Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Bach - Ninth Sunday After Trinity

Of the three cantatas Bach composed for the ninth Sunday after Trinity, my choice for this week's Sunday Bach is considered one of his masterpieces - BWV 105, Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht (Lord, do not pass judgement on thy servant), first performed in Leipzig on July 25, 1723. With the opening chorus a setting of Psalm 143 and the theme of the entire cantata the parable of the unjust steward from Luke 16, Bach perfectly matches the music to the text and creates a masterpiece. Here's what Simon Crouch had to say about it:
There are two essays concerning Cantata 105 in Robert Marshall's collection of essays The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The first The Autograph score of Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht describes what we can deduce from the autograph about Bach's composing practice and the second The Genesis of an Aria Ritornello attempts to "get inside the composers head" while he's composing the first aria Wie zittern und wanken. They both make for fascinating reading. The most astonishing deduction is that of the speed with which Bach was able to compose this masterpiece. Marshall's analysis suggests that the score was completed within two or three days!

Masterpiece it is. This is one of those "perfect" cantatas where there is a wonderful text exactly allied with excellent music. The mood is contemplative and reflective, meditating on the meaning of Christian faith. The opening chorus is a prelude and fugue, taking as text the second verse of psalm 143. The first sentence is accompanied by a sighing, lamenting theme and the second sentence is a magnificent choral fugue. I would love to sing this one! The first aria, which follows a recitative, is beautifully balanced over a trembling viola/violin line: How tremble and waver the sinners' thoughts, while they accuse one another and again dare to excuse themselves. Following a lovely bass arioso, there is a change of mood in the driving, optimistic tenor aria If I can only make a friend of Jesus, Mammon is worth nothing to me. Even the closing chorale receives extra special attention from Bach. That's really the feeling that I'm left with, that Bach paid extra special attention when composing this cantata, inspired by an outstanding text.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
It seems that the definitive performance of this cantata is the 1990 recording by the Collegium Vocale Ghent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe; there are at least four videos on YouTube using the recording. I agree. I find the performances of Bach cantatas by Herreweghe, Ton Koopman, and John Eliot Gardiner to be my favorites; they all eschew the full orchestral treatment of German conductors like Richter and Rilling, stripping back to Bach's original chamber orchestrations and small choirs, Gardiner even using period instruments. It's a more intimate sound, aiming for the experience of the congregants in Bach's churches in the 18th Century. This recording of BWV 105 by Herreweghe fits that bill perfectly. Enjoy!


Photo © 2014 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

1 comment:

  1. Didn't I read somewhere that it would take a (pre-computer age) music copyist at least his whole working life to copy out all of Bach's works, never mind compose them?

    Just finished listening to all Haydn's symphonies and found myself wondering how he found the time, too! His list of complete works is immense.