The discovery of music that had disappeared centuries ago is a rare and thrilling experience, as Bach scholar Christoph Wolff tells host Brian McCreath, in a Bach Hour that features such a discovery, "Alles mit Gott."
On the program:
Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr', BWV 662 (Leipzig) - Jacob Street, organ (Richards, Fowkes, & Co. organ at First Lutheran Church, Boston)
Cantata BWV 112 Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt (translation) - Katharine Fuge, soprano; William Towers, alto; Norbert Meyn, tenor; Stephen Varcoe, bass; Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
Concerto in D for three violins, BWV 1064R - Petra Müllejans, Gottfried von der Goltz, and Anne Katharina Schreiber, violins; Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn' ihn, BWV 1127 (translation) - Elin Manahan Thomas, soprano; English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiiner, conductor
Christoph Wolff (CW): When I looked at it, when I held it in my own hands, I first couldn’t trust my eyes.
CW: It’s emotionally quite charged, such a moment, and you know, these are very, very special, and extremely rare, moments in one’s life.
Brian McCreath (BM): If studying Bach’s music is your life’s work, imagine the thrill of holding music by the old master that had been neither seen nor heard in almost 300 years.
BM: Harvard University’s renowned Bach scholar Christoph Wolff had that experience in 2005…with THIS long-lost music. Christoph Wolff shares the story of this discovery – and we’ll hear the music, coming up on The Bach Hour.
BM: Hello, I’m Brian McCreath; welcome to The Bach Hour from WCRB, a part of WGBH Boston. Johann Sebastian Bach was a meticulous record-keeper, so we know quite a bit about the life he led from 1685 to 1750. But it was also 300-odd years ago, and the capriciousness of history has led to the loss of much more. For all we do know about Bach, there is much more that we do not. Christoph Wolff has been the leading scholar on Bach’s life for many years, digging through old archives and libraries, fleshing out the knowledge we can rely on to paint a picture for us of a man whose music has influenced history like no other. We have a conversation with Christoph Wolff coming up later in the hour.
Also on the program today, you’ll hear the Cantata No. 112, Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, or “The Lord is my faithful shepherd.” You’ll find a translation of the text of that piece at our web site Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also listen to this and past programs on-demand, and find more resources to make your own personal Bach discoveries. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.
The music Bach wrote for the Cantata No. 112 is partly based on a Lutheran chorale tune called Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr', or “To God alone on high be glory.” Here is one of the nine preludes Bach wrote on that chorale. Jacob Street is the organist in a live performance at First Lutheran Church in Boston.
[MUSIC – BWV 662]
“To God alone on high be glory” is the name of the chorale on which Bach based this organ prelude. And it was performed here by Jacob Street on the Richards, Fowkes, and Company organ at First Lutheran Church in the Back Bay of Boston during the church’s annual Bach birthday celebration in 2013.
That same chorale tune provided the basis for parts of the Cantata No. 112, Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, or “The Lord is my faithful shepherd.” It’s a work Bach wrote for the 2nd Sunday after Easter, linking it thematically with Psalm 23, known universally by its first words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
The shepherd in this cantata, though, is not the usual image of a calm, peaceful, fellow with a lamb in his arms. From the outset, there’s a heroic, even majestic quality to Bach’s shepherd. It starts with a horn duet that, to my ears, sounds something like the heroic music Handel wrote for Julius Caesar about five years earlier in the opera Julius Cesar.
But it’s not long before Bach asserts his own voice through a Lutheran chorale:
It’s an exhilarating opening, and brings an unexpected perspective to those words, “The Lord is my faithful shepherd, he keeps me in His protection.” A calmer voice follows in an aria for the alto that equates pure, refreshing, and restorative water with the Holy Spirit.
In the next verse the bass soloist reminds us of walking through “the valley darkness” and the trust and faith the divine inspires in the believer. Then those qualities take on a musical form in a march-like duet for the soprano and tenor that brings back that heroic sound from the opening chorus. The piece ends with a chorus built on the same chorale we heard in the organ prelude from First Lutheran Church.
Remember, you can find a complete translation of the text for this piece when you visit us online at Classical WCRB dot org.
Here is a performance of the Cantata No. 112, Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, or “The Lord is my faithful shepherd,” with soprano Katharine Fuge, alto William Towers, tenor Norbert Meyn, and bass Stephen Varcoe. They’re joined by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists and conductor John Eliot Gardiner, here on The Bach Hour.
[MUSIC – BWV 112]
A cantata written for Good Shepherd Sunday, based on Psalm 23. Bach’s Cantata No. 112, Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, or “The Lord is my faithful shepherd.” You heard it performed by soprano Katharine Fuge, alto William Towers, tenor Norbert Meyn, and bass Stephen Varcoe, along with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, and conductor John Eliot Gardiner.
Coming up, a close encounter with part of Johann Sebastian Bach’s long-lost legacy in a conversation with Harvard University’s Christoph Wolff.
You’re listening to The Bach Hour from WCRB, a part of WGBH Boston. I’m Brian McCreath.
You can find more of The Bach Hour at our website, Classical WCRB dot org. This and past programs are available for on-demand listening, and you can also dial up the Bach Channel, a 24/7, continuous stream of Bach’s music. Again, that’s all at Classical WCRB dot org.
Here is a concerto for three violins by Bach. The soloists include Gottfried von der Goltz, Petra Müllejans, and Anne Katharina Schreiber, with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.
[MUSIC - BWV 1064R]
This concerto for three violins is a reconstruction of a piece that’s been lost to history. It’s based on Bach’s later concerto for three harpsichords. The performance you heard featured violinists Gottfried von der Goltz, Petra Müllejans, and Anne Katharina Schreiber, all with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.
Sometimes it’s possible to reconstruct Bach’s music based on evidence and other source material. But there are still times, three centuries after Bach’s time, when brand new, previously unknown works by Bach turn up.
Dr. Christoph Wolff teaches at Harvard University and was for many years the director of the Bach Archive in Leipzig. He’s spent the better part of his life researching, writing about, and teaching others about Bach. He described for me one of those moments of discovery.
CW: In 2005, one of the researchers from the Bach archive came across an aria which we had no idea that existed. It was a birthday piece for Duke Vilhelm of Weimar, Bach's employer, dated 1713. It's a printed poem, and the appendix is a manuscript in Bach's own hand. You know, it's 12 stanzas of new music by Bach that we had no idea that existed. So this is perhaps the most spectacular musical find, especially since it's in Bach's own hand.
BM: What must the feeling be like, to... because you have you have looked at this manuscript in Bach's own hand, of music that was unknown until 2005. What is the feeling like when you do that?
CW: Well, it's hard to describe. I mean, I didn't find it, but I know when I looked at it, when I held it in my own hand, I first couldn't trust my eyes. But, you know, it's emotionally quite charged, such a moment. And, you know, these are very, very special and extremely rare moments in one's life.
BM: Professor Christoph Wolff, describing the feeling of encountering a newly discovered piece of music by Bach in 2005.
It wasn’t long before musicians got a chance to bring this music back to life on the concert stage, probably for the first time in around 300 years. Here is the first recording of this work, Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn’ ihn, or “All things with God, and naught without Him.” Elin Manahan Thomas is the soprano soloist, with the English Baroque Soloists and conductor John Eliot Gardiner.
[MUSIC – BWV 1127]
Three of the twelve stanzas of Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn’ ihn, or “All things with God, and naught without Him,” a work by Bach that was newly discovered in 2005. Elin Manahan Thomas was the soprano soloist, with the English Baroque Soloists and conductor John Eliot Gardiner.
Remember, you can hear this program anytime at Classical WCRB dot org.
Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to audio engineer Antonio Oliart Ros. I’m Brian McCreath, and I’ll hope to have your company again next week here on The Bach Hour.