pretty soprano-tenor duet, an impressive bass aria, and a wonderful closing chorale.
I discovered this cantata about fifteen years ago, on the Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis CD Herreweghe recorded in 2000.It took me a little while to listen past the well-known cantata 21, and thus get to know cantata 42, but then I fell in love with it, especially with the alto aria, so beautifully sung by Gérard Lesne. Later, in 2007, while watching the documentary DVDPhilippe Herreweghe by himself, it was a treatto find a couple of scenes showing Herreweghe rehearsing that same alto aria (though sadly not with Lesne).
Soloists on this Herreweghe recording are Barbara Schlick, Gérard Lesne, Howard Crook, and Peter Kooij.
Read the German text with English translation of cantata 42 here.
For a long time I thought that the gorgeous oboe parts at the start of the alto aria were based on the opening chorus of cantata 3 (and only found one other commentator ever to remark on this too) but thanks to Gardiner’s recent research, we know that the music for the aria as well as for the opening sinfonia of this cantata was copied from a (now lost) birthday serenata Bach wrote for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen (BWV 66a).
We can only guess if Bach had always meant to use the birthday music from Köthen, and selected text that would fit on the music, or if he received the “Wo zwei und drei versammlet sind” (Where two or three are gathered together)text from his librettist and only then had to think of that composition he had written in Köthen, with the groups of two and three in the orchestration …
Wieneke Gorter, April 3, 2016, updated April 26, 2020.