Bach Ad Infinitum
Episode 772. This week’s program is centred around the last cantatas from the Christmas Oratorio, the Epiphany and the Brandenburg Concertos. The list of songs was compiled by avid listener Jos Bielder from Maastricht.
Johann Sebastian is best known for his Musical compositions based on religious texts. In this episode, however, I would like to shine a light on the worldly side of his compositions. To focus on the notes he put to paper for worldly leaders who, as was usual at the time, often hired him to entertain their guests at court.
Bach wrote a great number of his cantatas in Weimar as part of his contractual obligations as choir director. He also wrote a few for non-church related occasions such as birthdays, marriages and others festivities. They’re an example of his more laidback side and his sense of humour.
He also did not find it inappropriate to reuse his non-religious material for Christian occasions.
First the Coffee Cantata, BWV 211.
The culture of drinking coffee, which was originally an Arab custom, spread all over Europe from the beginning of the 18th century, first to the noble elite and then to the middle classes. Coffee houses sprang up everywhere. In Leipzig, there were more than ten. From 1723, the coffee house of Gottfried Zimmermann was the regular performance venue for the best amateur music ensemble of the city. In 1729, Bach became the leader of this ensemble, called Collegium musicum. The coffee cantata, with its official name “Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” was created around 1734 for the concerts in Café Zimmermann.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
1. Coffee cantata “Schweigt Stille, Plaudert Nicht”, BWV 211
– Recitative, Schweigt Stille, Plaudert Nicht
– Aria, Hat Man Nicht Mit Seinen Kindern
– Recitative, Du Boses Kind, Du Loses Madchen
– Aria, Ei! Wie Schmerckt Der Coffee Susse
– Recitative, Wenn Du Mir Nicht Den Coffee Lasst
– Aria, Madchen, Die Von Harten Sinnen
– Recitative, Nun Folge, Was Dein Vater Spricht!
– Aria, Heute Noch, Lieber Vater, Tut Es Doch!
– Recitative, Nun Geht Und Sucht Der Alte Schlendrian
– Die Katze Lasst Das Mausen Nicht
Carolyn Sampson, soprano. Makoto Sakurada, tenor. Stephan Schreckenberger, bass. Bach Collegium Japan led by Masaaki Suzuki
On March 24, 1721, Bach dedicated the Brandenburger concertos to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg. He gave his collection the generic name ‘Six Concerts avec plusieurs instruments’ (French for: “Six concerts with multiple instruments”). What is unusual for the time, is the fact that concerts were not written as a commission. The six concertos form a sort of showreel and are a perfect example of how to combine various divers instruments.
At the time, Bach was in service of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. After extensive research musicologists have concluded that Bach must have written these concerts years earlier, some even before 1717, when he was working at the court of William Ernest, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. It is clear that he did not write the compositions at the margrave’s request, it is possible that he offered the bundle of existing concertos as a sort of ‘business card’.
2. Brandenburg Concerto no. 1 in F-major, BWV 1046
– 1. (Allegro)
– 2. Adagio
– 3. Allegro
– 4. Menuetto, Trio 1, Polacca, Trio 2
Dunedin Consort led by John Butt
Lastly, the cantata ‘Amore Traditore’, BWV 203:
From 1717 to 1723, after a long stint at the court of Weimar, Bach became Kapellmeister of a qualified musical ensemble at the court of Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen. Seeing as the court was reformed and Bach was not obliged to keep composing church music, instead he focussed on instrumental works. He did not have a choir to his disposal, but several excellent singers that sometimes stayed for short periods of time. Later he wrote about this period of time: “There I had a gracious Prince, who both loved and knew music, and in his service I intended to spend the rest of my life.”
3. Cantate “Amore Traditore”, BWV 203
– 1. Amore Traditore
– 2. Voglio Provar
– 3. Chi In Amore Ha Nemica La Sorte
Klaus Mertens, bass. Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir led by Ton Koopman