Cantata 93 Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten from 1724 is one of my favorite Bach cantatas, but because this one always falls in the summer vacation, I have never actually discussed it. I don’t have time to get into it this year either, but I have some interesting links for you.
In July 2017, I shared my favorite recording (Herreweghe) of this cantata along with some pictures of Greece where I was at the time. You can find that post here. Update: one day after I posted this, the J.S. Bach Foundation Made their full-length video of this cantata available on YouTube, and it’s a very good one. You can find it here: https://youtu.be/in5XDlJnrB8
Bach recycled the most splendid movement from this cantata, the soprano-alto duet, into one of his “Schübler Chorales” for organ. How exactly that works, you can read in my post from February 2018.
And if you understand a little German, watch Rudolf Lutz of the J.S. Bach Foundation explain everything about this Cantata 93 in this workshop on YouTube.
Wieneke Gorter, July 10, 2020, updated July 19, 2020.
Two weeks ago I ran out of time writing this post, but I had discovered so much about Cantata 13 Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen (1726), that I would still very much like to share that cantata here. So I hope you don’t mind going back in time a little bit, to the Second Sunday after Epiphany, which fell on January 19 this year (2020), and on January 20 in 1726.
Before I prepare a new post, I always like to revisit previous posts I wrote about this same Sunday, and listen to those cantatas again. And it always thrills me when during this process I discover that Bach must have done this too: going back, either in his memory or in the physical stack of manuscripts, to the music he previously wrote for this same Sunday. Sometimes I only get a feeling that he did this, but other times, there’s an obvious quote either in the text or in the music.
This time I was excited to find Bach quoting music from Cantata 155 Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? in Cantata 13 Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen. Bach had written Cantata 155 already in Weimar in 1716, but performed it again in Leipzig in 1724, also on the Second Sunday after Epiphany.
I invite you to listen to/watch the wonderful alto-tenor duet with bassoon from Cantata 155 Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?here, in a performance by the J.S. Bach Foundation, with alto Margot Oitzinger and tenor Julius Pfeifer. Note this theme in the voices:
After that duet is over, I would suggest turning off that recording for now. *
Now listen to/watch the entire recording of Cantata 13 Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen, also by the J.S. Bach Foundation here, with soprano Susanne Seitter, alto Jan Börner, tenor Jakob Pilgram, and bass Wolf Matthias Friedrich.
Find the German text with English translations here, and the score here. Please note that the English translation of the bass aria’s first line is incorrect: the translation of the German word “Sorgen” should be “worries” or “worrying”, not “care.” The correct translation is something like this:
Groaning and pitiful weeping are no help to the sickness of worrying
Pay attention to the recorder parts in the opening movement. The music has a slower tempo, and a more drawn out rhythm, but the theme is the same as in that duet from Cantata 155 you just heard:
There is more in this opening chorus of Cantata 13 that gives us a peek into Bach’s referencing process. Bach often uses recorders to introduce sorrow. Early in his career he had done this in the opening movements of Cantata 106 Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (written in 1707) and Cantata 161 Komm, du süße Todesstunde(1716). Even during his first year in Leipzig, in 1723, he used this “tool” in the opening chorus of Cantata 46 Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgendein Schmerz sei(which would later form the basis for the Qui tollis from the Mass in B minor). And while from the mid 1720s most Baroque composers, including Bach himself, favored the more fashionable French transverse flutes over recorders, Bach still uses recorders to illustrate impending sorrow or death’s slumber in his Easter Oratorio (1725) and his St. Matthew Passion (1727). Click on the links to hear/watch recordings of all these examples on YouTube. Names of performers in all these are listed at the very end of this post.**
If, after listening to / watching Cantata 13 in its entirety, you are wondering why Bach’s illustration of a miracle (Jesus turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana) is so incredibly sorrowful, read my blog post about Cantata 3 here.
Wieneke Gorter, January 31, 2020.
* read my blog post about Cantata 155, which now includes a link to the J.S. Bach Foundation recording, here.
** Performers in the YouTube recordings of cantata/oratorio movements with recorders are:
Opening movement of Cantata 106: Netherlands Bach Society; Jos van Veldhoven, conductor; Heiko ter Schegget and Benny Aghassi, recorders; Dorothee Mields, soprano; Alex Potter, alto; Charles Daniels, tenor; Tobias Berndt, bass.
Opening movement of Cantata 161: Collegium Vocale Gent; Philippe Herreweghe, conductor; Bart Coen and Koen Dieltiens, recorders; Matthew White, alto; Herman Stinders, organ.
Opening movement of Cantata 46: Collegium Vocale Gent; Philippe Herreweghe, conductor. Live recording from the Festival of Saintes, France, July 15, 2013. Recorder players not specified.
Tenor aria “Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer” from Easter Oratorio, BWV 249: Collegium Vocale Gent; Philippe Herreweghe, conductor. Mark Padmore, tenor.
Tenor recitative with choir “O Schmerz, hier zittert das gequälte Herz” from St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244: Collegium Vocale Gent; Philippe Herreweghe, conductor. Colin Balzer, tenor.
The mirror-hall, now called “Bach hall” in Köthen, where Bach worked from 1717 to 1723.
A concert weekend, successful, but fueled almost exclusively by adrenaline; the overwhelming fatigue thus following; my favorite breakfast cook/violin practice coach/morning chauffeur/bedtime enforcer away on a business trip all week; much needed family hike on Saturday; me not being superwoman: It sometimes leads to a late blog post 🙂 Thank you for understanding.
The 1724 cantata for yesterday, Cantata 180 Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (Adorn yourself, beloved soul) is full of luster, with an opening chorus, a tenor/flute aria and a soprano/orchestra aria that make me think of the orchestral suites Bach wrote at the court of Köthen between 1717 and 1723. With all this joy already from the beginning, it sounds like a wedding cantata.
The recording I appreciate most is the one by the Swiss J.S. Bach Foundation, because I feel they bring the most light into the opening chorus and the soprano aria, illustrate the “knocking” the best in the tenor aria, and the singers do a great job bringing out the text. Soloists: Maria Christina Kiehr, soprano; Jan Börner, counter-tenor; Julius Pfeifer, tenor; and Fabrice Hayoz, bass. The entire recording is only available on Amazon, but worth the extra trouble to get it. This is not a plug for Amazon at all, but for the artists. It was their choice to make their recordings available this way, and not offer them on Spotify or YouTube (except for one single track per cantata).
If you prefer to listen on YouTube, this recording by McCreesh/Gabrieli Consort & Players is a good alternative. (Ann Monoyios, soprano; Angus Davidson, counter-tenor; Charles Daniels, tenor; Peter Harvey, bass). The soprano aria on this recording is fabulous, but because of some–to me–distracting issues with pronunciation and text-expression in other movements, I prefer the Bach Foundation recording overall.
Find the German text with English translation here, and the score here.
Why all this luster in this cantata? In Bach’s time, the Gospel reading for this Sunday, the parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22: 1-14) was seen in relation to the union of the faithful with Christ, both during communion as well as during the heavenly banquet in the afterlife. If you then realize that that union between the soul of the faithful and Christ was in that time often compared to the marriage between bride and groom, it was not unusual to present something that sounds like wedding music on this communion Sunday. Expressing the love-like relationship of Jesus and the soul was not a foreign concept for Bach. He did it beautifully in the duet in Cantata 21 from Weimar (read my post about that cantata here) and later also in Cantata 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.**
In addition to this important link to the Bible texts, I think Bach might have an ulterior motive to bring so much splendor in a cantata for a Communion Sunday. On those Sundays, the congregations in the Leipzig churches would have been larger, and more prominent (read: wish-to-be-seen) families would have been present. Having followed Bach’s cantata compositions in the order he wrote them in Leipzig for almost two years now, I am seeing this pattern around large events in Leipzig: important audience = time to show off his star players and singers and his composition skills.
In his lecture (in German, but the music examples are universal), Rudolf Lutz, the director of the J.S. Bach Foundation, points out all the musical elements that make the opening chorus so utterly joyful and full of splendor. If you start watching at 19 minutes, you can see/hear how he shows that the bass notes are already signs of happiness, similar to the way how Bach expresses that in his Magnificat from 1723 and his Cantata 140. He then goes on to explain how the recorders build a “dome” over all of it, and the unisono violins and viola express the utter pleasure of lovers, or as Lutz says: “I love you, I love you, I say it to you again! Oh! Ah!”
In the tenor aria Christ is knocking on the door of the believer. This is a reference to the Revelations chapter from the Bible. When Bach received the libretto for this cantata, he must have thought back to an earlier cantata in which this Bible text was quoted literally: Cantata 61 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland from Weimar. In that cantata, the “Vox Christi” bass sings:
Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür und klopfe an.
So jemand meine Stimme hören wird und die Tür auftun,
zu dem werde ich eingehen
und das Abendmahl mit ihm halten und er mit mir.
See, I stand before the door and knock. If anyone will hear my voice and open the door I shall go in and have supperwith him and he with me.
This recitative/arioso is accompanied by staccato continuo, illustrating the knocking. Bach uses this feature again in the continuo for this tenor aria from Cantata 180. Except this Christ is more impatient than the one from Cantata 61. For the rest it is pure blissful music, again putting Bach’s fabulous flute player in the spotlight. The theme of the flute part is likely based on the first three notes of the chorale melody. Julius Pfeifer does a great job singing this on the Bach Founation recording. Another fabulous recording of this aria is the one by Cristoph Prégardien on the Christophe Coin CD. Listen to it here.
Christophe Coin is, by the way, also the guest artist on the Bach Foundation recording of this cantata, doing a fabulous job playing violoncello piccolo in the soprano chorale. If you really can’t or don’t want to listen to that recording on Amazon, you can still catch a bit of it on Youtube: their video of the soprano aria only, with Maria Christina Kiehr. Sublime interpretation by all, with levity, freedom, and abandon in the orchestra and superb singing by Kiehr. If you wonder where you know here voice from: she appears on many Savall recordings alongside Montserrat Figueras.
Wieneke Gorter, October 30, 2017
** Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme was really also a Trinity, almost Advent, cantata, but is nowadays better known as “The Wedding Cantata” (incorrectly suggesting that Bach wrote only one Wedding cantata) because of that subject matter.
This week, I watched a very good video by the Swiss Bach Foundation (Bachstiftung) about today’s cantata 155 Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange? I found it very insightful, helpful, and even entertaining, but was struck by its Calvinist character and was a bit disappointed by the director’s statement that he doesn’t know why this cantata starts with a movement for solo soprano. When reading Gardiner’s and Van Hengel’s discussions of this cantata, I liked their suggestions that the soprano lament refers to Mary’s role in the Bible story of this Sunday, the Marriage at Cana. It made sense to me. This cantata, from 1715 and repeated in 1724, contains references to the wine as well as to the fact that Jesus says to his mother: “my time has not come yet.”
While the Lutheran church in Bach’s time did not regard Mary as a saint, let alone a mediator between God and the people, she was still an important person in the faith, and thus probably also for Bach. The three Marian feast days* Luther kept on the calendar were important holidays and Bach wrote cantatas for all of them. Also, Bach wrote this cantata 155 in his Weimar years, when he explored a large number of works by (Catholic) Italian composers.
Listen to Montreal Baroque’s recording of cantata 155 on YouTube through a playlist I created. With Monika Mauch, soprano; Franziska Gottwald, alto; Charles Daniels, tenor; Harry van der Kamp, bass; Anna Marsh, bassoon. If this playlist doesn’t work for you (it might not work outside of the USA), or you prefer to watch a live recording, you can find the live performance by the J.S. Bach Foundation here, with Julia Neumann, soprano; Margot Oitzinger, alto; Julius Pfeifer, tenor; and Raphael Jud, bass.
Read the German text with English translation of this cantata here, and find the score here.
The cantata is not so much a musical play with the soprano taking the role of Mary, but more a reference to her role in the Gospel story and an exploration of that theme: try to trust that everything will be okay in the end, try to not be in control all the time. The first movement has the character of a lament in music and text, you can picture the hand-wringing, the desperation. There is also the steady pedal point in the bass, similar to what Bach will use later in the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion.
However it is the second movement, not even sung by the soprano, and with text that is trying to urge her to “let go,” that secretly is the true lament, in the music that is. To hear or see this, the video by the Swiss Bach Foundation is terrific. They explain extremely well (with music examples) how the notes of the solo bassoon part form in fact a lament for three voices. watch from 12:10 By the way: the composition I had to think of when hearing the “lamento bass” was Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa
If you would like to explore other cantatas for this second Sunday after Epiphany, I invite you to read my post about cantata 3 from 1725 here. It is all about hidden messages in the music of a an extremely beautiful composition with an equally heart wrenching—but completely different—opening movement as this cantata 155.
Wieneke Gorter, January 14, 2017, links updated January 31, 2020.
*The Purification of Mary on February 2, The Annunciaton of Mary on March 25, and the Visitation of Mary on July 2.