Hello dear readers all over the world. I wanted to share a bit more than my quick message of Saturday. All of a sudden most of us are in the same boat: sheltering in place or on full lockdown. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are now on day 7 of “shelter in place”, and starting week 2 of school closures.
While I’m sad, frustrated, and stressed out on a regular basis, I have also felt extremely comforted and very inspired this past week by expressions of beautiful community and wonderful creativity that have come out of this crisis already.
I’ve seen neighborhoods come together to identify who needs help and who can help; I’ve felt how uplifting it can be to share “silver linings” in a private Facebook group; I’ve experienced the power of a Zoom video conference meeting with a group of people who normally gather in person. Even if you can’t physically be in the same room with your classmates, members of your yoga studio, or extended family, it is actually extremely calming for the nervous system to see and hear people you know, and to be there for each other.
In the spirit of community and creativity, I’d love to share the video created by the Malaysia Bach Festival last week: they assembled videos of different people all over the world, singing and playing the chorale “Befiehl du deine Wege” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and combined it into one video. You can find that video here. Keep your tissues handy.
In case you would like to sing along, you can find the PDF of this chorale here.
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, updated January 16, 2021.
* 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:
Credits for YouTube recordings linked above:
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.
To find the Weekly Cantata Advent Calendar, please click here.
Several people have asked me what made me start writing for this blog again. The answer is simple: Shunske Sato’s violin playing in the “Mein Verlangen” tenor aria from Cantata 161 Komm, du süsse Todesstunde. I had already heard that Sato was “a good one” from people with authority on the matter, and had enjoyed listening to his recordings, but it took these live concerts to experience the magic that happens when he is a soloist in a Bach aria.
During a visit to my home country, the Netherlands, I attended the Netherlands Bach Society’s “All Souls” concerts on October 31 in the Grote Kerk in Naarden and on November 3 in the Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague. I had been unsure how to talk about these concerts in the framework of this blog, especially now that it’s more than a month ago and we’re in Advent already (yes there is Advent music in this post, please keep reading) and there is no recording of these concerts.
Solo sonatas and partitas on All of Bach
But it turns out that this week is the perfect time for a spotlight on Shunske Sato, because this Thursday December 5, 2019, the Netherlands Bach Society will publish the final episode of his series of solo violin sonatas and partitas on All of Bach, their online video archive of Bach performances. Just click on this link and the entire series is right there, under “recently added.”
Sato was appointed concertmaster of the Netherlands Bach Society in 2013, and became their artistic director in June 2018. For the concerts I attended, he was concertmaster only, having invited alto Alex Potter to program and lead this production. (Alex Potter deserves a blog post too, but that will come later). By inviting a different guest director for each program, Sato has breathed fresh air into the he group of musicians I feel.
Instead of the standard biographies, the program booklet featured personal stories from Sato and the four vocal soloists. As a person who’s produced many program books in her lifetime, I felt this was a breath of fresh air too. And as a mom of two teenagers who are finding their way through school and life, I especially liked this part from Sato’s story:
“Things got tricky in my teens: I began spending lots of time away from school playing concerts, and my grades at school were impressively low (except for French and Maths). Giving up on school, I often spent my weekdays at my favorite bookstore instead and read about history, computer programming and linguistics, and composed string quartets. Saturdays always came as a relief: classes and lessons at the Juilliard School in New York, where hung out with my “real” friends.”
Playing Weimar style
Back to what happened in the concert in Naarden on October 31. For this entire program, the violinists were playing one-on-a-part, the same way it was probably done in Weimar, where Bach first performed Cantata 161 on the small organ loft in 1716. This meant that Sato was thus the instrumental soloist in the tenor aria “Mein Verlangen,” and with the rest of the ensemble completely in sync with him, he could truly do his own thing.
And then there was light
And boy, did he do that! Every time he played the “Mein Verlangen” theme, he stretched the tempo just a little bit, every time slightly differently. It created a halo over the entire aria. Even though the tenor wasn’t singing yet, the text was already there: the longing (“Verlangen”) but also the pure radiance (“reiner Schein”) of the soul and the image of angels. He truly brought light into the music, and also for me personally into my heart and mind. It made all my frustrations and worries melt away, and it made the other instrumentalists play and tenor Thomas Hobbs sing with even more inspiration than they already had in this concert.
“The more I let go, the more I risk, the more I dare to really tell the story”
Witnessing Sato communicate the text of the aria before the singing started, I was immediately reminded of this wonderful interview with him for All of Bach. It is specifically about the “Erbarme dich” aria from the St. Matthew Passion, but his message “The more I let go and the more I risk, the more I dare to really tell the story…” applies just as well to this aria that I saw him play.
I went to the “All Souls” concert again three days later in the beautiful concert venue the Nieuwe Kerk has become. Sato’s playing there was possibly even more moving and the effect on those on stage and in the audience possibly stronger too. Several people had tears in their eyes.
Watch for yourself in this Advent aria
See the “Sato magic” happen in the soprano aria from Cantata 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor on All of Bach, with soprano Zsuzsi Tóth. Never did I enjoy a “da capo” this much. To read more about this cantata, the third one Bach wrote (or adapted) for the first Sunday of Advent, read my blog post from 2017 here.
With special thanks to Marloes Biermans and Annelie Bulsing of the Netherlands Bach Society for their generosity in providing photos and copy for me to use,
Wieneke Gorter, December 3, 2019.
To find the Weekly Cantata Advent Calendar, please click here.
Detail of The Arrest of Christ by Hieronymus Bosch, ca. 1515. San Diego Museum of Art.
As I’ve mentioned over the past few months, Bach might have initially been planning to perform a St. Matthew Passion on Good Friday in 1725 in Leipzig.
If he was indeed planning that, he didn’t finish it in time. Did he run out of time, did he have a conflict with the Leipzig City Council, or did he change his mind? We don’t know. Fact is that on Good Friday 1725 he performed a new version of his St. John Passion from the year before. The most notable difference is the new opening chorus: O, Mensch, bewein dein Sünden groß instead of the Herr, unser Herrscher from the year before.
Find Herreweghe’s recording from 2001 of that 1725 St. John Passion here on YouTube.
Soloists are: Tenor [Evangelist, Arias]: Mark Padmore; Bass [Jesus]: Michael Volle; Soprano: Sibylla Rubens; Counter-tenor: Andreas Scholl; Bass [Arias, Pilatus]: Sebastian Noack; Bass [Petrus]: Dominik Wörner; Tenor [Servus]: Malcolm Bennett; Soprano [Ancilla]: Cecile Kempenaers
But let’s just leave the St. Matthew / St. John discussion for what it is, and just look at that opening chorus. Having followed Bach’s 1724/1725 chorale cantatas in the order he wrote and performed them, it is not a stretch to consider that Bach might have been working up to this elaborate chorale fantasia since February 2. I mentioned in my post for that day that it felt as if something new was coming.
When you look at Cantatas 125, 126, 127, and 1, the four cantatas Bach wrote and performed between February 2 and March 25, you see a beautiful line-up of chorale fantasias, one even more special than the other. So perhaps there was no stress or doubt at all in Bach’s mind about what to write for Good Friday 1725, at least not as far as the opening chorus was concerned. He might have been planning for O, Mensch to open his Good Friday passion since the end of January, and might have been doing studies for it in Cantatas 125, 126, 127, and 1.
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.
What are your five favorite cantatas? This question was asked this week on Facebook by the Residentie Bach Ensembles, the choirs and orchestra of the monthly cantata services in the Kloosterkerk in The Hague, the Netherlands. A hard question to answer, and I would probably have a different Top Five every month. However, Cantata 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott, today’s cantata from 1725, will probably always be in it. The soprano aria from this cantata is forever linked in my heart and mind with the funeral service for my mother in this same Kloosterkerk in The Hague (read a bit more about that in this post), but having carefully listened to about 120 cantatas over the past two years I am struck by how special this cantata is within Bach’s oeuvre.
I’m not alone in my appreciation of Cantata 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott. Eduard van Hengel calls it an “exceptionally inspired cantata,” 19th century Bach biographer Spitta called it “perhaps the most important” cantata, and it received “the most beautiful” qualification by Arnold Schering as well as Ton Koopman.
My favorite recording of this cantata, by … surprise, surprise … Herreweghe, can be found here on YouTube. Please support the artists and purchase the entire “Jesu, deine Passion” album by Herreweghe here on Amazon. It includes all four cantatas Bach wrote for this last Sunday before Lent*, and they are all excellent. Soloists are Dorothee Mields, soprano; Jan Kobow, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass.
Find the text of Cantata 127 here, and the score here.
There are several reasons why this last Sunday before Lent, or Quinquagesima Sunday or Estomihi Sunday, was such an important day for Bach, and maybe especially in 1725:
This was the day, in 1723, on which he had auditioned for his job in Leipzig, with Cantatas 22 and 23, his first performance ever for the Leipzig congregation and city council. In 1724 he would repeat the same cantatas on this same Sunday.
After this Sunday, his audience (=the Leipzig congregations of the St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches) would not hear any of Bach’s music until March 25, on the feast of the Annunciation of Mary. No figural music (only chorale singing) was allowed in the Lutheran churches in Leipzig during Lent (the approximately 40 days before Easter), with the exception of the Annunciation. In 1724 this period was 33 days, but in 1725 it was 41 days (from February 11 to March 25). So Bach might have wished to leave his audience with something special, something they would remember for 41 days.
If it is true that Andreas Stübel had been Bach’s librettist for his entire chorale cantata cycle, Bach would have now known that this was the last regular chorale cantata of the cycle for now: Stübel died on January 31, 1725. So perhaps Bach wanted to “go out with a bang” for that reason. It is striking to me that he chooses a bass recitative/arioso with trumpet talking about the Day of Judgement, a similar combination of voice, instrument, and subject matter he uses at the end of the Trinity period in 1723, and again (though less dramatically) at the end of the Trinity period in 1724. Is this Bach’s way of saying: this is the end of an important series?
Compared to all opening choruses that had come before, this opening chorus is the most complex and intricate. It is the same as chorale fantasias in previous chorale cantatas in the sense that the six lines of text of the chorale Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott appear in six sections, with the chorale melody (the cantus firmus) in the soprano and trumpet part. However the orchestra greatly enhances the meaning of Bach’s message by referring to this chorale plus two others. The instrumental groups (recorders, oboes, strings, and continuo) represent four musical themes referring to these chorales. Eduard van Hengel illustrates this extremely well with two diagrams on his website, which I am copying here with his permission:
(a) The recorders play a dotted rhythm which in both the St. John and St. Matthew Passions illustrates punishment and suffering. (b) The oboes introduce the “Leitmotiv” that will sound 78 times throughout the entire movement, and stands for the Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott chorale. Jesus was a true (“wahr”) man and God. Probably Bach’s most important message here. (c) The strings quote the chorale Christe, du Lamm Gottes, or Luther’s Agnus Dei. It would show up again in the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion, which Bach might already have been working on around this time, see my post about Cantata 125 last week. (d) In the continuo we hear six times the first seven notes of Ach Herr mich armen Sünder, nowadays better known as O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, one of the main building stones of the St. Matthew Passion. In the seventh section of the opening chorus, when the sopranos are already done singing the chorale melody, Bach repeats this particular theme in the vocal bass line in the choir, as if to make sure that even those who might have missed the quotation earlier would now hear it loud and clear.
Van Hengel adds this extra diagram to show in which measures of the opening chorus the different themes appear:
At this point Bach might still have been planning to prepare his audiences for a first St. Matthew Passion, not abandoning that plan until much closer to March 30, Good Friday, 1725. Not only are the references in this opening chorus a striking example of that, but also in the extraordinary bass recitative/aria do we see the theme of the SindBlitze, sind Donner chorus from the St. Matthew Passion appear on the text “Ich breche mit starker und helfender Hand.”
Regular followers of this blog will notice that Bach had been making a study for this bass recitative/aria in the previous three cantatas: combining lines of the chorale text with “free” text in the bass solo of Cantatas 92 and 125, and then using SindBlitze, sind Donner material and trumpet accompaniment in the bass solo in Cantata 126.
Wieneke Gorter, February 10, 2018, updated February 22, 2020.
* Herreweghe’s album “Jesu, deine Passion” features cantatas 22, 23, 127, and 159. Cantata 23 has exceptionally beautiful choruses and Cantata 22 represents the first introduction of Bach’s version of the “Vox Christi”(voice of Christ) to the Leipzig congregations, considered by some as an intentional preparation for the listeners of what would be to come in the Passions. Cantata 159 on this album is fantastic too, with an unrivaled interpretation by Peter Kooij of the fourth movement, the bass aria “Es ist vollbracht.”
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.
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).
Wieneke Gorter, November 6, 2016, updated November 21, 2020
Vornehme Hochzeitsgesellschaft (Distinguished Wedding party) by Wolfgang Heimbach, 1637. Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany.
I’m in the middle of St. Matthew Passion concert weekend now with California Bach Society. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, please come to Hertz Hall in Berkeley today, Sunday October 9, at 3:30, you will be glad you did. We have excellent vocal and instrumental soloists, the Baroque orchestra and 40-voice choir sound wonderful, and the exquisite treatment of the chorales by our director Paul Flight is not to be missed. As a cherry on the cake, we have a children’s choir joining us for the opening and closing choruses of the first half. To read more about the connection between this blog and the Great Passion, please see my post from last week.
This week, while doing dishes, packing dinners, promoting our concerts on Facebook, and making spreadsheets for the youth choir logistics, I listened to several recordings of the 1723 cantata for this Sunday: cantata 162 Ach! ich sehe, itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe, and can safely say I recommend Bach Collegium Japan’s recording of this cantata. It has the most sensitive playing in the instrumental opening and the best interpretation of the bass aria and the soprano aria in my opinion.
Listen to the recording of cantata 162 by Bach Collegium Japan on Spotify. Soloists: Soprano: Yumiko Kurisu, Counter-tenor: Yoshikazu Mera, Tenor: Makoto Sakurada, Bass: Peter Kooy.
Bach wrote this cantata in Weimar, and performed it there on October 25, 1716. For the performance in Leipzig on October 10, 1723, he added a corno da tirarsi to the instrumentation (the Bach Collegium Japan recording is based on the Weimar version, and thus doesn’t feature the corno da tirarsi).
A very short explanation of the cantata, thanks to Eduard van Hengel: Cantata 162 is based on the Gospel text for this Sunday: Jesus compares the heavenly kingdom with the wedding of a King’s son. Many guests decline the invitation, and several of those who do come are sent away because they are not properly dressed. Since the relationship between Jesus and the soul of the believer is compared to the bond between groom and bride, the believers will be at first concerned that they will not be allowed to join the wedding (cantata movements 1-3), but can then rejoice in their conviction that Jesus, through his suffering, will provide the proper dress for them (cantata movements 4-6).
To read more in Dutch, please go to Eduard van Hengel’s website; to read more in English, find Gardiner’s notes about this cantata here.
Purchase this recording on Amazon (the album also includes last week’s cantata 105, and two more cantatas from the 1723 Trinity season).
Listen to this Herreweghe recording from 2012 on Spotify.
Or, listen to this same recording on YouTube, via playlist I created (if this shows up as a visual on your screen, and clicking on the main “play button” results in a “this video cannot be played” message, click on the icon on the top left where it says 1/6, and it should work):
I especially enjoy this cantata because of the beautiful opening chorus, the dramatic bass aria (with corno da tirarsi!) and the alto aria.
You’ll recognize the first part of the opening chorus. Bach must have liked this enough to re-use it later as the Qui Tollis in his Mass in B minor. The illustration of the “Schmerz” with two recorders and two oboi da caccia in the orchestra is beautiful.
Last week, with cantata 105, Bach started using features that preluded his passions. In the alto aria in this cantata 46, there is again a reference to the St. Matthew Passion. The pastoral character of the music, as well as the text reference to Küchlein (chicks) make me think of the Sehet Jesus hat die Hand alto aria. I am a huge fan of counter-tenor Damien Guillon. In 2011, I heard him sing for the first time in a live performance of the St. Matthew Passion by Herreweghe in Europe, and have been collecting his recordings since then. He appears on recordings with his own ensemble Le Banquet Celeste, cantata recordings by Herreweghe from 2011 and later, and on several recordings of Marcel Ponseele’s ensemble Il Gardellino. Watch an interview with him (with English subtitles) on YouTube:
Wieneke Gorter, July 30, 2016, links updated August 16, 2020.