Geistliche Deutsche Barockmusik
About BWV 106 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
========= from the cover ==========
'He who delays his conversion
often finds that death will provide his repentance.
He who laughs and jokes about death
will shiver and shake at its presence.'
(written by Telemann in French in the Scheffel family album in 1753)
Georg Philipp Telemann, Georg Riedel, Christian Ludwig Boxberg and J.S. Bach are the four composers represented in this anthology of funerary cantatas; this CD appear in the series Geistliche deutsche Barockmusik.
J.S. Bach's biography has been recounted many times, and we need not go into it further here; Telemann's exceptionally long and fruitful career - he died at the age of 86 - is also well enough known for us to need to recall only its main incidents, those that can put him into historical perspective with J.S. Bach and with his predecessor Kuhnau.
Georg Philipp Telemann was born on the 4th of March 1681 in Magdeburg. The priestly calling outweighed the musical one on both sides of his family; his father was the parish priest in Magdeburg. After his death in 1685, it was Georg Philipp's mother who ensured that he inherited the solid humanistic base that was required by the family. He entered the Pauline College in Leipzig to study law in 1701, but unlike Kuhnau, who led a double career as both lawyer and musician, Telemann was never to qualify in law. Music claimed him entirely, and in 1702 the Leipzig city fathers asked him to compose cantatas for the Thomaskirche alternating with Kuhnau, who was the resident Cantor.
Telemann left Leipzig in 1704 after having founded the famous Collegium Musicum which was made up of students from the University and which J.S. Bach would later come to direct.
In 1717 - the same year that Bach left Weimar for Kothen - Telemann was offered the post of Court Kapellmeister. Kuhnauls death in 1722 left the post of Cantor at the Thomaskirche vacant, and Telemann then applied for it. The city authorities rejoiced in being able to hire a musician whose renown was already immense, but Telemann withdrew his application. He had been working since the year before in Hamburg, and that city had just offered him much better financial considerations. A certain J.S. Bach was then named Cantor for the Thomaskirche, with the comment from one of the members of the Leipzig High Council that Bach was 'as good as Graupner'! Telemann remained in Hamburg, where he ended his career covered with honours and fame. He died on the 20th of June 1767, seventeen years after Bach. Telemann was the most productive of the composers of the 18th century, and to look at the quantity of his works is to tempt vertigo, in the field of the sacred cantata, he wrote 31 complete cycles (i.e. 1.400 separate Sunday cantatas) and various occasional works, amongst which were the thirteen Trauerkantaten!
The composers Georg Riedel and Christian Ludwig Boxberg are featured for the first time in this collection of Geistliche deutsche Barockmusik. They are lesser-known musicians, but are nonetheless valuable witnesses who allow us to situate J.S. Bach's work more precisely in its contemporary context and to measure the distance between them and Bach; they should not be underestimated, as their works are intrinsically worthy of being presented to today 1s music-lovers.
Georg Riedel was born on the 6th of June 1676 in Sensburg. After studying theology and philosophy at the University of Konigsberg, he held the post of Cantor in that town for thirty years from 1709 until his death on the 5th of February 1738. Riedel is probably unique in music history in that he composed a setting of the complete Gospel according to St. Matthew (1721) and of the complete Psalter, as well as a St. Matthew Passion and several cycles of cantatas for Sundays and Festivals.
Christian Ludwig Boxberg was born on the 24th of April 1670 in Sonderhausen. He studied in Leipzig, and he composed seven operas in German for that theatre and for the Court Theatre of Ansbach between 1697 to 1702 (when Telemann took over the Leipzig Opera). He also wrote his own opera texts and translated a good number of Italian libretti. After being named organist to the town of Gorlitz in 1702, Boxberg devoted himself to sacred music. He died in 1729.
These are numerous textual, rhetorical and stylistic links between the four funerary cantatas that are presented here. The words addressed to Hezekiah by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 38: 1) which Boxberg uses are also to be found in J.S. Bach's Actus Tragicus, and the meaning of the fourth verse of Psalm 39 which Boxberg uses to comment on Hezekiah's death (I) is related to the 12th verse of Psalm 90 which J.S. Bach sets.
As well as the textual links, it is also interesting to compare how each composer set the texts themselves, for in Boxberg's setting, the injunction 'Bestelle dein Haus..:' (Isaiah) precedes the psalm commentary and then combines with it in a brief movement that contrasts the bass voice with the choir in 'Herr, lehre doch mich' (Psalm 39). The order is reversed in Bach Is setting, with the commentary preceding the injunction and the two texts treated separately in arias that are developed at length; we have clear evidence of the gulf that separated the two musicians in Bach's elaboration and development of rhetorical musical figures that Boxberg had barely sketched in.
The use of these figures of musical rhetoric is common to all four funerary cantatas, but their technical realisation - which can go as far as the juxtaposition of several elements -clearly attains perfection only in the Actus Tragicus (BWV 106) by the young J.S. Bach. Two of the figures that Bach uses, the first representing fear and trembling and the second representing the death-knell, are also used with varying degrees of expressive force in the cantatas by Telemann, Riedel and Boxberg. The tremolo of repeated notes on the stringed instruments is always linked in baroque sacred music to the expression of the Christian soul's dread and awe of his God, which is accompanied by 'fear and trembling' (timor et tremor). For the Christian soul, death is but the prelude to his meeting with God, and so in Telemann's cantata the string tremolo is used as accompaniment to the bass arioso Komm, sanfter Tod; this effect is also to be found in the instrumental introduction to Riedel's cantata.
The Actus Tragicus makes no use of this effect but we should, however, note the use of tremolo in Bach's later cantatas as well as in the Passions.
The evocation of the death-knell is most often conveyed by the highest and the lowest string playing pizzicato; Brecht, ihr muden Augenlieder and the final chorale of the Telemann cantata provide two very beautiful examples of this, and they also show close links to effects which will be found in Bach's later works. Riedel's cantata concludes with the evocation of a peaceful peal of bells that fades into the silence that concludes the cantata.
The cantata Du aber, Daniel has often been linked with the Actus Tragicus, but there is no justification for any stylistic comparison between the two works; Telemann's piece represents the new cantata style with its recitatives alternating with da capo arias set to texts in madrigal style and with its opening and closing chorales set to Biblical texts, while Bach's famous work is one of the last examples of the old cantata form in that it is constructed entirely around Biblical texts and chorale verses, being completely free from the influence of stereotyped Italian operatic forms.
There are, however, certain similarities between Telemann's cantata and other works by Bach; Telemann's Sonata and opening chorale have a parallel in the beginning of the Cantata BWV 21, and the soprano aria in the Telemann has links with the tenor aria in the Cantata BWV 8. The text of Telemann's opening chorale and of that of the Cantata BWV 21 are both taken from the Book of Daniel, chapter 12, v. 13.
The madrigalesque verses of Telemann's cantata develop the themes dear to Lutheran pietism -distrust of the world, an ardent longing for death, trusting hope in eternal bliss -from the eschatological revelation Made to the prophet Daniel of things to come: 'But go thou Daniel on thy way and take thy rest, for thou shalt receive thy just share at the end of days' (Daniel 12:13). This cantata of Telemann can be placed on the same level as the Actus Tragicus in that its musical rhetoric attains a perfection of expression that is worthy of Bach himself; the work's two high points are undoubtedly the bass arioso and the soprano aria, both movements being imbued with the nostalgic lyricism that is often to be found in Lutheran funeral music.
The text source for the cantata by Georg Riedel is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), and allusions to the festal robe with which the loving father will clothe his beloved son embellish the whole cantata text. The cantata was composed in Konigsberg in 1706, and its melodic and harmonic styles link it to certain works by Buxtehudg and Bruhns.
The textual similarity between the beginning of Boxberg's cantata and the tenor and bass arias at the start of the Actus Tragicus has already been remarked upon, but there is one other point that the two works have in common, which is the juxtaposition of their texts. For the first part of each cantata the two Old Testament texts already mentioned are used, and for the second part one cantata uses two verses of the chorale "Herzlich tut mich Verlangen" and the other uses two verses of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (1:21,23). This alternation of texts that are mutually referent forces the music to develop from homophonic chorale writing to ornamented arias for solo voice.
The Actus Tragicus is undoubtedly the most well-known piece of funeral music in the whole of music history, and in common with most masterpieces it suffers from being often heard but rarely being listened to with attention. The cantata is practically a sermon in music, during which the valorisation and the exegesis of the Biblical texts are realised by the constant juxtaposition and superposition of elements of musical rhetoric. The cantata is in two parts, presenting successively the vision of death in the Old and then in the New Testament, with a chorale crowning the polyphonic edifice at the end of each part. Old forms such as the ricercar (Es ist der alle Bund) and sombre colours accompany the Old Testament vision, while the New Testament vision is expressed in a long bipartite aria that bathes in an atmosphere of serene joy. In that it is one of the last examples of a cantata form that was soon to disappear, the Actus Tragicus presents a synthesis of all the techniques that Bach's predecessors brought to the form.
-William Hekkers (translation: Peter Lockwood)