Sunday, December 03, 2017

Sunday Bach - Advent 1

A light shines in the darkness
Advent begins, and so does the the new year of the liturgical calendar. Bach composed three cantatas for the first Sunday in Advent, all of them based on Martin Luther's hymn Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Now come, savior of the Gentiles), which is in turn Luther's German adaptation of the Latin hymn Veni redemptor gentium. Both BWV 61 and 62 are based completely on that hymn and tend to be a tad solemn for a celebration of any kind. I much prefer the third choice, BWV 36, Schwingt freudig euch empor (Swing yourself up joyfully, Leipzig, 1731). This is far more lively and joyful, and uses Luther's hymn in the internal arias and the closing chorus. In fact, this cantata is something of a patchwork quilt, with pieces from here and there sewn together to create something altogether different. I'll let the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music explain:
Cantata BWV 36 has a complicated history. It began life in 1727 as a secular cantata. By 1731 there had been as many as four versions of the work, all of them for specific celebratory secular occasions In 1731 Bach added all of the chorale-based movements and adapted the text to fit the first Sunday in Advent. It is a tribute to the consistency and purity of his style that the work achieved a unity one would never expect from such a history. The joyous opening chorus has a wonderful leaping quality to its vocal lines that set the piece out on a wonderful journey. The first sacred insert is a detailed and sober duet based upon the great Advent Chorale, "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland." After a melancholy tenor aria a simple four-voice version of "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" ends the first half of the cantata. The warm and lovely bass aria that begins the second half of the cantata recaptures the glow of the opening chorus. Another chorale insertion, this time an energetic trio sonata with the two Oboes d'amore and tenors leads us into the climax of both the secular and sacred versions of the work, the enchanting aria for muted violin and soprano. No work of Bach ever illustrated more hauntingly a state of grace. The fact that it began life as a secular aria in no way distracts from its holy fire. Another four-voice setting of "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" ends the cantata.
©Craig Smith
Today's video is another wonderful performance by the J.S. Bach Foundation orchestra and choir under the direction of Rudolph Lutz. Enjoy!

Photo © 2008 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

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