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8.554825 - BACH, J.S.: Christmas Cantatas
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Cantatas Nos. 36, 132 and 61
Born in Eisenach in 1685 into a continuing dynasty of musicians, Johann Sebastian Bach was orphaned in 1695 and went, with his older brother Jacob, to live with their elder brother Johann Christoph Bach, organist at Ohrdruf. He continued his schooling there until 1700, acquiring his early skill as an organist and, it may be presumed, as an expert on the construction of the instrument. From Ohrdruf he moved to Lüneburg as a chorister, employment that allowed his continuing education. After employment as a musician at the court in Weimar in 1703, he next held positions as an organist at Arnstadt, then at Mühlhausen and then again at Weimar, now as court organist. He remained in Weimar until 1717, holding the position of Konzertmeister from 1714 and moving in 1717 to Cöthen as Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt -Cöthen. He only left after the Prince's marriage to a woman without musical interests made a position that had been very congenial to him now very much less so. In 1723 he took what seemed to him socially inferior employment as Cantor at the Choir School of St Thomas in Leipzig, with responsibility for the training of choristers and the provision of music for the principal city churches. He remained in Leipzig for the rest of his life, but was able to broaden his musical activities when, in 1729, he also took over the direction of the University collegium musicum, founded earlier in the century by Telemann. Whereas in his earlier years there had been need for organ music, Cöthen, with its Pietist court, called principally for secular music. Leipzig demanded a quantity of church music, largely satisfied in the first years that Bach was there, but the collegium musicum itself allowed a return to the secular instrumental music that had been a principal preoccupation of the Cöthen years.
In Leipzig there was a requirement for sixty cantatas in the church year, covering Sundays, except in Lent and part of Advent, and major feast days. For his first cycle, for 1723-4, Bach had recourse on occasions to earlier work. The second cycle, for 1724-5, brought the development of the unified chorale cantata, while the third cycle, written between 1725 and 1727, uses a variety of forms. In these first years in Leipzig he is said to have completed five cycles of cantatas, but of these a number is now lost. Later cantatas were presumably written to fill gaps in the complete annual cycles and there were, of course, occasions when Bach used the work of other composers in the course of his duties. In the Lutheran Hauptgottesdienst (principal service) in Leipzig, which started at seven in the morning and would finish at eleven, the cantata was the main musical item, generally following the Credo and preceding the hour-long sermon. The text would be related to the gospel reading of the day.
The cantata Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36, was written for the first Sunday of Advent 1731 and is an arrangement of a secular birthday cantata of 1725, with an original text by Christian Friedrich Henrici, known as Picander, adapted by him or by Bach. The extant sources offer two versions, the earlier copied by Bach's pupil Johann Philipp Kirnberger and here recorded. The cantata is scored for oboe d'amore, strings and continuo, with four voices, all used in the opening movement. Here the voices often enter in imitation one of the other, while the instruments provide an introduction and a series of ritornello passages in which the oboe and violin are prominent. The second movement, Die Liebe zieht, is set for tenor with oboe d'amore obbligato and continuo in the form of a B minor da capo aria, the first of the three sections repeated to frame a central section in a contrasted key. The D major bass aria, Sei mir willkommen, is set with strings and continuo and the fo1lowing A major da capo soprano aria, Auch mit gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen, has a solo violin obbligato in 12/8 metre. The cantata ends with the chorale verse Wie bin ich doch so herzlich froh.
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn, BWV 132, is an earlier work, written during Bach's period of service in Weimar for the fourth Sunday in Advent in 1715. It is scored for oboe, strings and continuo, with four voices and consists of three arias, separated by two recitatives. The text is by Salomo Franck, employed at the Weimar court as a librarian and secretary. The lively opening A major da capo aria, Bereitet die Wege, is for soprano and in Italian style. A tenor recitative leads to the E major bass aria Wer bist du, with obbligato solo ce1lo. There is a change of mood in the following alto recitative, which leads to a B minor alto aria, Christi Glieder, ach bedenket, with an elaborate solo violin obbligato. The final chorale, missing in the earliest source but included in the published text, is from a sixteenth-century hymn by Elisabeth Creutziger.
The chorale Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is by Martin Luther, based on the fourth-century Advent hymn, Veni Redemptor gentium. The chorale itself is followed by a three-voice fugue, BWV 699, for organ, based on it and a more elaborate and extended derivative, BWV 659. The second, for organ manuals and pedals, forms part of the third part of the Clavier-Übung, published in Leipzig in 1739.
The cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61, written at Weimar in 1714 for the first Sunday of Advent, takes a text by Erdmann Neumeister, soon to move from Leipzig to the Jacobikirche in Hamburg as pastor. Neumeister wrote nine cycles of cantata texts and introduced into the form the operatic devices of recitative and da capo aria. The presence in the surviving autograph of notes by Bach on the order of service in Leipzig has led to the supposition that the cantata was first performed in Leipzig in 1714, or, as others maintain, at some later date, perhaps 1722. Scored for a string section with two violas and continuo, with four voices, the work opens with an A minor French overture, the chorale heard from voice after voice over the characteristic dotted rhythms of the form, followed by a fugal setting of des sich wundert alle Welt. The overture ends with a brief return to the dotted rhythms of the opening. A tenor recitative leads to the C major da capo tenor aria Komm, Jesu, komm, in 9/8 metre with violins and violas in unison in a two-part accompanying texture. The following bass recitative, setting words from the Book of Revelations, has a dramatic pizzicato accompaniment, reflecting the text. It is succeeded by a G major soprano aria accompanied by the cello and organ. The final Amen, from the chorale Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstem, allots the chorale melody to the soprano, with the three lower voices doubled by the violas and cello, while the violins add their own element of contrapuntal imitation.
Performing Bach Cantatas
The artistic choices on this recording are a reflection of the current debate on the performance style of the choral works of J. S. Bach. Perhaps one of the most interesting (and informed) discussions on the subject took place on the pages of the British magazine Early Music (November 1996-November 1998).
The argument was not a new one - some sixteen years had elapsed since the American musicologist Joshua Rifkin had revolutionized attitudes by recording Bach's B minor Mass with single instrumentalists and a small consort of eight singers. However the debate became intense as the English conductor Andrew Parrot sided with Rifkin. On the opposing camp stood the Dutch conductor Ton Koopman, whose new recording cycle of the cantatas prompted the debate, argued bravely on the merits and scholarship behind the use of the more standard chamber orchestra, chamber choir and solists.
On reflecting on the different points of view, Aradia has decided on the following principles:
1. From the surviving part-books it is apparent that Bach divided his singers into concertists or ripienists. The concertists part books had all the music-solos and ensemble, whereas the ripienists had only the ensemble music. Thus, a consort of singers where the soloists (concertists) sing throughout and are joined by the other singers (ripienists), is more in keeping with Bach's convention than the modem concept of soloist and choir. This is reflected in our performance of Cantata No. 61: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland.
2. The ripieno group was often regarded as optional. Hence we have performed the Cantatas Nos. 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor and 132 Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn, with one singer to apart in the "Chorus" and chorale movements. Seen in the context of "chamber" music, with the other movements featuring solo singers, this seems a very appropriate choice.
3. We have followed the same principles in the choice of instrumentation. All the cantatas are performed with single strings.
This choice of performance style, must, in the end be a subjective one. But we hope that we can persuade the listener by the power of our performance, which has been in no way restricted by academic attitudes.
Music Director, Aradia Ensemble
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Cantatas Nos. 36, 132 and 61