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Complete Bach Cantatas Vol. 5
Johann Sebastian Bach
Ton Koopman / The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir

Complete Bach Cantatas Vol. 5

3 CD | Multi Jewelcase | Challenge Classics | 0608917220520 | CC 72205 | 10 December 2003


Bach’s secular cantatas from the Leipzig period (II) 

The fifth volume of our complete recording of Bach’s cantatas completes the series of secular cantatas from the composer’s years in Leipzig. Seven works are involved here, spanning a period from 1725 to 1742, the year of Bach’s final secular cantata, BWV 212. Of Bach’s occasional compositions, some fifty secular pieces have survived, yet these represent no more than a fraction of what must once have existed. Indeed, there is no other group of works by the composer that has suffered such great –
and regrettable – losses. In the case of more than half of the works that are known to have existed, only the words, but not the music, survived. Quite how many pieces may have disappeared without leaving any trace whatsoever is impossible to say. As with so many of Bach’s missing works, the dispersal of his estate in 1750 is largely to blame for this state of affairs, but an additional factor here is the fact that, even less than with Bach’s sacred compositions, later owners of such secular pieces could have found few practical opportunities to reuse them. It is difficult to say with any degree of certainty how many secular works there may once have been, since far too few original sources and documents have survived. Important pointers are provided by printed editions of texts that name Bach as composer, but since it was by no means a matter of course for a composer’s name to be mentioned when a libretto appeared in print, we must reckon on the fact that Bach was behind relatively large number of other settings of congratulatory and celebratory texts and the like. (Here one thinks, for example, of the collections of poems by Christian Friedrich Henrici, otherwise known as Picander.) 
Bach’s secular cantatas cover a period of almost exactly three decades. The first surviving evidence of such a work dates back to February 1713, when Bach visited Weißenfels as part of the official celebrations to mark the duke’s birthday: his Hunting Cantata Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd BWV 208 is believed to have been written for this occasion. Conversely, the latest record of Bach’s creative activities in this particular field is afforded by his cantate burlesque, the Peasant Cantata BWV 212, of August 1742, although his dramma per musica, Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan BWV 201, is known to have been revived as late as 1749, in other words, the year before his death. For Bach, the composition and performance of such works was in part an important source of often considerable extra income: for the funeral music for Prince Leopold of Cöthen, for example, he received 230 thalers by way of a fee and expenses, whereas his basic annual salary as Thomaskantor in Leipzig was no more than 100 thalers. The titles of these works often indicate the piece’s function or poetical structure. Whereas the term “cantata” is taxonomically non-committal, a “serenata” was designed to be performed in the evening (longer pieces were sometimes also described as Abend- Music, while Tafel-Music was music written to be played at the prince’s table. A dramma per musica treated of a concrete – generally mythological – subject and was close to an operatic scena in charakter (it is no accident that the same term was used as a standard designation for Italian operas of the time). As such, it constituted a particular attraction for Leipzig audiences, since the city’s opera house had been forced to close for financial reasons in 1720.

“Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten” BWV 202 is a cantata for soprano solo. Its text suggests that it was written for a wedding, but no further details are known. The librettist, too, is unknown, as is the name of the couple that commissioned the piece – the libretto contains no direct reference that would allow us to establish their identity. At the same time, the fact that no names occur in the text meant that it was easier for Bach to revive the work, and although there is no evidence that he did so, it is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. No original musical sources have survived, making it difficult to date the work with any accuracy. The oldest copy - which is headed “Cantata a voce Sola” – dates from 1730, giving us at least a terminus ad quem. The fact that the work contains no courtly allusions suggests that it was written for a burgher couple in Leipzig before 1730. It begins with a highly expressive ombra scene of a kind often found in Baroque operas. The second aria is accompanied by continuo alone, the third introduces a solo violin and the fourth includes a solo oboe, while the fifth (a gavotte) draws – like the first – on the full orchestra.

“Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft” BWV 205 is a dramma per musica based on a text by the poet and cantata librettist Christian Friedrich Henrici (better known by his pen-name, Picander) that was published in the first volume of his Ernst-schertzhaffte und satyrische Gedichte (1727), where it appears under the title “Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus” (Aeolus Satisfied). From this same source we also learn the circumstances in which the work was written, namely, for the name-day of Dr August Friedrich Müller, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Leipzig. No details are known concerning the first performance of the piece on 3 August 1725, although it was evidently organised by members of the university and took place out of doors, perhaps in front of Müller’s house in the Katharinenstraße. The performers presumably comprised members of Leipzig’s Collegium Musicum, of which Bach himself was to become director barely four years later in 1729. The mythological drama, in which Aeolus gains control of the winds, incorporates references to Müller directly into the action (“your Müller, your August”). 
The four vocal soloists are all cast as mythological figures: Pallas (soprano), Pomona (alto), Zephyr (tenor) and Aeolus (bass). The chorus of winds appears only in the first and last movements. The work is lavishly scored for three trumpets and timpani, two flutes, two oboes, two horns and the usual complement of strings with an additional solo viola d’amore and viola da gamba. The autograph score is generally regarded as the most authoritative source of the work, the ninth movement of which was taken over into the New Year Cantata BWV 171 in 1729. Somewhat closer is the relationship between BWV 205 and Blast Lärmen, ihr Feinde! Verstärket die Macht BWV 205a, a parody written for the Elector Friedrich August II of Saxony on the occasion of his coronation as king August III of Poland in 1734.

“Schleicht, spielende Wellen” BWV 206 is another dramma per musica, this time a setting of a text by an unknown poet written for the birthday of the Elector Friedrich August II of Saxony on 7 October 1734. The text even alludes to the fighting that took place in Poland in 1734. Bach had already planned to set the work, but an unexpected invitation to write a serenade – Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen BWV 215 – in honour of a visit to Leipzig by the electoral couple on 5 October 1734 obliged him to postpone work on the score. It was evidently not completed until 1736, when it was performed, as originally intended, to mark the king’s birthday. Leipzig’s newspapers announced that at eight o’clock on the evening of 7 October 1736 Bach’s Collegium Musicum would “humbly perform solemn music with trumpets and timpani at Zimmermann’s coffee-house”. Clearly the time of year meant that the piece had to be performed indoors, rather than outside, as had been the case with BWV 207a. Although no copies of the libretto that was printed on this occasion have survived, Bach’s autograph score is extant, as is a complete set of parts indicating that the work was revived on 3 August 1740 to celebrate the elector’s name-day. On this occasion, however, it is clear from a report in the local paper that the performance, once again given by Bach’s Collegium Musicum, took place out of doors – at four o’clock in the afternoon in Zimmermann’s garden”. 
The four vocal soloists represent allegorical personifications of the four principal rivers of Saxony, Poland and the Habsburg empire: the Pleiße (soprano), Danube (alto), Elbe (tenor) and Vistula (bass). In the opening chorus, Bach conjures up the play of the waves in the orchestra, and later, too, there are repeated references to the image of water. The work is lavishly scored, with not only trumpets and timpani but also three flutes and two oboes in addition to the standard string ensemble. BWV 206 is one of the very few secular cantatas by Bach not to be related to any of his other works in terms of parody borrowings.

“Auf, schmetternde Töne der muntern Trompeten” BWV 207a was written for the name-day of the elector of Saxony and king of Poland, Friedrich August II, and was probably first performed on 3 August 1735. According to a report in the local newspaper, Bach’s Collegium Musicum planned “most humbly to perform a solemn work, with illuminations, in Zimmermann’s garden by the Grimm Gate”. The librettist is unknown. Nor are any copies of the libretto known to have survived, although we do know from an invoice sent to Bach that the firm of Breitkopf printed 150 copies. Structurally, the text is based closely on that of the 1727 dramma per musica, Vereinigte Zwietracht der wechselnden Saiten BWV 207, from which the music of six of the nine movements is taken (nos. 1, 3, 5 and 7-9). The work was originally written to congratulate Dr Gottlieb Kortte on taking up his appointment as professor of jurisprudence and required few changes to transform it into the present piece. Even the introductory march had already been used in BWV 207. In BWV 207 the four vocal soloists were all cast as allegorical figures (Good Fortune, Gratitude, Diligence and Honour), whereas they have, as it were, been neutralised in the new version, although the original libretto (now lost) may also have contained pointers to similar sorts of personification. There is mention here, for example, of the Rivers Pleiße and Elbe and also of Mercury and Irene, all of whom pay tribute to the elector. The classical subject is used to glorify the king, who is addressed in person in the ninth movement (”Long live Augustus, long live the king”). Once again, the work is elaborately scored, this time for three trumpets and timpani, two flutes and three oboes in addition to the usual complement of strings.

“O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit” BW 210 is a cantata for soprano solo (“Cantata a Voce Sola”) based on a text by an unknown poet and performed in Leipzig between 1738 and 1741 to celebrate the wedding of an unknown couple. A ten-movement work, it calls on a flute and oboe d’amore in addition to the usual strings. These two instruments are occasionally used soloistically in the ciricis to add to the range of musical expression: in no. 4 the oboe d’amore appears with a solo violin, in no. 6 there is solo work for the flute and in no. 8 for the oboe d’amore. In the great outer movements (nos. 2, 9 and 10), too, the combination of different instruments provides a subtly differentiated and colourful accompaniment for the soprano soloist. 
The present work is a not especially extensive reworking of an older cantata, BWV 210a, that was written before 1727 for an unknown occasion. BWV 210 was frequently revived, with the words being modified to suit the changing occasion. On 2 January 1729, for example, it was performed with the words “O angenehme Melodei” in honour of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißenfels on the occasion of the latter’s visit to Leipzig. Shortly afterwards Bach was appointed Kapellmeister “von Haus aus” to the court of Saxe-Weißenfels.

“Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet” BWV 212 is another setting of a libretto by Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander). A cantate burlesque, it received its first performance of Schloß Klein-Zschocher near Leipzig on 30 August 1742 and was given in honour of Carl Heinnrich von Dieskau, a local tax collector and later director of the Königliche Kammermusik in Dresden who inherited the estate at Klein-Zschocher in 1742. The cantata’s earthy text is written in an Upper Saxon  dialect. Musically too, the piece is emphatically burlesque in tone, as is clear even from the overture, which parodies a rustic ensemble with a three-part writing for violin, viola and continuo, its apparently unmotivated shifts suggesting a potpourri of dances. At various points in the work, moreover, Bach quotes snatches of popular tunes of the day: in the third movement for instance, we hear the “Großvatertanz”, Mit mir und dir ins Federbett, in the eighth movement the Folies d’Espagne and in the sixteenth movement the drinking song Was helfen uns tausend Dukater.

“Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen” BWV 213 is another dramma per musica, this time subtitled Herkules auf dem Scheidewege (Hercules at the Crossroads), and is based on a libretto by Bach’s regular collaborator in Leipzig, Christian Friedrich Henrici, otherwise known as Picander. Picander published the text in the fourth volume of his Ernst-scherzthaffte und satyrische Gedichte (1737), where the piece is said to have been performed “on the birthday of His Highness, the Prince Elector of Saxony etc. on 5 Sept. 1733”. We therefore know the circumstances surrounding the first performance of the cantata. An announcement in the Leipzig press additionally informs us that “Bach’s Collegium Musicum [ ... ] will most humbly celebrate the exalted birthday of His Highness the Prince Elector with solemn music from four to six in the afternoon in Zimmermann’s garden by the Grimm Gate”. In other words, the piece was intended to be performed out of doors by Bach’s Collegium Musicum in the course of an afternoon. Some two hundred copies of the text were published to coincide with the event, but none of these appears to have survived. The mythological subject-matter served to glorify the elector, who is mentioned by name in the twelfth and thirteenth movements. The five vocal soloists all represent mythological or allegorical figures: Pleasure (soprano), Hercules (alto), Echo (alto), Virtue (tenor) and Mercury (bass). A chorus of Muses appears in the first and last movements. The cantata is lavishly scored for winds and strings, its forces including two corni di caccia, two oboes (one of which doubles the oboe d’amore) and two concertante violins in addition to the usual four-part string writing. Bach’s autograph score and the original parts have survived and are rightly regarded as the most authoritative extant sources. The cantata’s choruses and arias (movements 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11) were taken over into Part Four of the Christmas Oratorio in 1734/35 and, divorced from their secular, occasional context, given a new lease of life in the world of sacred music.

De laatste seculiere Bach Cantates meesterlijk vertolk door Het Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Tussen 1994 en 2004 nam dirigent Ton Koopman de enorme taak op zich om alle cantates gecomponeerd door Johann Sebastian Bach op te nemen met zijn Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir. Tijdens zijn leven schreef Bach vermoedelijk 295 cantates, waarvan er 202 bewaard zijn gebleven. Het overgrote deel van deze cantates kwam volgens biograaf Christoph Wolff, met wie Ton Koopman samenwerkte aan dit project, tot stand in de jaren 1723-25 toen Bach in Leipzig woonde en werkte.

De volledige set bevat alle 202 cantates onderverdeeld 22 volumes. Dit vijfde volume uit de serie voltooit de seculiere cantates die de componist schreef tijdens zijn jaren in Leipzig. In dit deel zeven werken, gecomponeerd tussen 1725 en 1742. 

Van Bach's seculiere cantates bestaan er nog 50 stukken. Deze vertegenwoordigen echter niet meer dan een fractie van wat ooit heeft bestaan. Sterker nog, er is geen andere groep van werken waarvan zo veel werken verloren zijn gegaan. Bij meer dan de helft van de werken overleefde bovendien enkel de tekst, zonder de muziek.

De vermissing van Bach's werken is deels te wijten aan zijn blindheid op het einde van zijn leven (1685-1750), maar een bijkomende factor is het feit dat seculiere cantates geregeld werden hergebruikt voor andere praktische aangelegenheden. Het is dus moeilijk met zekerheid te zeggen hoeveel seculiere werken er ooit bestaan hebben, omdat er te weinig originele bronnen en documenten bestaan.