Monday, April 17, 2017

Bach for Easter - The Road to Emmaus (Easter Monday)

Cumberland Valley Rail Trail
The Gospel reading for Easter Monday is Luke 24:13 - 35, the story of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus several days after the crucifixion, discussing the distressing events of the last few days, when they are joined on the road by the risen Christ. Bach composed a very beautiful chorale cantata for this day based on that walk - BWV 6, Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden (Abide with us, for the evening draws on), 1725. Here's what musicologist Brian Robins has to say about this work:
First performed in Leipzig on April 2, 1725, BWV 6 ("Abide with us, for the evening draws on") is a cantata for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday). Although it therefore belongs to the second annual cycle (Jahrgang) Bach composed for Leipzig after his appointment as cantor there in 1723, it does not conform to the pattern of the so-called "chorale cantatas" that dominate his output at that stage of his career. The anonymous libretto is based on the Gospel for the day (Luke 24:13-35), the story of the walk of the two disciples to Emmaus. The text of the beautiful opening chorus is directly drawn from verse 29 of Luke's narrative. It is scored for SATB chorus, two oboes, oboe da caccia, strings, and bass continuo. The elegiac twilight scene as the disciples walk in conversation with the risen Christ is magically conveyed by Bach, with unison violins and violas suggesting the darkening shades of night. The alto aria that follows is believed by some authorities to have been borrowed from a lost secular cantata, Thomana sass annoch betrübt (1723), although there is apparently nothing to substantiate such a claim. Despite its dance-like rhythm and pizzicato bass it maintains the evocation of the darkening scene, the prayerful invocation to Christ to maintain his presence underlined by the expressive obbligato writing for oboe da caccia. The succeeding chorale for solo soprano is based on the hymn "Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ" by Nicolaus Selnecker. The accompaniment is for violoncello piccolo, a now obsolete instrument with a range between viola and cello employed by Bach in several of his cantatas. The movement has gained wider circulation as a result of its adaptation as the fifth of the "Schubler" Chorales for organ. Next comes a bass recitative, the only one in the cantata, a gloomy reflection on the theme of darkness. This somber mood is dissipated in the final confident aria for tenor, "Lord, let us look on thee." Here, resolute strength is the byword, the strings surging with bright optimism. The final number is a four-part harmonization of the second stanza of the anonymous melody of Martin Luther's hymn "Erhalt'uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort."
For today's post I've chosen a beautiful performance by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!


Photo © 2013 by A. Roy Hilbinger

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