German Baroque Christmas 19 December 2015

Saturday Evening, December 19, 2015 at 8:00 pm – Church of the Incarnation


James Richman, Artistic Director



Anna Fredericka Popova, Soprano; Sarah Daniels, Alto; Randall Umstead, Peter Tiggelaar, Tenors; Brandon Gibson, Patrick Gnage, Basses

Cantata 62: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, for the First Sunday in Advent – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Cantata: Das ist je gewisslich wahr, for the Third Sunday in Advent – Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)

Motet: Uns ist ein Kind geboren – Johann Ludwig Bach (1677-1731)


Cantata: Uns ist ein Kind geboren, for the First Sunday in Advent – Telemann

Cantata 140: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, for the 27th Sunday after Trinity – Bach

About the Program:

German Baroque music is an interesting mix of native traditions and the influx of the “new” from Italy and France. As the eighteenth century progressed, the older style with its less sophisticated ways was found more and more wanting – things got to the point where Quantz wrote in his Versuch (1752) that German music couldn’t be said to have a style of its own, but made up for it by importing the best from Italy and France and making something new and unique out of the synthesis. While we certainly would object to this analysis today, it does at least explain the relative oblivion to which Sebastian Bach was relegated. It seems likely that the similar desire to jettison the demotic and solid German language for the more worldly and subtle French as a court language was evident in the rush to adopt foreign music, which was seen as more enlightened, gracious, and forward-looking.

By reaching back into the native German tradition, enriched to be sure by borrowings from abroad but robust and sensitive in its own right, we find a great deal of glorious music, not the least of whichistheoeuvreofBachandhismanyrelatives. Thisevening’sconcertfocusesonthemusic written for the Advent and Christmas seasons in this style, and represents the kind of selection which might have been enjoyed by a concertgoer then, had there been the kind of concert evenings availablethatweenjoytoday! TheonlylimitationingeneralisthefactthatthefeastofChristmas was nowhere near as important in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as it is today, and thus the amount of music composed for it was not particularly great, no more than for many other feasts, and of course far less than was made for the Easter season.

This evening’s program features two of the great Bach cantatas, plus other important Advent and Christmas music from the German Baroque, including a Telemann cantata which was falsely attributed to Sebastian Bach when the Bach-Gesellschaft edition was compiled in the 19th century, as well as a little genuine Telemann, and an interesting work by Johann Ludwig Bach, a cousin of Sebastian, who held his work in high esteem.

Nun komm der Heiden Heiland is a Lutheran hymn dating from the year 1524 which is the number one hymn of the liturgical year in Lutheran hymnals. Bach wrote this version (another setting is Cantata 61) for his second year in Leipzig in 1724, a period of intense creativity when Bach created a great number of weekly cantata settings for his new position at the Thomaskirche. It was given its first performance on the third of December of that year, the first Sunday of Advent being the only time in Advent when music was allowed in church in Leipzig. Later performances include 1736, when a violone (bass) part was added, after the Thomasschule had purchased an instrument at auction the year before.

Telemann composed his cantata Das ist je gewisslich wahr around 1720, and it is now catalogued as TWV 1:183. However, it gained renown for a while as “Bach’s Cantata 141” due to an incorrect attribution by the editors of the Bach-Gesellschaft, despite a copy in the hand of Johann Balthasar Koenig from 1723 which attributes the work to Telemann. The erroneous attribution persisted in some publications until rather recently, although the Bach-Gesellschaft moved it to the Appendix list of spurious works in the 1990’s. The point here is that the work, which is worth hearing, could have been mistaken for Bach to begin with – Telemann, after all, was a very prominent and talented composer who won the competition for General Music Director of the city of Hamburg in which Bach finished third.

Johann Ludwig Bach was a cousin of Johann Sebastian, whose work, while interesting in its own right, was apparently preserved primarily because of the connection. Indeed, one of his works was thought to be by Sebastian and was assigned a BWV number – just like our Telemann cantata! Born near Eisenach in 1677, Johann Ludwig spent most of his career in Meiningen, where he rose to the position of Kapellmeister. His son Samuel Anton was a student at Leipzig University alongside Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, and indeed studied music with Sebastian Bach himself. It is thus likely that Johann Sebastian and Johann Ludwig knew one another all their lives, having grown up together in the Eisenach area. The eleven known motets of Johann Ludwig come down to us from manuscripts in the possession of Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia, which probably stem from those made by Johann Sebastian for his own performances of his cousin’s works.

Telemann’s cantata Uns ist ein Kind geboren is indeed authentic, and shows Telemann in a folk music mode, especially in the first movement which we perform this evening. He wrote the work for Christmas in 1720, during the period when he was director of music in the city of Frankfurt. It is thought that the folk nature of the work dates from his time as Kapellmeister to Count Erdmann von Promnitz at his residence at Pless in Upper Silesia, and in Cracow, about whose “truly barbaric beauty” he was still talking about in his autobiography published in 1740.

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme has been one of the most renowned of the Bach cantatas since the works began to be performed again in the nineteenth century. The magnificent opening choral prelude, with trios of strings and oboes in opposition, to say nothing of the eleven (!) independent voices working together with apparent effortlessness, has pleased audiences with its brilliance at every hearing. The two trios between the “bridegroom” (Christ that comes) and “bride” (the wise virgins who have awaited Him) are a magnificent pair – one with violin, and one with oboe, one longing for fulfillment and the other enjoying it. The second chorale prelude at the center of the work with the cantus firmus in the tenor features one of Bach’s most memorable violin lines in decoration. The origin of this marvelous Advent music is the accident of the church calendar which made for a 27th Sunday after Trinity exactly once in Bach’s life, in 1731. This provided an extra week’s grace before the silence of Advent, which Bach exploited in this memorable work.