Sunday, October 06, 2019

Sunday Bach - Trinity 16

Bach wrote four cantatas for the 16th Sunday after Trinity, and today we'll be listening to BWV 8, Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? (Dearest God, when will I die?, Leipzig 1724). The Gospel reading for this occasion is Luke 7:11-17, the story of the raising from the dead of the son of the widow of Nain. For a cantata based on the subject of death, this one probably sounds inappropriately cheerful; but in 18th century Europe death was often seen as a welcome rest after a hard life, and this cantata reflects that joyousness. Here's musicologist Simon Crouch's commentary on this cantata:
A word from Philipp Spitta about the opening movement of this chorale cantata: "..the sound of tolling bells, the fragrance of blossoms pervades it - the sentiment of a churchyard in springtime". The continuo tolls the bell low in the harmony, the upper strings repeat a pizzicato bell-like figure and the flute alternates between arpeggios and repeated staccato high notes. All the while the oboes d'amore intertwine their sinuously attractive melody with the choir's chorale. This is a very lovely movement!

The theme is a common one in the cantatas: When shall we take leave of the sufferings of mortal life and achieve eternal life in Heaven? The bells continue tolling in the tenor aria and the (solo) oboe d'amore has another beautiful line. After a recitative, Heaven is achieved in the tour-de-force that is the bass aria. It is really difficult to avoid the feeling that here we have a movement, a gigue, from a lost flute concerto. It is a wonderful, optimistic, virtuoso piece and if you have any love for the flute as a solo instrument, do try to hear this. The cantata closes, after a recitative, with a lovely chorale setting with orchestral accompaniment. Especially effective is the low bass note that precedes the voices. The chorale melody itself, by Daniel Vetter, is especially attractive.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.
Today's performance is from a recording by the Collegium Vocale Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!

Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

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