My Bach Pilgrimage – 1715 – Deceptively Simple.

In Bach Pilgrimage, Baroque, Classical Music, JS Bach on March 6, 2016 at 3:59 pm

Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe (BWV 185)
Nur jedem das Seine (BWV 163)
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn! (BWV 132)

Bach composed three more cantatas in 1715 and they continue in the same modest vein as O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad written in June of that year.

Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe (Compassionate heart of eternal love), first performed in July 1715 (and revised in 1723) opens directly with a lilting duet for soprano and tenor with obbligato trumpet that pre-empts the closing chorale melody. There is something in Bach’s handling of the melodic line, the use of trills – particularly around ewigen Liebe – that if not erotic, comes pretty damn close. Following an recitative/arioso, the aria for alto with oboe obbligato is a beautifully crafted and stately movement and begins to demonstrate Bach’s increasing skill in elongating his melodic line. Another recitative leads into a rather earnest – almost finger-wagging – aria for bass and unison strings and in many ways with a few amendments wouldn’t be out of place on the operatic stage. A chorale ends a cantata, which despite its almost perfunctory nature, contains some beautiful music.

Not until December did Bach compose Nur jedem das Seine (Only to each his own), which although it seems even simpler – almost chamber in style – to the preceding cantata, contains some surprising experimentation by Bach.

The opening aria for tenor, motivic in structure is again almost perfunctory in its nature but the following bass aria – Laß mein Herze gerne geben (Let my heart be the coin) seems sonically richer despite even smaller forces because Bach only employs the lower strings with some energetic writing for the cellos. But it is the recitative that follows that might have had people sitting up in the pews – a recitative for soprano and alto. Or rather an arioso, with a rather ethereal quality which fits the words – Ich woltte dir, o Gott, das Herze gerne geben (I would gladly, O God, give you my heart). Bach might have been a Lutheran by faith, but as early as 1715 he was a dramatist at heart. No onle sitting in the church would have been in any doubt about the sincerity of the text at this point, which leads in to a duet proper where the strings intone a chorale melody below the florid, joyful vocal lines.

The final cantata of the year, Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn! (BWV 132) was first performed just before Christmas and despite its small forces, has a breadth and joyousness that would have had feet tapping and heads nodding in time to the music.

The opening aria for soprano and oboe obbligato is almost concertante – If not secular – in style with singer and instrumentalist trading florid melodic lines which captures at its heart the message Messias kömmt an! (The Messiah is coming). The recitative for tenor that follows contains some imitative and arioso writing for both soloist and continuo. More finger wagging follows in Wer Bist Du? (Who are you?) for bass with lively continuo writing. A more contemplative mood pervades the recitative Ich will, mein Gott, dir frei heraus bekennen (I would freely confess to you, my God) that emotionally follows neatly from the previous aria. The final aria before the closing chorale is notable once again for a florid instrumental obbligato, this time for violin, which weaves itself around the alto’s vocal line.

Despite the apparent simplicity of these final cantatas of 1715, It’s worth remembering one things. In these years at Weimar, Bach had at his disposal some accomplished instrumentalists and it seems that he recognised that they could be usefully and effectively deployed both in church and chamber.


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