Sunday, June 04, 2017

Bach on Pentecost - Whit Sunday

And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. - Acts 2:3
In the old church calendar the Feast of Pentecost was three days, called Whitsuntide in Great Britain and Ireland. Bach wrote cantatas for all three days, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and I'll be posting one cantata for each of those days this week. 

Bach wrote several cantatas for Pentecost Sunday. The most popular is his first, written in Weimar in 1714, BWV 172, Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! I'll be willing to bet that there are a lot of churches and Bach societies performing that one this morning. And I see that Brian McCreath played BWV 74, Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten, this morning on his Bach Hour on WCRB in Boston. That was the one I was planning to post this morning, but as I was going through the listing on the Bach Cantata Website I decided to listen to all of those listed for today, and I was taken by surprise. BWV 34, O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe (O eternal fire, o source of love), one of Bach's later compositions (1727) is an absolute gem. When I read Simon Crouch's review of this piece, I knew I had to listen:
It may be a cliché but it is so true: One of the great joys of listening to music is the knowledge that there is always so much more out there than you already know. Rich veins of inspiration just waiting to be discovered.

Cantata BWV 34 provides and example of such. If you've never heard it, or heard of it, make your way as speedily as possible to amend the situation. Adapted from a wedding cantata (BWV 34a), in structure it is very simple: Opening chorus, recitative, aria, recitative, closing chorus. In content, it is sublime. The aria, Happy are ye, ye chosen souls, is possibly the most beautiful that Bach composed. It is the sort of music that sends shivers down the spine, knocks the stuffing out of you and compels you to listen to it. The opening and closing choruses are both excellent. The former especially, at eight minutes long, is "large scale" Bach at his finest.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch. 
He's so very right, this is one of Bach's best - two magnificent choruses sandwiching an exquisite gem of an alto aria. I just had to post this one for this morning. I've chosen the performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Now sit back and get ready for what could well be the most beautiful Bach experience of your life!

Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

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