Secular Cantatas - светсткие кантаты
About BWV 201 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About BWV 205 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About BWV 213 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
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In the period before assuming the function of Cantor of St. Thomas's in Leipzig (1723) Bach wrote secular festive music in an entirely ex officio capacity to celebrate specific events in the life at the courts of Weimar (until 1717) or Kothen (1717-1723). In Leipzig this changed radically. From then on works of this kind were the outcome of private commissions in the broadest sense of the term, the execution of which was all the more in Bach's interests not only as a welcome source of revenue, but also as an extension of his duties as the School Cantor in the direction of an appointment as a city Kapellmeister. A solid foundation for the realisation of such aspirations was represented some time later by the activities of the Collegium Musicum, that had been revived by Georg Philipp Telemann, and the direction of which Bach, by dint of an adroit manoeuvre, had succeeded in taking over in the spring of 1729. From then on until well into the 1740s the "Bach Collegium Musicum" with its weekly "assemblies" became the most highly esteemed institution in the musical life of Leipzig outside the church. On special occasions, especially the performances of festive cantatas in honour of the Saxon Electoral ruling house, the time and place of the performances were announced in the newspapers - in winter in "the Zimmermann coffee-house on the Cather Strase", in summer in "the Zimmermann garden before the 'Grimmischen Thore' (Grimm Gate)". In some cases we know how many copies of the texts were printed - between 150 and 700 -, which presumably indicates the real or hoped-for size of the audiences.
The choice of the site of the performances was not only determined by the clientele: it also decisively influenced the composition and the orchestration. But in this respect Johann Sebastian Bach commanded a rich store of experience. According to the testimony of his second eldest son this stemmed from the "performance of a very great number of powerful musical compositions in churches, at court and often in the open air, with curious and uncomfortable seats".
Considerations of external circumstances of this nature would seem to have played no small part in the "Aeolus" Cantata BWV 205, sung by the students on 3 August 1725 as a tribute to the lecturer in philosophy, Dr August Friedrich Muller. The patrons (no doubt members of the student body), the librettist and the composer were in agreement that the presentation, in a grand festive setting, should take place in the open air in Leipzig's most splendid street, the Katharinenstrase. Accordingly the libretto, in mythological guise, paraphrases a passage in Vergil's "Aeneid" on the threatening outburst of autumnal storms, until towards the end - to use a contemporary formulation - the "application of a certain event" restores peace: the magic word, August Muller, and the reference to the celebration of his name-day, appease Aeolus, the blustering god of the winds. In the short chordal interpolations by the orchestra in the opening chorus and the ringing "Vivat" calls by the full ensemble in the final chorus Bach obviously had in mind the echo effect produced by the presence of the market square at the bottom of the Katharinenstrase, which had already been praised by writers in the 17th century. If this alternation of calls and echo is lacking an essential dimension of the concluding section is lost. In fact, Bach himself once did without it when he had the cantata performed in February 1734 with new words in honour of the Saxon Elector in Zimmermann's coffee rooms. Bach's eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, went even further in 1756 and 1757 when he presented the entire cantata, with yet another set of words, as festive music in honour of Friedrich II, King of Prussia, in the Liebfrauenkirche in Halle on the Saale.
To judge from its subject, "Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan" BWV 201 (The Contest between Phoebus and Pan), like the "Aeolus" Cantata, seems to have been intended for an outdoor performance. In the middle section of the opening chorus, however, the echo effect was carefully written out, so that it was possible to consider performing it in a place without a natural echo, such as the garden before the east gate of the town often used by the Bach Collegium Musicum. In any case this concert, which appears to have taken place during the Leipzig Michaelmas Mass at the end of September 1729 before an audience of natives and foreigners, will have carried the seal of an uncommon event. After all, both the librettist and the composer - obviously in close collaboration - were aiming at nothing less than the exposition of an aesthetic programme in unequivocal opposition to the perils of musical simplification that were becoming increasingly more menacing around 1730. The mythologically embellished action is based on the legend of the contest between Apollo and Marsyas. It is not really Pan, the naive musician without an adequate mastery of the art of composition (prefiguring Mozart's Musikalischer Spass), who succumbs to Phoebus-Apollo's sublime art, which Bach lends the finest of his own, but the officious critic Midas. Hence the final recitative bestows a topical 'application' by launching an offensive against Midas's numerous brothers, against lack of judgement and absurdity. In addition both the text and the music appear to contain many an allusion to contemporary events and personalities, but these mysteries remain to be unravelled.
We find ourselves on more solid ground with the cantata, "Last uns sorgen, last uns wachen" BWV 213. Both a newspaper account and the printed text unanimously mention 5 September 1733 as the day of its performance and the birthday of the Saxon crown prince Friedrich Christian (1722-1763) as the occasion. Moreover, the "Leipziger Zeitungen" mentions that it was performed by the "Bachische Collegium Musicum" as "solemn music from 4 to 6 o'clock in the afternoon... in the Zimmermann garden". In Bach's setting the popular subject (also used by Handel, Reinhard Keiser and others) of "Herkules auf dem Scheideweg" (Hercules at the Cross-roads) and of his choice of the way that, in spite of its being the more arduous one, led to the more exalted blessings of virtue, is almost as long as the act of an opera. In this respect it is comparable to both the "Aeolus" Cantata and the "Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan". The librettos of all three cantatas are by the same author, the Leipzig postal secretary and later receiver of revenue, the linguistically gifted occasional poet, Christian Friedrich Henrici ("Picander", 1700-1764). Unlike the two earlier works, however, the Hercules Cantata does not consist entirely of original compositions: the gavotte-like final chorus can be proven to have been taken from a cantata, most of which has been lost, composed around 1720 during Bach's Kothen period, and both the "Echo" aria and the love-duet between Hercules and Virtue appear to have been adapted from works composed before 1733. The opening chorus and all five of the aria movements, furnished with new words, were incorporated by Bach in his Christmas Oratorio in 1734-35. He had intended to do the same with the final chorus, but finally rejected the idea - possibly on account of the overly conspicuous dance-like character of the movement.
-Hans-Joachim Schulze (Translated by Derek Yeld)