In Leipzig in Bach’s time, the almost period between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas was a “tempus clausum,” when no figural music was allowed in the churches. So if I would follow Bach’s cantata writing in 1724 very strictly, I would not have any music for you today.
So let’s take a detour to 1725. Sometime in that year, Bach wrote a congratulatory cantata for a teacher at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig. The cantata, with the title Schwingt freudig euch empor, had nine movements: an opening chorus, four recitatives and three arias. The cantata also featured a closing chorus alternated with recitatives for all the soloists, the way Bach would also use that in the before-last movement of his St. Matthew Passion. For the text of this cantata, please see this entry on Eduard van Hengel’s website. Scroll all the way down to find a table with all the different texts for the different cantatas.
In the fall of 1726, Bach received a request from his previous employer, prince Leopold of Köthen, to write a cantata for this birthday of his second wife, princess Charlotte Friederike Wilhelmine, on November 26 of that year. Scholars think that at the same time Bach was reworking this cantata from 1725 into this Birthday cantata, he was also reworking it into an Advent cantata. However the music of that particular cantata has not survived.
In 1731 Bach again, or finally, was able to make the original of 1725 into an Advent cantata, by replacing all the recitatives with chorales. This is cantata 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor, one of three cantatas for the first Sunday of Advent that have survived. (The other two are Cantata 61 I discussed last year, and Cantata 62 I discussed last week). Again please see Eduard van Hengel’s table of the different texts of all the various cantatas here. Find the English translations of Cantata 36 here, and find the score of Cantata 36 here.
My favorite recording of the entire cantata is the one by Herreweghe from 1997 (from the same album I discussed last week). I like this recording the best because of the most sparkling interpretation of the opening chorus, gorgeous singing by Christoph Prégardien in the tenor solos and by Peter Kooy in the bass aria, and a wonderful soprano/alto duet by Sybilla Rubens and Sarah Connolly. Find this recording here on YouTube. Or follow the links in my post from last week to purchase the entire album of Advent cantatas by Herreweghe. It is a great Christmas gift 🙂 !
If you prefer to watch a live recording, I recommend the one by the J.S. Bach Foundation. They just released the entire video recording of this cantata this week, and this performance contains my absolute favorite interpretation of the soprano aria by Nuria Rial.
Wieneke Gorter, December 9, 2017