The Confident Swagger of Bach's Cantata 105
On The Bach Hour, Ton Koopman leads Amsterdam Baroque in a work that broke new ground for the composer, expressing a path from “anxious conscience” to an embrace of self-assurance.
On the program:
Concerto for two harpsichords in D minor, BWV 1062 - Raphael Alpermann and Jörg Andreas Bötticher, harpsichords; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Stephan Mai, director
Cantata BWV 105 "Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht" (translation) - Lisa Larsson, soprano; Elisabeth von Magnus, alto; Gerd Turk, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass; Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Chorus, Ton Koopman, conductor
Concerto in C, BWV 1055 (arr. Colm Carey) - Alison Balsom, trumpet; Colm Carey, organ (Marcussen organ at Tonbridge School in Kent, England)
There’s a confident swagger about this music from J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 105…
It’s like a victorious march, bringing you along on the way to a better place. That sense of confidence is especially amplified after you hear what comes before it.
Coming up, you’ll hear the entire Cantata 105, here on The Bach Hour.
Welcome; I’m Brian McCreath, bringing you The Bach Hour, from 99-5 WCRB, a part of WGBH Boston. Bach’s Cantata 105, Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht, or “Lord, do not pass judgment on Your servant,” paints a vibrant musical picture of both fear and certainty, and you can find a translation of the text for it at Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also revisit this program on demand. Again that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.
In the early 1730’s, Bach wrote a concerto in D minor for two violins, probably meant for the weekly Collegium Musicum concerts at Gottfried Zimmermann’s coffee house in Leipzig. About 8 years later, he re-fashioned the piece as a concerto for two harpsichords. That’s the version we’ll hear in this performance by the Academy for Ancient Music Berlin. The harpsichord soloists are Jörg-Andreas Bötticher and Raphael Alpermann, directed by Stephen Mai, here on The Bach Hour.
[MUSIC – BWV 1062]
That’s a concerto in D minor for two harpsichords by Bach featuring soloists Jörg-Andreas Bötticher and Raphael Alpermann, along with the Academy for Ancient Music Berlin, all directed by Stephan Mai.
In 1723, a major change in Bach’s life uncorked an explosion of creativity. He moved to Leipzig to become the Cantor of the St. Thomas Church and School, and as part of that position, he set about writing a new cantata for each day on the Lutheran Church Calendar. And along the way, he experimented and challenged himself, finding new ways to express the dynamics of his faith.
The Cantata No. 105, Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht, or “Lord, do not pass judgment on Your servant,” is one of those pieces.
The length alone of the opening chorus is the first evidence that Bach is trying new things. For one thing, it’s more than twice as long as the longest cantata chorus Bach had written up to that point.
More importantly, Bach fuses the vocal and instrumental lines in a way that he hadn’t tried before, leading to a more seamless sonic print. It leads to a heightened emotional experience as the chorus sings, “Lord, do not pass judgment…” because the flow is more like the internal experience of emotion.
Then an aria for the soprano that shows us another evolution in Bach’s work. The words translate as “How the thoughts of the sinner tremble and waver.”
But listen to the poetry of the same passage in German: “Wie zittern und wanken Der Sünder Gedanken”
That poetry inspired Bach to create music that vividly expresses the “tremble and waver.” Here’s how he did it:
First, he leaves out any hint of a standard bass line that would form a grounding or foundation under the ensemble.
Then, he layers a pulsing string line for the “tremble” and a tentative, perennially searching, overlapping, and “wavering” melody in the oboe and vocal soloist:
The result captures the believer’s “anxious conscience.” And for Bach, it marks a new level of creativity in writing a musically direct expression of a text.
The end of that aria is the turning point in this cantata, with the bass entering to reassure the believer that “when your hour of death strikes … your Savior opens the eternal courts for you.”
And that brings us to a confident, firmly grounded aria for the tenor, rejecting earthly things and embracing the divine.
The final chorale brings back the anxious, pulsing strings of the soprano aria, but now, as the chorale progresses towards its end, that pulse very gradually slows, shifting bit by bit from an anxious tremble into the sound and rhythm of Bach’s bedrock Lutheran chorale language.
Remember, you can find a translation of the text for this cantata at our web site, Classical WCRB dot org.
Here is the Cantata No. 105, with soprano Lisa Larsson, alto Elisabeth von Magnus, tenor Gerd Türk, and bass Klaus Mertens. They’re joined by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Chorus, and conductor Ton Koopman.
[MUSIC – BWV 105]
The final chorale of J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 105 is a microcosm of the rest of the piece. The unsettledness of the string accompaniment is gradually transformed into calm as the chorus sings a Lutheran chorale tune, symbolizing the strength of faith over doubt.
You just heard a performance of the Cantata No. 105 by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Chorus, directed by Ton Koopman. The soloists included soprano Lisa Larsson, alto Elisabeth von Magnus, tenor Gerd Türk, and bass Klaus Mertens.
Now let’s return to Bach’s concertos and a performance that pulls off what Bach himself did with the concerto you heard earlier. Just as he re-wrote a work for two violins, organist Colm Carey has taken what we usually know as the Keyboard Concerto No. 4 and arranged it as a feature for his instrument with solo trumpet. Here is Carey with trumpeter Alison Balsom.
[MUSIC – BWV 1055]
Trumpeter Alison Balsom and organist Colm Carey, playing the Marcussen organ at Tonbridge School in Kent, England. That was Carey’s arrangement of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 4.
Remember, you can hear this program and past episodes of The Bach Hour online when you visit us 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 on The Bach Hour.