Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Bach - First Sunday After Trinity

Today is the first Sunday after Trinity, the start of what the church calls "ordinary time", a six month stretch with no major holy days. The emphasis during ordinary time is the parables of Jesus and how they teach the Christian hows to live a Christ-like life. Today's Gospel reading is the parable of the rich man and the the beggar Lazarus, from Luke 16: 19-31, where the rich man goes to hell and Lazarus goes to heaven, and the rich man raises a howl about that.

Coincidentally, the first Sunday after Trinity in 1723 was Bach's debut at his new job as Cantor in Leipzig, and his cantata BWV 75, Die Elenden sollen essen, daß sie satt werden (The poor shall eat, that they may be filled) is a textbook illustration of what a Bach cantata is supposed to be. Musicologist Simon Crouch explains:
"On the 30th of the same month….the new cantor Collegii Musici director Herr Joh. Sebastian Bach, who came here from the princely court in Cöthen, performed his first music to good applause". I don't think that that means that the congregation went crazy in the aisles but clearly Bach's first Leipzig cantata (after the test pieces BWV 22 and BWV 23) was received with approval from those who mattered. Justly so. Although this isn't a cantata that will leap out at you with brilliant tunes or outstanding virtuosity, it is beautifully crafted. Indeed, what you may first notice is the formal structure that may strike you as a perfect example of what a Bach Cantata ought to be like. It's in two parts, the first part with opening sinfonia, two arias connected by recitatives and a closing chorale, the second part mirroring the first part but replacing the opening chorus with a sinfonia.

The first part opens with an excellent chorus, hinting at a French overture style (Bach showing that he was up to date and in touch with fashion?) with poignant oboe phrases leading into what you might expect, a lively fugue! Neither of the arias of the first part have outstandingly memorable tunes but they are both substantial, well constructed and pleasing to hear. The tenor aria has a warm orchestral accompaniment and the soprano aria gives the soloist opportunity for florid embellishment. The first part closes with a very jolly and uplifting chorale setting with full orchestral accompaniment.

The second part opens with a rarity: A purely orchestral treatment of the chorale with trumpet singing out the melody. It's so effective that one wonders why Bach didn't do this more often. The alto aria is simple and pleasant and the bass aria, perhaps the best of the lot, has an outstanding and uplifting trumpet accompaniment. The latter hints at a "battle" aria but the text could hardly be further from this! The cantata draws to a close with a repeat of the orchestral chorale setting that closed the first part.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
For today's Sunday Bach I've chosen the 2003 recording by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!


Photo © 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

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