Monday, April 02, 2018

Bach for Easter - Easter Monday

In Bach's time Easter was a three-day celebration, Sunday through Tuesday. Even when I was a youngster I vaguely remember being off from school at least for "Easter Monday". In any event, Bach wrote cantatas for all three days. Today's cantata is definitely more joyful than yesterday's, as its name shows - BWV 66, Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen (Rejoice, ye hearts!, Leipzig 1724). This is actually a recycling of an earlier cantata (in Bach terminology this is called a parody) composed in 1718 for the birthday of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Of course Bach's mastery of his craft had matured a great deal in the intervening years, so we can assume that the result of the recycling is a vast improvement over the original; this is certainly evident in the music. And it certainly is jubilant and joyful, as befits the season! Here's Simon Crouch on the subject:

Although nominally written more than ten years before the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11), cantata 66 feels very like the latter in texture. Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that like the Oratorio, Erfreut euch ihr Herzen is largely a parody work (in this case of a birthday cantata for Prince Leopold of Kothen, BWV 66a Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück, for which the music is lost and only the text extant) and the music for the two may have originated around about the same time.

The multi-sectioned opening chorus is superbly effusive and joyful and at a relatively long ten minutes provides a suitably monumental opening, as befits the occasion. The first recitative leads into a da capo bass aria, introduced by a catchy oboe fugure, that positively skips along in triple metre! There is then a long section consisting of a duet-recitative followed by an duet which is a dialogue between Hope and Fear. The former sees the resurrection of the Saviour, casts aside fear of the grave and trusts in his salvation whereas the latter, predictably, does not. And all in perfect harmony. Which is perhaps the one failing of this cantata, Hope and Fear sound rather too similar. Still, the quality of the music makes this one of my favourites! A lovely setting of a chorale melody rounds off the cantata.

Copyright © 1995 & 1997, Simon Crouch
Today's performance is a live recording from the Protestant Church in Trogen, Switzerland, by the Choir & Orchestra of the J.S. Bach Foundation under the direction of Rudolph Lutz. Enjoy!

Photo © 2008 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

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