The Bach Family before Johann Sebastian
Musica Antiqua Koln - Reinhard Goebel
Archiv (Collectio Argentea)
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The urge to collect, organize and preserve was obviously a fundamental trait of Johann Sebastian Bach's character. It was therefore only natural that an interest in his family history led him to collect his forebears' compositions. The fact that a respectable number of those works have survived to the present day is due very largely to his concern for them.
He wrote a brief family history, Ursprung der musicaliscb-bacbiscben Familie ("Origins of the Bach Family of Musicians", Bach-Dokumente I, 255 ff), which includes a genealogical outline and character sketches of individual members of the clan. He also compiled an "Altbachisches Archiv" (an Archive of past members of the Bach family) containing the compositions he had collected: cantatas, motets and strophic choral songs. After his death, the collection passed to his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, though it is not certain whether it did so in its entirety. When Carl Philipp Emanuel died, the "Archive" was auctioned, together with the rest of his library, in Hamburg in 1790.
The "Archive", along with all the rest of the music in Carl Philipp Emanuel's estate, was bought by Georg Poelchau, to add to his (musico-historically speaking) invaluable collection. It then passed into the hands of Carl Friedrich Zelter, and from him into the possession of the Berliner Singakademie. On the occasion of the Bach anniversary in 1935, the music historian Max Schneider published the vocal works making up the "Archive" in a two-volume edition, in the series Erbe Deutscher Musik. It was in the nick of time, for the Berliner Singakade-mie's entire collection of manuscripts was burnt during the Second World War. Since then a few more Bach family manuscripts have been authenticated, which supplement Schneider's edition.
The present selection was made from those compositions which can be termed "cantatas" or "vocal concertos", that is, the works for solo voices, choir and concertante instruments. The rest of the "Archive" consists of motets and so-called "arias" (songs for choir): they are all for choir and continue.
The composers and their works
Four composers are identified by name in the "Archive": J.B. (= Johannes Bach), Johann Sebastian's great-uncle, who is represented by three motets with continue; Georg Christoph, who was an uncle of Johann Sebastian; and two of Georg Christoph's cousins, Johann Christoph and Johann Michael. Johann Michael was also Johann Sebastian's father-in-law, as his daughter Maria Barbara was Johann Sebastian's first wife. Apart from works by these four, only one other vocal work by a forebear of Johann Sebastian has survived: the vocal concerto "Ich danke dir, Gott", by Heinrich Bach. No other vocal compositions have survived, so far as is known, by members of the generations of Johann Sebastian's parents or grandparents, or earlier generations (see the excerpt from the Bach family tree, p. 9).
The compositions on this recording represent various genres of the cantata as it was known to J. S. Bach. They include church cantatas for various solo and choral forces. The texts are concerned with the wretchedness of earthly life, mourning, the sinner's contrition, and the praise and glorification of God. Of the secular works, one, "Meine Freundin, du bist schon", is an extensive wedding cantata also suitable for domestic music-making.
For all the variety of style and technique exhibited by these six cantatas, they have one important thing in common, and that is the power of their rhetorical expression, which is also shared by the instruments. The sensitivity in the interpretation of texts anticipates the rhetorical elements in Johann Sebastian Bach's musical language. This is already true of the strophic cantatas of Johann Michael Bach with the heartfelt emotion of their melodies which also finds expression in the instrumental parts; and it is carried to even greater artistic heights in the works of his elder brother Johann Christoph. He was certainly the outstanding composer in the Bach family before Johann Sebastian, who used the word 'profound' to describe him in his family history, gave a performance in Leipzig of his monumental 22-part cantata in honour of St. Michael "Es erhub sich ein Streit", and was plainly influenced by him in his own Michaelmas cantatas, BWV 19 and 50. In the wedding cantata, for example, there is a subtle, frequently repeated cantilena, "Mein Freund ist mein und ich bin sein", which is accompanied by a series of impassioned virtuoso violin solos: fiery Cupid's darts aimed at the bride, in the spirit of the text, but technically a sequence of instrumental variations in the form of a cha-conne. Another example is to be found in the lament "Wie bist du denn, o Gott", where the violin part gives a bravura depiction of the blows God inflicts on the human heart. These instrumental accompaniments amount to much more than word-painting, however: even in the polyphonic textures of the inner parts, they represent part-writing of very high quality and individuality.
-Andreas Holschneider (Translation: Mary Whittall)