Archive for April 27th, 2014|Daily archive page

My Bach Pilgrimage – Rain, Snow, Turks & Papists

In Bach Pilgrimage, Classical Music, JS Bach on April 27, 2014 at 11:17 am

(The Monteverdi Choir, The English Baroque Soloists, John Elliot Gardiner)

Alles Mit Gott (BWV 1127)
Gleichwie Der Regen Und Schnee Vom Himmel Fällt (BWV 18)

Once again there seems to be some scholarly debate as to the actual date of Bach’s cantatas and if I follow Gardiner’s research amongst other, then Christen, ätzet diesen Tag (BWV 63) falls into the following year.

That means that of the extant – or recorded cantatas – there is one single example for 1713- Gleichwie Der Regen Und Schnee Vom Himmel Fällt.

However, from this year we do have Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd – the so-called Hunting Cantata – which contains possibly one of Bach’s most performed arias, the delightful Schafe können sicher weiden.

But we also have the recently (2005) discovered Alles Mit Gott, (BWV 1127). Rediscovered by John Elliott Gardiner it was written as a Birthday Ode for his employer, Duke Wilhelm of Saxe-Weimar.

Written with twelve verses in all – Gardiner records simply the first, third and twelfth stanzas with the wonderful soprano Elin Manahan – it also harks backwards to an earlier style. The soprano is simply accompanied by continuo and alternates with a ritornello by a string ensembles. It’s a beautifully crafted gem but to be honest I think three verses was quite enough for me.

Could there be a more fitting opening sinofnia to Gleichwie Der Regen Und Schnee Vom Himmel Fällt? Originally it was scored just for strings but Bach added recorders when it was later performed in Leipzig, and this is the orchestra that Gardiner chooses.

A slight cheat I know to include it here but worth it.

You can almost hear the rain and snow falling in this opening sinfonia with the recorders providing the fertile earth sprouting from the resultant wet ground.

Indeed the following movement is typical of Bach’s dramatic invention in his early cantatas. After a short recitative for bass, their follows what almost amounts to a dramatic scena for tenor, bass and chorus is beautifully crafted. The soloists implore for God to save their souls from evil and between each verse the chorus interject with a rhythmically alert chorus. The plea by the chorus to be saved from des Türken and des Papsts (the Turks and the Papists) is possibly unique in Bach’s cantata output for crossing the ‘political line’.

While not in the league of his soloist/chorus movements in his later Passions, this cantata is worth listening to for this movement alone.

The following soprano aria is again reminiscent of earlier arias. It is – compared to the previous movement incredible short but there is some simple word painting at Fort mit allein, fort nur fort.

The cantata closes with a simple chorale. Perhaps any more drama would have been too much for the congregation, already whipped up into a religious fervor by the earlier movement.

In the following year, 1714, Bach would be promoted to Konzertmeister and one of his duties would be to write a cantata every month for the ducal church.

His final years in Weimar – and before his appointment in Leizig – would see Bach compose some of his most thrilling cantatas.


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