Bach Favorites on New Year’s Eve program

31 December, 2015 at 7:00 pm – Church of the Incarnation




Cantata 150: Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich



Ouverture #2 in B Minor for Flute and Strings


Cantata 55: Ich armer Mensch, ich Sundenknecht

Aria (Soprano): Schafe können sicher weiden (Sheep may safely graze) (Cantata 208)

Duet (Soprano, Alto): Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten (Cantata 78)

Chorale: Jesus bleibet meine Freude (Jesu, joy of man’s desiring) (Cantata 147)

The Dallas Bach Society wishes one and all a Happy and prosperous New Year!

About the Program:

This evening’s program features a variety of Johann Sebastian Bach’s works including both vocal and instrumental music. The opening piece, Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich is an early cantata which for a time was considered a dubious work. More recently it has been finally accepted as authentic, with a date of composition around 1707, making it one of the very earliest cantatas extant. There has even been speculation that the final ciaccona, resembling a work of Buxtehude’s, might mark this work as a tombeau or remembrance piece dedicated to the memory of the great North German composer Dietrich Buxtehude, organist at Lübeck, where Bach walked 200 miles to visit the great man and indeed overstayed the leave he had permission for, being so anxious to drink up every possible idea and experience from his trip.

In any event, the cantata numbered as 150 by the original Bach Gesellschaft edition published in 1884 is clearly grounded in earlier, seventeenth-century, works and has little in common with the form of the Leipzig series of cantatas from the 1720’s. There is no chorale, and indeed there is no obvious occasion in the church calendar for the work, making it in ogni tempo as is said of pieces that are good for any time. It starts with an introductory Sinfonia which was set off as a separate movement by the BG, but is really just an introduction to the first, fugal choral movement, whose downward chromatic scale is a typical Baroque statement of grief. This is followed by a number of episodic sections, each on a different phrase of the text, much in the earlier style. Unusual also, but typical of Bach, is the chorus with an upward scale on the words “Leite mich” (lead me), forming a “Leiter” (ladder) from the bass through all four parts into the two violins. There is also a trio movement featuring an obligato bassoon, again cleverly worked out, as well as the aforementioned chaconne, a final plea to God to help us keep striving.

The Ouverture #2 for Flute and Strings is the second of four pieces ofter referred to as Bach’s Orchestral Suites, but which Bach himself called Ouvertüren. This is truly a better description, as a Baroque suite is normally composed of an Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue, with extra “optional” dances like minuets and gavottes, and possibly a prelude of some sort. Indeed, in his harpsichord Partitas, which were published as a kind of “Last Word” on the Suite form, Bach includes just about every possible “optional” dance and prelude, along with the variations on the allemande, courante, etc. as they were to be found in his day. Nowhere, however, does the basic underlying structure of Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue go away, even though he is consciously exploring every possible variant of the form.

The answer is to be found precisely in the Baroque Overture form! Opera (and oratorio) overtures were more than just the two-part form consisting of a slower introduction, often with dotted rhythms giving rise to the “French Overture” definition, and the faster, usually fugal second section. Sometimes this was the extent of the Overture, but a quick glance at Handel’s opera overtures, for instance, reveals many examples of extra, seemingly random, dance movements added in, perhaps to allow more patrons to find their seats. In Il Pastor Fido, for instance, there is a rondeau in concerto grosso form with double reed concertino, followed by a bourrée. The record for extra movements is held by the overture to Rodrigo, where the usual slow-fast overture movement is succeeded by a gigue, a sarabande, matelot, menuet, bourrée, a second bourrée, a second minuet, and finally a passacaglia. Only then does the opera get underway!

This is the form Bach is imitating with his collection of seemingly unconnected movements following the overture movement. Again, there is no allemande or courante, so no traditional suite, but Bach provides a typical collection for this kind of overture, with a pair of rather unusual movements in the polonaise and the badinerie, a kind of gossipy conversation. The featured flute has several extended solos, although sometimes it simply joins the string group, providing an unusual and pleasing timbre.

Cantata 55 is for a solo tenor, although it does have a chorale at the end. It was written in 1726 for Trinity Time, in which period Bach wrote cantatas featuring all four solo voices in the six available cantata “slots”. It is also interesting that all of the other Bach cantatas for solo tenor have in the end turned out not to be by Bach – these include Cantata 160, which turns out to be by Telemann, Cantata 189, by Melchior Hoffmann, as well as Cantata 53 also by Hoffmann. Our cantata consists of two arias and two recitatives, plus the chorus finale; the flute plays an important part in both, with an especially virtuosic obligato line in the second aria. The text once again speaks of a man who is a “slave to sin” and must find his way, imploring God’s mercy.

Our finale this evening consists of three famous vocal works, which will surely be familiar to all, and with which we bid farewell to a fruitful year 2015, with hopes and prayers that 2016 will be similarly blessed.