To find the Weekly Cantata Advent Calendar, please click here.
As I mentioned last week, when Bach worked in Weimar, he wrote a cantata for each of the 4 Sundays in Advent. For Sunday December 13, 1716, the third Sunday of Advent, he wrote the one listed in the BWV catalog as Cantata 186a, Ärgre dich, o Seele, nicht. No original music score is left of this cantata. However, thanks to Bach’s librettist, Weimar court poet Salomo Franck, who published the full libretto for this cantata in a poetry volume in 1717, we do have the original text of 186a.
To listen to a beautiful soprano/alto duet that appeared for sure in the Weimar and the Leipzig versions of this cantata, click here. Katharine Fuge, soprano, and Richard Wyn Roberts, alto, with the English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (Live recording. Ansbach, 2000).
Wieneke Gorter, December 11, 2019.
To find the Weekly Cantata Advent Calendar, please click here.
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.
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.
On the left the rebuilt Thomas School Anno 1732. The apartment of the Bach family was on the left of the building. On the right is “a part of the Cather(ine) Street”. Zimmermann’s Café which hosted Bach’s Collegium Musicum was located in the center building labeled “2”.
Around this time in 1725, Bach was still on a break from writing cantatas (they were not to be performed in Leipzig during the 40 days before Easter), but was by no means resting. On the contrary, he was likely rather stressed out about his passion music for Good Friday 1725.
We know that on Good Friday 1725, Bach performed a revised version of his St. John Passion from 1724. We don’t know why he revised it, and some scholars such as John Elliot Gardiner even suggest that Bach had been planning to perform a St. Matthew Passion instead.*
If we could only travel back in time and find out what happened. If it was indeed Bach’s plan to perform a completely new composition, why did he not perform it until 1727? Did he simply run out of time, or did the Leipzig city council not approve of the piece? And why exactly did he revise the St. John Passion? Did he want to change it himself, or had the presentation of Jesus as victor** in the original 1724 version irked the city council?
Now for some music, related to my previous blog post, but completely unrelated to the passion stress story above:
Following up on my post from two weeks ago, there are two more cantata movements that show up in Bach’s “Schübler” organ chorales:
The fifth movement of Cantata 10 Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (live performance in the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig by alto Bogna Bartosz, tenor Jörg Dürmüller, and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Ton Koopman) disguised as organ chorale BWV 648 (Ton Koopman on the historic Müller organ (1724) of the Grote Kerk in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands) with the same title. Click on the links to watch and listen on YouTube.
*In his book Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Elliot Gardiner makes a strong case that Bach might have initially planned to have the St. Matthew Passion ready for Good Friday 1725. Read this blog post to find out why that is not an unlikely scenario at all.
Six weeks ago, I noticed that Bach’s cantatas for the 11th Sunday after Trinity all give me a good kind of stomach ache. This week, it seems that all instrumental solos for the 17th Sunday after Trinity make me cry. It happened last year when listening to the violin solo in cantata 148, and it happened to me again with the hauntingly beautiful flute solo in the tenor aria of cantata 114 Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost.
It is an exceptional aria, ten minutes long, and extremely demanding for the tenor as well as the flutist. The first recording I listened to set the standard for the rest: a fabulous flutist, most probably Marc Hantaï, and tenor John Elwes on a live audio recording from 1988 by La Chapelle Royale under the direction of Gustav Leonhardt. I absolutely adore Frans Brüggen’s flute playing on the Leonhardt recording from 1980, but don’t enjoy Kurt Equiluz’ singing as much. Mark Padmore’s singing on the Gardiner recording is to die for, but flutist Rachel Beckett’s decisions on where to breathe are not as sensitive as Marc Hantaï’s, and with Hantaï’s interpretation already in my head, I found it distracting. The same goes for Wilbert Hazelzet’s playing on the Koopman recording, with tenor Christoph Prégardien.
This La Chapelle Royale/Gustav Leonhardt recording is also a nice monument from the past for me, since it has all the soloists I was in love with at the time: soprano Agnès Mellon, countertenor Gérard Lesne, and bass Peter Kooy. When you watch the YouTube recording on a screen, you can read along in the score. And that is interesting in this case, especially in the opening chorus and the soprano aria.
Find the German text with English translation of this cantata here.
Reading along with the opening chorus, you can see that the joyful figure that is at first only in the continuo (orchestra bass) part, spreads through all the other parts, a message from Bach that the consolation in the text of the chorale is more important than the punishment. The punishment is still present though, in the repeated staccato notes in some of the instrumental parts, and, at 2 minute 24 seconds, visually only, in the score: there are the three whip lashes diagonally from top to bottom over the page in the instrumental parts, illustrating the word “Straf” (punishment) the chorus sings there. Or see this image, courtesy of Eduard van Hengel:
When reading along with the soprano aria, at 15 minutes 5 seconds, you can see or hear how in the continuo part, Bach illustrates the flick of the wrist of the farmer who sows the seeds. If you have time, I encourage you to also listen to Gardiner’s remarkable take on this soprano aria. In his notes accompanying his live recording, he explains that the text “The grain of wheat will bear no fruit unless it fall into earth” can be seen as a warning to the farmer to get his timing right when sowing his winter cereals. Gardiner, a sheep farmer in his spare time and always eager to point out connections to the seasons in Bach’s music, is obviously really excited to bring out this text: he has the entire soprano section sing it, with much more fervor and much better enunciation than Agnès Mellon on the Chapelle Royale/Leonhardt recording. He also explains in his notes that they took Bach’s indication “continuo unisono” to mean that the organ should double the cello part. Since they always use church organs for their recordings, it sounds impressive. I truly appreciate hearing this movement performed this way.
Then go back to the Chapelle Royale/Leonhardt recording, and listen to Gérard Lesne, my first countertenor love*, spookily illustrating the approach of death, with similar chromatic lines as in last week’s arias.
Wieneke Gorter, October 6, 2017.
*After having been introduced to Gérard Lesne’s Vivaldi CD at the Utrecht Early Music Festival in 1992, I became a fan, and my sister and I saw him live in the actual Chapelle Royale of Versailles, singing music for Holy Week by Charpentier, in 1994.
On this First Sunday after Trinity (or “Trinity 1” for short) in 1724, Bach started his second cycle of cantatas in Leipzig.* He was well aware of the importance of this occasion, and wrote one of his most dramatic cantatas for this day: cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort. The cantata features a wealth of opera-style writing for the soloists, and such a stately French overture, that one wonders if the use of this style was ironic: see, if you behave in this rich, arrogant way, things will end horribly for you. A lesson like this would be fitting for this cantata, because the Gospel reading for this Trinity 1 Sunday was that of Lazarus and Dives: The poor leper Lazarus lies in front of the rich man Dives’ house, asking him for food every day. Dives ends up in hell when he dies because he didn’t share his blessings/wealth with those in need.
Over the course of writing this blog, whenever a cantata contains significant operatic writing, I tend to give the prize for best recording/interpretation to Gardiner, because he and Harnoncourt seem to be the only ones not shy to “overdo” it in these cases. This time it is no different. I especially love Paul Agnew in the tenor aria and Wilke te Brummelstoete and Paul Agnew together in the duet, where they illustrate the “chattering of teeth” perfectly. Bass Dietrich Henschel does a good job too, though I’m not sure I prefer him over Peter Kooy on the Herreweghe recording. Listen to Gardiner’s recording of cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort : hereon YouTube
Bach marked this “second beginning” in Leipzig in several different ways, for himself as well as for others:
First of all, on this Sunday he starts an entire series of new** cantatas, which we now call his chorale cantatas. For nine and a half months, including the entire Christmas season, he would write every cantata according to this same template: the opening movement is a chorale fantasia on the first stanza of an existing Lutheran hymn or chorale, with the tune appearing as a cantus firmus. The last movement has the last stanza of the same hymn as text, in a four-part harmonization of the tune. The text of those choral, outer movements was used verbatim, while the text of the solo, inner movements was paraphrased, but still based on the inner stanzas of the same hymn.
If you believe in the theory that Bach lost his soprano soloist sometime in the spring of 1724, and was having trouble training a new one, this concept of a chorale cantata would have been a brilliant move to solve this problem. This way, Bach still presented a series of impressive cantatas (arguably more impressive than his 1723/1724 cycle), while limiting the rehearsal hours needed with the choir boys. In many of these cantatas, as is the case for today’s cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, the choir boys would only have to sing the chorale melody in the opening chorus, and there would be no soprano recitative or aria among the inner movements at all. If in later cantatas in this series the boys would get assigned something a bit more complicated, it would still be based on the chorale melody they already knew by heart, so it would require much less rehearsal time with them.
As if with this dramatic cantata 20 Bach didn’t already make enough of a splash, he most probably intended for the first four chorale cantatas of this 1724 Trinity season to form a set, or at least to present some kind of order, if you look at the composition form of the opening movement, and which voice has the cantus firmus of the chorale tune in that chorus:
Cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort: French Overture, with cantus firmus in the soprano
Cantata 2 Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein: Chorale motet, cantus firmus in alto.
Cantata 7 Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam: Italian concerto, cantus firmus in tenor.
Cantata 135 : Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder: Chorale fantasia, cantus firmus in bass.
We know that Bach liked to use order and symmetry when he wanted to impress other people with a composition. But perhaps he was also thinking of his legacy. When he started composing cantatas at the Weimar court in 1714, albeit on a monthly instead of weekly basis, his first four cantatas formed a similar portfolio of composition styles in the opening choral movements:
This symmetry with his Weimar days must have been lost on others, even his fellow musicians, since they heard all these Weimar cantatas in Leipzig over the course of the 1723/1724 cycle, but not in this order they were created in Weimar.
In today’s cantata, cantata 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, there are more links to other compositions nobody or only a few fans would have noticed: In the music as well as the text, Bach makes some pretty strong references to the first and the last cantata of the 1723 Trinity season. References to the first one (cantata 75, discussed here on this blog) appear in the decision to go back to this long, two-part format, the use of the trumpet as symbol for the heavens, and the illustration in the music of the word “Flammen” (flames). References to the last one (cantata 70, discussed here on this blog) present themselves in the selection of the chorale that talks about the Day of Judgement, and the operatic writing for the soloists, especially the bass and tenor.
After having followed Bach’s weekly compositions during the Trinity season of 1723, I feel it could be interesting to see this cantata 20, the first of the 1724 Trinity season, as the immediate successor of cantata 70, the last of the 1723 Trinity season. I realize that by doing so, I would ignore a few gems from early 1724, and an entire St. John Passion, but I do believe that as educator of his fellow Lutherans, Bach found Trinity season the most important part of the church year, and perhaps sometimes in his mind indeed ignored all the other stuff in between.
During the Trinity season, the theology moves away from the stories about the life of Christ, and instead focuses on the Lutheran doctrine, how one behaves before God, and on doing good deeds. So with this cantata, and the series that was to come, I think Bach wanted to make sure the Leipzig congregations were fully aware that the Trinity season was starting. The text “Wacht auf, wacht auf” (Wake up, wake up!) in the bass aria is testament to this, but also the writing of the opening chorus and the alto-tenor duet: it all makes you sit up and pay attention.
Wieneke Gorter, June 19, 2017.
*Bach had made his Leipzig debut on Trinity 1, 1723, with cantata 75 Die Elenden sollen essen. Read more about that fabulous cantata in this blog post.
**During this period, there will be no repeats of existing cantatas at all. It is stunning to realize that Bach made this huge commitment to himself, knowing how often during the 1723/1724 cycle he “recycled” music from Köthen and cantatas from Weimar.
This week I don’t feel a lot of connection with the Bach cantata from 1724 for this Sunday (the 5th after Easter, or Rogate Sunday), cantata 86 Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch. When I came home from the funeral of one friend, I learned that another friend had passed away suddenly the day before. Because these were both very strong, kind, beautiful, and inspiring women, and I can’t believe they are gone, I feel much more inclined to listen tocantata 198, Lass, Fürstin, Lass nun einen Strahl, which Bach wrote for the funeral of a well-loved Queen than to a cantata which promotes that “God always knows best.”
But I’ll still write about cantata 86. The only connection I have with it this week are the roses in the text of the alto aria. It is my favorite movement of this cantata, because of the splendid violin solo. The interpretation of that violin solo I like best of all the recordings I listened to* is the one by Kati Debretzeni on the Gardiner recording. You can find that recording here on Amazon or here on iTunes. Soloists on the Gardiner recording are Katharine Fuge, soprano; Robin Tyson, counter-tenor; Steve Davisilim, tenor; and Stephan Loges, bass.
For better interpretations of the bass and tenor solos, I recommend listening to the Koopman recording with tenor Christoph Prégardien and bass Klaus Mertens. You can find that recording on YouTube, Amazon, or iTunes.
2020 update: read my blog post of May 15, 2020, to find links to the live video recording by The Netherlands Bach Society, with Robin Blaze, coutertenor, and Shunske Sato, violin.
For the text and translations of cantata 86, please visit this page, and for the score, please go here.
Why the connection with roses? About one week ago, on Friday May 12, I went to drop off a card for a friend who was dying. I learned she was in her last days on Tuesday, but it took me until Friday morning to find the right words, finish writing the card, and to drop it off. When I walked to her door I noticed a hedge of sweet pink roses in the front yard. I felt peace from seeing the roses, and from the knowledge that she liked roses, but I also felt miserable and angry that she would be taken away from all this, from her family, her life, her home. The next day, we heard she passed away during that night.
This past Friday was the day of her funeral. I didn’t know how it would go, how my kids would handle it (my oldest and her oldest are friends), and tried to find some strength for myself, so I would be able to be there for them. I realized that I associate this woman’s kindness and warmth with the pinkish apricot color of my favorite rose in the Berkeley rose garden, Westerland. So I decided to walk through the rose garden to experience the color and scent of this amazing flower, and it helped. This is what she looked like that day:
What to listen for in cantata 86:
In the opening movement, notice how Bach accentuates the fact that Jesus is speaking important, timeless words by setting these words in the form of an archaic motet. While the motet has multiple voices, the way it was done in the Renaissance, Bach can still make it clear that the words come from Christ’s mouth only, by giving all the other “voice parts” to instruments instead of to other singers.
In the alto aria, hear how the words “brechen” (to pick [roses]) and “stechen” (to prick) are illustrated by short notes and “broken” chords in the voice part, and broken chords in the violin part.
In the soprano aria, hear how low in the soprano range this is set — it could just as well have been sung by an alto. Bach has not given significant solos to a soprano since Easter of this year, 1724, and actually pretty sporadically since the start of the new year. Many scholars suggest that during that spring of 1724, Bach might have lost his boy soprano soloist (due to him leaving the school or due to his voice changing, we don’t know), and documents suggest that he was frustrated with the low quality of the boy sopranos of the St. Thomas School in general. They believe that this is why he started the chorale cantatas (cantatas of which each movement is based on a different verse of one and the same chorale tune) after Pentecost of that year. Keep following this blog and you’ll learn more about that soon 🙂
Wieneke Gorter, May 21, 2017, updated May 15, 2020.
*I did all this listening last year, when I actually ended up writing about cantata 87, the one Bach wrote for this same Sunday, but then in 1725. Read that post here.
On the third Sunday before Lent in 1724, Bach performed Cantata 144 Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin. Read all about this short but wonderful work in my blog post from 2016, in which I discuss an unrivaled recording by Gardiner with mezzo soprano Wilke te Brummelstoete and soprano Miah Persson.
In that cantata from 1724 Bach wrote one soprano aria on the concept of “Genügsamkeit” (being satisfied with what you have), but three years later, he dedicated an entire solo work for soprano to this theme: Cantata 84 Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke (I am content in my good fortune), featuring the delightful aria Ich esse mit Freuden mein weniges Brot(It is with joy that I eat my meager piece of bread). We can probably take this as proof that Genügsamkeit was very important to Bach.
Find the German texts with English translations of Cantata 84 here, and the score here.
I myself count among my blessings that Herreweghe’s recording of this cantata features one of my favorite sopranos, Dorothee Mields. Read more about her in my post about the Herreweghe sopranos.
I listened to many recordings of this cantata, and I still (2020) love this interpretation the best. Mields is a terrific chamber musician together with the instrumentalists throughout this cantata, listen to the interplay between her and oboist Marcel Ponseele. I feel her voice sounds the most natural in aria “Ich esse mit Freuden mein weniges Brot.” The way she starts “Ein ruhig gewissen” the first time that comes around is just to die for as far as I’m concerned. I also like Herreweghe’s tempos the best of all the recordings I’ve listened to.
Enjoy Dorothee Mields’ singing and her being a terrific chamber musician together with the instrumentalists on Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 84 Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke on YouTube or on Spotify. The cantata appears on Herreweghe’s album Christus der ist mein Leben from 2007, which also includes the fabulous cantata 95 (discussed in the Herreweghe sopranos post mentioned above) as well as cantata 161 (not discussed on this blog yet, but worth your euros or dollars). If you like these recordings, please consider purchasing (the MP3 of) this album on Amazon.de or on Amazon.com. Or purchase the album on iTunes or whatever platform you prefer. Thanks for supporting the artists!
Wieneke Gorter, February 18, 2017, updated February 8 and 13, 2020.
Pietà (It is enough) / Pietà (Es ist genug), plate 11 from a series of 11 lithographs O Ewigkeit, Du Donnerwort by Oskar Kokoschka, 1914/1916. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In Vienna, they were all talking about Bach’s cantata 60 O Ewigkeit, Du Donnerwort. The astonishing harmonization in the closing chorale as well as the structure of a “dialogue” between Fear (alto) and Hope (tenor) made it one of the most unusual among his cantatas, and apparently something worth discussing. In the first half of the 20th century, that is. In 1935 Alban Berg used the “modern” harmonization from the closing chorale Es ist genug in the final movement of his violin concerto To the Memory of an Angel–an instrumental Requiem for Manon Gropius, daughter of Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and Mahler’s widow, Alma Schindler.
Several years before, the same Alma Schindler had a short-lived affair with Czech painter Oskar Kokoschka. After they broke up, Kokoschka processed his torment by making a series of 11 lithographs to illustrate the cantata. The dialogue between Fear (the alto) and Hope (the tenor) in the cantata became a dialogue between Alma and himself, in pictures only: click here to see the entire series. Many thanks to Eduard van Hengel for pointing this out.
Listen to Bach Collegium Japan’s recording of this cantata on Spotify, with countertenor Robin Blaze and tenor Gerd Türk. Find the German text with English translations here, and the score here.
Bach wrote this cantata 60 O Ewigkeit, Du Donnerwort for the 24th Sunday after Trinity in 1723, the Sunday normally linked to the Gospel story of the Raising of Jairus’ Daughter. However, in 1723–as now in 2016–this day fell on the first Sunday in November: All Hallows Sunday, All Saints Sunday, however you want to call it, but the Sunday on which the congregation would have commemorated all who had passed away that year. None of the commentaries I have read mention this, but I think it is important, because I feel this cantata is much more about how horrible it might be to die, or the thoughts one has when sitting at a loved one’s deathbed, than it is about the Raising of Jairus’ Daughter.
Of all the recordings I listened to, I like Bach Collegium Japan’s the best, because of Robin Blaze’s interpretation of the alto part. I always love his voice, but he is usually quite understated in his singing. He explains this well in this interview on San Francisco Classical Voice. I sometimes wish he would indeed sing with Kate Bush and “let go” a little, so I was thrilled to hear that in this cantata he actually does go a bit wild, for his standards at least, and that Suzuki lets him do it. His conviction in the opening chorale is already terrific (also note the wonderful blend with the horn doubling his part), but the way he sings the text “Und martert diese Glieder” (and tortures these limbs) in movement 2 is amazing, spot-on, and unrivaled by any others I listened to.
As we have seen before in the course of these 1723 Trinity Season cantatas (read for example my post on cantata 105) there are elements of Bach’s passions already present in this cantata. The agitated singing of the tenor in the stunningly beautiful duet (movement 3) resembles the Ach, mein Sinn! tenor aria from the St. John Passion. The repeated tremolo in the violins in movement 1 is something Bach often uses to illustrate fear, and this will show up again in the tenor arioso O Schmerz! Hier zittert das gequälte Herz in his St. Matthew Passion.
For further reading, including all the amazing harmonies in this piece which impressed the Viennese composers of the early 20th century, as well as other insights, I can highly recommend Gardiner’s journal entry about this cantata (start reading on page 5).
Excerpt from the start of the tenor recitative from cantata 109, with “piano” and “forte” marked. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz
For this 21st Sunday after Trinity, Bach wrote cantata 109 Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben! in 1723.
For overall best performance, I recommend Herreweghe’s recording from 2013, with counter-tenor Damien Guillon and tenor Thomas Hobbs.
Listen to this recording on YouTube. To support the artists, please consider purchasing the entire album on Amazon — a good deal if you like this blog, as it also includes three cantatas I discussed here earlier this year: cantata 44, cantata 73, and cantata 48.
Read the German texts with English translations here, and find the score here.
I love Herreweghe’s interpretation of the opening and closing chorus as well as Damien Guillon’s singing in the alto recitative and aria.
However, there is an extremely dramatic and unusual recitative and aria for tenor in this cantata which I like better on the Gardiner recording. The recitative is unusual because Bach has two voices/persons speak: the uncertain/fearful voice, marked “piano” in his manuscript (see picture above), and the certain/faithful voice, marked “forte” in the manuscript. According to Gardiner, this feature never appears anywhere else in Bach’s recitative writing.
Just as with the “Storm on the lake” aria from cantata 81, only Gardiner and the fabulous Paul Agnew are able to properly convey the drama of the text and context of this tenor recitative and aria. If at first you think this might be a bit over the top, it is most probably exactly what Bach had in mind. A bit of opera to properly bring out the agony of the text.
Listen to these two movements by Gardiner and Agnew on YouTube: the recitative here, and the aria here.
Bach might have been preparing the Leipzig congregations for the St. John Passion he was planning for Good Friday 1724, as this tenor aria is very similar in dramatic intensity and music to the Ach mein Sinn aria from that passion. Those who know the St. John Passion well might hear other resemblances in this cantata 109.