Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 13

South Mountain, September
Of the three cantatas Bach composed for the 13th Sunday after Trinity, I've always found his earliest one the most compelling - BWV 77, Du sollt Gott, deinen Herren, Lieben (Thou shalt love the Lord thy God), Leipzig, 1723. This is Bach's commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and especially Jesus' statement that above all commandments is this one, that we love our neighbor as ourselves. The opening chorus is one of Bach's greatest, exploring the complexities of the Law and the one law upon which it all rests. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this most magnificent yet most intimate of cantatas:
The opening chorus of Bach Cantata BWV 77 is conceptually one of the most brilliant things the composer ever achieved. Here he takes on an issue no smaller than the basis of all New Testament ideas on the bedrock of the Old Testament. The sung text is the new commandment, Christ's addendum to the Ten Commandments. The chorale tune representing the Ten Commandments appears in canon (which of course also means "law") between the trumpet and the continuo. This is only the beginning, however. The vocal parts are actually diminutions of the chorale theme turned upside down and backwards. Imagine a giant oriental carpet in which the front side is the choral music and the back side is the Old Testament underpinning. In addition the bass part which moves four times as slow as the trumpet becomes the harmonic underpinning for the whole piece. All of this sounds perhaps academic but the total effect is of a gorgeous moving wave. The resultant harmony of the modal chorale melody makes for one of the most harmonically inventive and moving of Bach's great choruses. The slim soprano aria with two oboes makes the greatest contrast. Here Bach seems to make a great effort to keep counterpoint to a minimum, to make the greatest contrast with the dazzling contrapuntal genius of the opening chorus. The alto aria is unusual. It uses as its obbligato a trumpet. This is the only time that the trumpet appears as a quiet, soulful instrument rather than as a military presence. An austere setting of the Luther Chorale "Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein" ends the cantata.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from 1997 by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!


Photo © 2012 by A. Roy Hilbinger

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