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8.554042 - BACH, J.S.: Favourite Cantatas
Johann Sebastian Bach
The career of Johann Sebastian Bach, the most illustrious of a prolific 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, after the death of both his parents. After a series of appointments as organist and briefly as a court musician, he became, in 1708, court-organist and chamber-musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, the elder of the two brothers who jointly ruled the duchy. In 1714 he was promoted to the position of Konzertmeister to the Duke, but in 1717, after a brief period of imprisonment for his temerity in seeking to leave the Duke's service, he abandoned Weimar to become court Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, a position he held until 1723. 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 1729 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 the instrument on which he was recognised as a virtuoso performer. At Cöthen, where Pietist traditions dominated the court, he had no church duties, and was responsible rather for court music. The period brought the composition of a number of instrumental works. 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 write or re-arrange a number of important works for the keyboard.
In addition to the 200 or so surviving church cantatas Bach wrote a number of secular cantatas for a variety of occasions. Weichct nur, betrübte Schatten, BWV 202, scored for soprano, oboe, strings and basso continuo, was seemingly written during the composer's contented stay in Cöthen, a period brought to an end by the marriage of Prince Leopold to a woman that Bach later described as "amusica". The work is a wedding cantata, a composition intended for performance during a wedding banquet, its text a poem about spring and love, the author of which remains unknown, but might have been Salomo Franck, court poet and librarian at Weimar. One of the arias from this cantata was later used to provide the subject of a movement of the sixth of the sonatas for violin and harpsichord.
Cantata 82 (Ich habe genug) was written for the Feast of the Purification (2nd February) in 1727. In accordance with the principles of Pietism the text does not refer directly to a biblical event (in this case, the reaction of Simeon to the experience of seeing the infant Jesus in the temple), but obliquely, in paraphrase. It reflects upon approaching death, depicting a progression from resignation to the end of earthly life in the first aria to positive joy at the prospect of eternal life in the last. The cantata form as we encounter it here is across between the German eighteenth-century church cantata and the Italian cantata spirituale in that it contains a sequence of arias separated by recitative, but was intended for church use. Part of Bach's work as Kantor involved the provision of a cantata every Sunday for performance at the Hauptgottesdienst, or main service. Considering that his singers were culled from the local Thomasschule, it was imperative that the bulk of the music be left to competent soloists, and in several of Bach's cantatas the chorus sings only a chorale at the end. A few, such as Ich habe genug, are written entirely for one soloist. The three arias that form the bulk of this cantata are all superb examples of Bach's artistry. The outer movements share the time-signature of 3/8, but could not be more different in character, the first highly reminiscent of Erbarme, dich from the St Matthew Passion, the last a gigue whose eloquent melismas graphically illustrate the idea of final release and joy. The middle movement, Schlummert ein, uses falling phrases and subdominant inflexions to represent sleep.
The cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147, again represents an original work from Bach's period at the court of Weimar. With a text by Franck, it was first written for performance on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 20th December, 1716. Again the original music has been lost and the surviving version was intended for 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 polyphonic chorus, with its virtuoso clarino trumpet obbligato leads to an accompanied tenor recitative, followed by the alto aria Schäme dich, with its oboe d'amore and continuo accompaniment. A bass recitative is succeeded by a soprano aria with a triplet solo violin obbligato, Bereite dir, Jesu. The first part of the work ends with a chorale, one of the best known of all Bach cantata movements, in which the trumpet accompanies the chorale melody. The second part starts with a tenor aria, Hilf, Jesu, hilf, leading to an alto recitative, 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, with accompanying trumpet and oboes doubling the violins. The familiar chorale returns in all its confident grandeur in conclusion.
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