BACH, J.S.: Favourite Cantatas
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Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750)
Weichet nur, betr??bteSchatten, BWV 202 "Wedding Cantata"
Ich habe genug, BWV 82
Herz und Mund und Tatund Leben, BWV 147
The career of JohannSebastian Bach, the most illustrious of a prolific musical family, falls neatlyinto three unequal parts. Born in 1685 in Eisenach, from the age of ten Bachlived and studied music with his elder brother in Ohrdruf, after the death ofboth his parents. After a series of appointments as organist and briefly as acourt musician, he became, in 1708, court-organist and chamber-?¡musician toDuke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, the elder of the two brothers who jointly ruledthe duchy. In 1714 he was promoted to the position of Konzertmeister to theDuke, but in 1717, after a brief period of imprisonment for his temerity inseeking to leave the Duke's service, he abandoned Weimar to become courtKapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen, a position he held until1723. From then until his death in 1750 he lived in Leipzig, where he was Thomaskantor,with responsibility for the music of the five principal city churches, in 1729assuming direction of the university collegium musicum, founded by Telemann in1702.
At Weimar Bach hadbeen principally employed as an organist, and his compositions of the periodinclude a considerable amount written for the instrument on which he wasrecognised as a virtuoso performer. At Cothen, where Pietist traditionsdominated the court, he had no church duties, and was responsible rather forcourt music. The period brought the composition of a number of instrumentalworks. The final 27 years of Bach's life brought a variety of preoccupations,and while his official employment necessitated the provision of church music,he was able to provide music for the university collegium musicum and to writeor re-arrange a number of important works for the keyboard.
In addition to the 200or so surviving church cantatas Bach wrote a number of secular cantatas for avariety of occasions. Weichct nur, betr??bte Schatten, BWV 202, scoredfor soprano, oboe, strings and basso continuo, was seemingly written during thecomposer's contented stay in Cothen, a period brought to an end by the marriageof Prince Leopold to a woman that Bach later described as "amusica".
The work is a wedding cantata, a composition intended for performance during awedding banquet, its text a poem about spring and love, the author of whichremains unknown, but might have been Salomo Franck, court poet and librarian atWeimar. One of the arias from this cantata was later used to provide thesubject of a movement of the sixth of the sonatas for violin and harpsichord.
Cantata 82 (Ichhabe genug) was written forthe Feast of the Purification (2nd February) in 1727. In accordance with theprinciples of Pietism the text does not refer directly to a biblical event (inthis case, the reaction of Simeon to the experience of seeing the infant Jesusin the temple), but obliquely, in paraphrase. It reflects upon approachingdeath, depicting a progression from resignation to the end of earthly life inthe first aria to positive joy at the prospect of eternal life in the last. Thecantata form as we encounter it here is across between the Germaneighteenth-century church cantata and the Italian cantata spirituale inthat it contains a sequence of arias separated by recitative, but was intendedfor church use. Part of Bach's work as Kantor involved the provision ofa cantata every Sunday for performance at the Hauptgottesdienst, or mainservice. Considering that his singers were culled from the local Thomasschule,it was imperative that the bulk of the music be left to competent soloists, andin several of Bach's cantatas the chorus sings only a chorale at the end. Afew, such as Ich habe genug, are written entirely for one soloist. Thethree arias that form the bulk of this cantata are all superb examples ofBach's artistry. The outer movements share the time-signature of 3/8, but couldnot be more different in character, the first highly reminiscent of Erbarme,dich from the St Matthew Passion, the last a gigue whoseeloquent melismas graphically illustrate the idea of final release and joy. Themiddle movement, Schlummert ein, uses falling phrases and subdominantinflexions to represent sleep.
The cantata Herzund Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147, again represents an original work fromBach's period at the court of Weimar. With a text by Franck, it was firstwritten for performance on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 20th December, 1716.
Again the original music has been lost and the surviving version was intendedfor use in Leipzig on the Feast of the Visitation, 2nd July, possibly in 1723.
The work is scored for soprano, oboe da caccia, strings and basso continuo.
The opening polyphonicchorus, with its virtuoso clarino trumpet obbligato leads to an accompaniedtenor recitative, followed by the alto aria Schame dich, with its oboed'amore and continuo accompaniment. A bass recitative is succeeded by a sopranoaria with a triplet solo violin obbligato, Bereite dir, Jesu. The firstpart of the work ends with a chorale, one of the best known of all Bach cantatamovements, in which the trumpet accompanies the chorale melody. The second partstarts with a tenor aria, Hilf, Jesu, hilf, leading to an altorecitative, with words based on the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke.
This is followed by the bass aria, Ich will van Jesu Wunden singen, withaccompanying trumpet and oboes doubling the violins. The familiar choralereturns in all its confident grandeur in conclusion.