Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Bach - Second Sunday in Lent

Stormy Weather, October 2006
As mentioned last week, Bach wrote no cantatas for Lent other than two for the third Sunday, so I've gone diving into the vaults to look for something written for an occasion outside the liturgical calendar. What I found was Bach's first cantata, written in 1707 while he was organist at St. Blaise church in Mühlhausen. This is BWV 131, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, "Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord", from Psalm 130. From musicologist Gerhard Scuhmacher:
"Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (BWV 131) is Bach's earliest extant cantata. The reference at the very end to the commission: 'Set to music at the request of Dr. Georg Christ. Eilmars by Joh. Seb. Bach, organist at Mühlhausen,' also indicates some tension there: Eilmar was the parish priest at St. Mary's, Bach was organist at St. Blaise. Like the 'Actus tragicus' (BWV 106) this cantata was written in 1707, presumably for a penitential service after a fire. The chamber music texture of the orchestration - one violin and two violas (one written in alto clef, the other in tenor clef) indicates the link with the music for the gamba; the scoring is completed by an oboe. As far as the form is concerned, there are no independent arias, recitatives or, except for the rather old-fashioned sinfonia, extended instrumental movements. The structure and arrangement are conditioned by the work's origin in the motet and sacred concerto. It is fascinating to observe, with hindsight, that the particular musical quality of this (probably) first cantata is the result of a desire for symmetry and the conflict between the 'no longer' of the motet and sacred concerto on the one hand, and the 'not yet' of the later cantatas on the other.
Here is an excellent interpretation from Philippe Herreweghe directing the Chorus and Orchestra of Collegium Vocale Gent in 1992. Enjoy!

Photo © 2006 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

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