BACH, J.S.: Cantatas, BWV 211-212 (Failoni Chamber Orchestra/ Ingrid Kertesi/ Istvan Gati/ Jozsef Mukk/ Matyas Antal/ Tamas Benedek) (Naxos: 8.550641)
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Coffee Cantata), BWV 211
Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet (Peasant Cantata), BWV 212
The career of Johann Sebastian Bach, the most illustrious of aprolific musical family, falls neatly into three unequal parts. Born in 1685 in Eisenach,from the age of ten Bach lived and studied music with his elder brother in Ohrdruf, alterthe death of both his parents. After a series of appointments as organist and briefly as acourt musician, he became, in 1708, court organist and chamber musician to Duke WilhelmErnst of Weimar, the elder of the two brothers who jointly ruled the duchy. In 1714 he waspromoted to the position of Konzertmeister to the Duke, but in 1717, after a brief periodof imprisonment for his temerity in seeking to leave the Duke's service, he abandonedWeimar to become Court Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen, a position heheld until 1723. From then until his death in 1750 he lived in Leipzig, where he wasThomaskantor, with responsibility for the music of the five principal city churches, in1729 assuming direction of the university collegium musicum, founded by Telemann in 1702.
At Weimar Bach had been principally employed as an organist,and his compositions of the period include a considerable amount written for theinstrument on which he was recognised as a virtuoso performer. At Cothen, where Pietisttraditions dominated the court, he had no church duties, and was responsible rather forcourt music. The period brought the composition of a number of instrumental works. Thefinal 27 years of Bach's life brought a variety of preoccupations, and while his officialemployment necessitated the provision of church music, he was able to provide music forthe university collegium musicum and to write or re-arrange a number of important worksfor the keyboard.
The Coffee Cantata
and the Peasant Cantata both suggest thekind of dramatic work Bach might have written had he been employed, like Telemann, inHamburg, where there was a tradition of opera. The first of these was written in Leipzigin 1734 or 1735, using a text by Picander, the pseudonym of Christian Friedrich Henrici,the author of texts for many of Bach's church cantatas. Henrici was a versatile writer andpoet. He had settled in Leipzig in 1720 and seven years later joined the localadministration as an official of the post office. He continued his career, whichculminated in 1740 with the positions of Assessment and liquor Tax Collector and WineInspector. The Coffee Cantata was presumablywritten for performance at one of the Friday evening meetings of the University collegiummusicum at Zimmerman's coffee-house in the Catherinenstrasse.
The fashion for drinking coffee had spread through Europe inthe second half of the seventeenth century. The nature and medicinal properties of thedrink had earlier been observed, not always with approval, by visitors to Turkey, but itis said that Coffee and the croissant owed their later popularity to the relief of theSiege of Vienna in 1683, when the retreating Ottoman armies left ample supplies of theformer. In Bach's Coffee Cantata, scored forsoprano, tenor and bass, with flute, strings and basso continuo, Schlendrian tries to curehis daughter Liesgen of the habit of Coffee-drinking by threatening to prevent hermarrying until she desists. Liesgen secretly arranges that her future husband shouldcommit himself to allowing her to continue, in a secret prenuptial agreement. The openingnarrative is introduced by a tenor recitative, preceding Schlendrian's aria of complaint.
In an aria with a spirited flute obligato, Liesgen, his daughter, expresses her love ofcoffee. Schlendrian, in his next aria, hits on a plan, which he announces in the followingrecitative, to the apparent dismay of his daughter, expressed in her subsequent formalaria, with its central contrasting section. The denouernent is left to a brief tenorrecitative, followed by a final chorus, accompanied by the flute, as well as the strings,in which we are told that coffee-drinking is an ineradicable habit.
The burlesque PeasantCantata, Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet,also uses words by Picander and honours the Leipzig chamberlain Carl Heinrich von Dieskau,who, on 30th August, 1742, was installed as lord of the manor of Klein-Zschocher. Dieskauhad general oversight of taxes, so that Picander's light-hearted tribute was not entirelypointless, in view of his own recent appointment.
The Peasant Cantata
opens with a mock overture, in which one disconnected episode follows another, played byviolin, viola and basso continuo. In the first duet the two villagers, in an attempt atthe dialect of Upper Saxony that Picander finds difficult to sustain, praise their newmaster, who gives them beer, to a popular melody. Mieke, the woman, finds comfort in love,in a song where coarse words are hardly matched by the melody of a polonaise. The manpleads with the tax-collector for leniency in another polonaise. His wife, in thefollowing recitative, praises the lord of the manor and, to the sound of the popularSpanish dance, La folia, declares him acapable man. Indeed, her husband adds, the village has done well in the recentconscription, and, Mieke suggests, similar influence might be exercised on the taxationauthorities. In an aria accompanied by violin and viola, she gives her views ontell-tales. The man now turns his attention to their master's pious wife, over-carefulwith money, since they have had to make a contribution of fifty thalers to thecelebration. Mieke, with flute obbligato, sings in honour of the chamberlain, and herhusband offers, in contrast, a more homely tribute, to the accompaniment of thehunting-horn. She finds this open to criticism before such a fine audience, but sings herown simple prayer for sons for the chamberlain. The man now counters with something heregards as more sophisticated, in townsman's style, but offering the same sentiment. Thecouple, their tribute completed, now go to the tavern, concluding with their wishes forthe prosperity and well-being of their overlord.
Failoni Chamber Orchestra
The Failoni Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1981 by members ofthe Hungarian State Opera Orchestra. Under the leadership of the violinist Bela Nagy,the orchestra has taken part in a number of important international festivals and inHungary only yields first place to the longer established Ferenc Liszt Chamber Orchestra.
The orchestra takes its name from the distinguished Italian conductor Sergio Failoni,conductor of the Hungarian State Opera from 1928 until his death twenty years later.
Matyas Antal was born in 1945 into a family of musicians andcompleted his training at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest as a flautist and aconductor. In 1972, the year after his graduation, he joined the Hungarian State Orchestraas a flautist, but in the last ten years has been principally employed as a conductor,specialising initially in contemporary music. In 1984 he was appointed chorus-master ofthe Budapest Choir and two years later became associate conductor of the Hungarian StateOrchestra. He appears frequently as a conductor in his native country as well as in Eastand West Germany, Austria and Greece, and has made a number of recordings for Hungaroton.