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Johann Sebastian Bach

Ton Koopman / Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir

Town Council Election Cantatas

  • Type CD
  • Label Challenge Classics
  • UPC 0608917228724
  • Catalog number CC 72287
  • Release date 27 February 2009

About the album

Town Council Election Cantatas
Bach’s duties as town organist in Mühlhausen and later as cantor and music director in Leipzig included the composition and performance of ceremonial music for the annual church service celebrating the inauguration of the newly elected town council. Six works Bach wrote for this occasion have survived: the Mühlhausen cantata “Gott ist mein König” BWV 71 of 1708 and several Leipzig cantatas: “Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn” BWV 119, “Ihr Tore zu Zion” BWV 193 (incomplete), “Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille” BWV 120, “Wir danken dir, Gott” BWV 29, and “Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele” BWV 69. Two Mühlhausen cantatas for 1709 and 1710 Bach had been commissioned to write after he had left for Weimar are completely lost; not even their printed texts have survived. Of the Leipzig repertoire, three librettos for additional town council election cantatas are extant, but their music is lost without a trace. Hence, the overall picture of Bach’s activities regarding major works for political ceremonies remains fragmentary.

The present album contains three representative town council election cantatas from Bach’s Leipzig years. It includes the first and last works prepared for this occasion. The last town council election cantata performed by Bach in 1749 was actually a repeat performance of cantata BWV 29, an older work originating from 1731.

The service to celebrate the annual town council election always took place on the Monday after St. Bartholomew’s Day (August 24). This means that for all 27 years in Leipzig Bach had to perform two different cantatas on two consecutive days in late August, of which the work for the town council election required a particularly festive character and large orchestra suitable for the stately event. Bach knew, of course, that this political event occurred annually and he planned his schedule accordingly. Nevertheless, the official written commission was delivered by a town messenger to Bach’s house invariably only a week or so before the performance was due.

The cantata “Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn” BWV 119 is the first work composed by Bach in Leipzig for the annual town council election. Originally performed on August 30, 1723, the cantata was mentioned in contemporary newspaper reports and specifically described as “excellent music”- repeat performances in later years are likely. The unknown author of the text took Psalm 65: 2 for the first movement and part of Martin Luther’s German Tedeum (1529) for the concluding ninth movement. This final chorale anticipated the Tedeum that was traditionally performed as a processional at the very end of the festive service, sung by the choir in Latin and accompanied by trumpets and timpani. The musical forces of the cantata with an orchestra of 4 trumpets, 2 recorders, 3 oboes, strings, and continuo were the biggest Bach had assembled in Leipzig to date. The mention of “Violoncelli, Bassoni è Violoni” suggests a particularly opulent continuo group. In a manner that matches the ceremonial nature of the event, Bach set the opening chorus as a French overture, possibly recycling here an existing movement from a separate orchestral work proposed for a special occasion when he previously served as capellmeister to the prince of Cöthen.

The cantata “Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille” BWV 120 was performed on August 29, 1729 at the latest, but could possibly date from an earlier year. In the first movement the anonymous poet uses again Psalm 65: 2, but a different phrase, and as the final movement also Luther’s German paraphrase of the Latin Tedeum, “Herr Gott dich loben wir” (1529). Despite these similarities BWV 120 is designed in way very different from BWV 119. The unusual formal choice of opening the cantata with an aria and following it with a chorus is determined by the choice of text. The opening movement in tranquil praise of God (aria for alto with two oboi d’amore, strings, and continuo) is succeeded by the shouting of the crowd (choir with full orchestra). This particularly effective movement was later included as a borrowed movement in the B-Minor Mass as the ”Et expecto” at the end of the Credo section.

The cantata “Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele” BWV 69 was in all likelihood first performed on August 26, 1748 - Bach’s penultimate composition in this work category. It was however not newly created but represented a revised version of BWV 69a, a cantata originally written for the 12th Sunday after Trinity in 1723. The recitatives no. 2 and 4 were newly composed for the occasion in the late 1740s and set to a text by an unknown poet. Of these two movements, the second is a particularly fine example of Bach’s late style. Also newly is the final chorale, a setting of a strophe from Luther’s 1524 hymn “Es woll uns Gott genädig sein”. With its obbligato trumpets it neatly rounds off the work’s musical architecture.

Christoph Wolff

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