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The "Light of Joy" in Bach's Cantata 184

Pentecost at St. Joseph Chapel, Milan, by Carlo Urbino
Wikimedia Commons
Pentecost at St. Joseph Chapel, Milan, by Carlo Urbino

On The Bach Hour, Masaaki Suzuki leads Bach Collegium Japan in a short but critical chapter in the long narrative told by the composer through a series of works, and Alina Ibragimova performs the Violin Concerto in E.

On the program:

Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp minor, BWV 849, from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier (arr. Peter Lawrence) - German Brass

Cantata BWV 184 Erwünschtes Freudenlicht (translation) - Yukari Nonoshita, soprano; Mutsumi Hatano, alto; Gerd Tuerk, tenor; Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, conductor

Fantasia in G, BWV 572 - Masaaki Suzuki, organ (Schnitger/Hinz organ in the Martinikerk, Groningen, The Netherlands)

Violin Concerto in E, BWV 1042 - Alina Ibragimova, violin; Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen, conductor



Brian McCreath: One of history’s great “what ifs” is, “What if Bach had written an opera?” There are lots of reasons he never did. But, in a way, he didn’t have to. Dramatic storytelling through music was already built into his job.


The Cantata No. 184 plays a small but critical role in the long arc of the story Bach told in music every year. That piece, a celebration of the “Light of Joy,” is coming up on The Bach Hour.


Hello, I'm Brian McCreath; welcome to The Bach Hour from Classical Radio Boston WCRB, a part of WGBH. Great stories give us characters who, after the action, conflict, maybe a bit of suspense, are somehow changed. And through his Cantata 184, Erwünschtes Freudenlicht, or “Desired light of joy,” Bach takes us to one of those moments in the stories that underpin the Christian faith. And whatever your own faith background, the musical expression of that moment is the equal of any opera. You’ll find a translation of the Cantata 184, from Boston’s Emmanuel Music, when you visit us online at Classical WCRB dot org, where you can hear this program again on demand. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.

Also on the program today is a violin concerto with Alina Ibragimova. But first, from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier, here is the Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp minor, transcribed for and performed by German Brass, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 849]

From a double brass quintet consisting of players from orchestras and conservatories around Germany, that was the Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp minor, from the first book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, performed by German Brass.

Bach - unlike, say, Telemann and Handel - never wrote an opera. But he nevertheless conveyed story and emotion through the cantatas he wrote for weekly services in Leipzig. For half the year - roughly early December through late May - he told, essentially, one story in several chapters: that of the life of Jesus. The final chapter is Pentecost, when, after the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, the Holy Spirit descends to inhabit each of the disciples. Those characters, and, by extension, the believers who heard Bach’s music when it was new, were transformed.

For the Tuesday after Pentecost, Bach expressed that transformation through the Cantata No. 184, Erwünschtes Freudenlicht, or “Desired light of joy.” It’s a short piece, based on an earlier work, as a sort of epilogue to that six-month narrative. A tenor soloist describes that “light of joy” as the dawn of a new covenant with God, one that includes Jesus as a Shepherd to “blissful flock.”

That’s answered by a duet for soprano and alto, who sing, “Scorn the temptation of the flattering earth, so your pleasure can be complete!”, with a flute accompaniment that reinforces that vision of light.


The tenor soloist returns, singing that even sinners are welcome into that flock and that when they join, they’ll be filled with happiness and blessing, amounting to a, quote, “Golden time.”


A chorale prays for a peaceful end to earthly life, and a final chorus, written as a dance called a gavotte, lets go of the idea of Jesus as a physical actuality, thanking the divine for, quote, “Your holy word.”


It’s a sentiment that propels the believer forward into a life that internalizes the story that’s been told since before Christmas.

Remember, you can find a translation of the text for this piece at our website, Classical WCRB dot org.

Here is Bach’s Cantata No. 184, with soprano Yukari Nonoshita, alto Mutsumi Hatano, and tenor Gerd Türk, along with Bach Collegium Japan and conductor Masaaki Suzuki, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 184]

The Cantata No. 184, Erwünschtes Freudenlicht, or “Desired light of joy,” in a performance by Bach Collegium Japan and conductor Masaaki Suzuki. The soloists included soprano Yukari Nonoshita, alto Mutsumi Hatano, and tenor Gerd Türk.

Masaaki Suzuki has built an international reputation - with the ensemble we just heard in the Cantata 184 - as one of the great Bach interpreters of our time.

And in 2015, he channeled that interpretive voice into a recording of works for his first instrument, the pipe organ. From that collection, here is Bach’s Fantasia in G major. Masaaki Suzuki is the organist, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 572]

The Fantasia in G major, or, as Bach entitled it, the Piece d’orgue. Masaaki Suzuki was the soloist at the Schnitger Hinz organ - an instrument with a history that goes back to the 1600’s - at Martin’s Church in the Dutch city of Groningen.

In our collective imagination, it’s probably the case that we picture Bach as an organist when he wasn’t writing music or directing his ensembles. But his first instrument was the violin, and his knowledge and skill with that instrument led to the creation of a series of concertos. Here is one of them. Alina Ibragimova is the soloist with the British ensemble Arcangelo, led by Jonathan Cohen, in Bach’s Violin Concerto in E, here in The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 1042]

The Violin Concerto in E major by Bach, with soloist Alina Ibragimova and Arcangelo, directed by Jonathan Cohen.

Remember, if you’d like to hear this program on demand, just visit us online 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.