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Bach's Music for New Beginnings

 Zacharias Hildebrandt organ at Störmthal, Germany
Martin Geisler
German Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons
Hildebrandt organ at Stoermthal

On The Bach Hour, Masaaki Suzuki conducts a joyfully expressive work written for the dedication of a pipe organ in a small German village, and William Porter performs on that very instrument.

On the program:

Fantasy in C, BWV 570, and Fugue in C, BWV 946 - William Porter, organ (Zacharias Hildebrandt instrument at Störmthal, Germany)

Cantata BWV 194 Höchsterwuenschtes Freudenfest (translation) - Yukari Nonoshita, soprano;  Makoto Sakurada, tenor;  Jochen Kupfer, bass;  Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, conductor

Chorale Preludes: Erstanden ist der heilige Christ, BWV 628, and Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten, BWV 642 - William Porter, organ


When you think about it, celebrating a new beginning through music can take different forms. You might want a dignified sound that honors those who sacrificed time, talents, and resources to achieve something that was previously only a dream …


And when that dream results in something tangible, something you can experience as a new reality, another aspect of celebration enters the scene: exhilaration.


This cantata was written by J.S. Bach for the celebration of a new pipe organ. And it also launched something else: a collaboration that would last decades and result in some of the finest musical instruments ever created.

Bach’s Cantata No. 194 is coming up on The Bach Hour.


Hello, and welcome to The Bach Hour from WCRB, a part of WGBH. I’m Brian McCreath. Music in Bach’s time held an incredibly important role in people’s lives, maybe even more so that in our own day. And for the small village of Störmthal in Germany, about 9 miles south of Leipzig, the new Zacharias Hildebrandt organ installed in 1723 in the newly renovated local church meant an expansion of music as a regular part of the villagers’ lives. The dedication of the instrument was a community celebration, and Bach’s Cantata 194, Hoechsterwuenschtes Freudenfest, or “Most highly desired festival of joy,” provided part of the soundtrack for the day. It’s a piece that’s coming up on this program, and you’ll find a translation of it at our web site, Classical WCRB dot org. That’s where you can also hear this program and others on-demand, and learn much more about Bach. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.

That November day in 1723 also marked a new beginning for Zacharias Hildebrandt himself. He was a young man, just starting out in the craft business of organ building, and he had apprenticed with one of the best: Gottfried Silbermann. The organ he constructed for the church in Störmthal was the first of over a dozen he built in Germany, and it’s a relatively modest instrument, with only one manual and 14 stops. And here’s how it sounds. Performing a Fantasy and Fugue in C major by Bach, this is William Porter at the Hildebrandt organ in Störmthal, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 570, 946]

A Fantasy and a Fugue by Bach, both in C major, and performed by William Porter at the Zacharias Hildebrandt instrument in Störmthal, Germany. This first instrument was built by Hildebrandt in 1723, and for its dedication, J.S. Bach travelled from Leipzig to inspect and play it. Bach was clearly impressed, based both on documents of the time and on the fact that he continued to consult with Hildebrandt on other organ commissions. And several years later, Hildebrandt moved to Leipzig to be the caretaker of the organs Bach himself used at the St. Thomas Church.

In 1723, six months after he took up the position in Leipzig that would define his life and career more than any other, J.S. Bach was invited to visit Störmthal, just south of the city, to dedicate the newly renovated village church and the new organ Zacharias Hildebrandt had built for it. It seems certain that Bach gave a solo performance on the instrument, but what he played has been lost to history. What we do know is that he also wrote a celebratory sacred cantata for the occasion, basing it on a secular work he had written earlier.

Hoechsterwuenschtes Freudenfest, or “Most highly desired festival of joy,” is a large-scale piece in two parts. And given its generally festive tone of praise to the divine, Bach also used the piece several times over the following years in celebrations of Trinity Sunday in Leipzig.

What’s really intriguing about the piece is the way the arias mirror the kind of dance pieces you’d find in an orchestral suite. It opens in the style of a French overture, with a dignified first section,


that transitions to a faster middle part.


The bass soloist sings a movement in the form of a gentle, lilting pastorale,


and the soprano aria that follows is constructed in the spirited dual-pulse model of a gavotte.


A chorale brings Part 1 of the cantata to a close, after which the audience in Störmthal would have heard the pastor’s sermon. And as Part 2 begins, Bach picks up with thost dance forms again, first with the triple time feel of a gigue,


… and, perhaps most symbolically of all, a duet between the soprano and bass soloists that expresses the blessing of God upon the house - or sanctuary - an image that would have had resonance not only for the consecration of the church, but also on Trinity Sunday, all expressed through a graceful minuet.

It’s tempting to think that, with all of those different dance forms and Bach’s own propensity for re-casting his own music, we might be hearing echoes of a lost fifth orchestral suite. It’s possible, but while there’s no hard evidence for that idea, we can at least be certain that this piece represents the continued interplay in Bach’s own mind between sacred and secular music.

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. 194, Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest, or “Much Longed-For Joyous Feast,” in a performance with soprano soloist Yukari Nonoshita, tenor Makoto Sakurada, and bass Jochen Kupfer. Masaaki Suzuki conducts Bach Collegium Japan, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 194]

When this piece was performed for the first time, it was in the village of Störmthal, just south of Leipzig. J.S. Bach had travelled there with the choir from St. Thomas Church, and his own wife, Anna Magdalena, sang the soprano solos in the piece. This performance of the Cantata No. 194, Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest, or “Much Longed-For Joyous Feast,” was given by Bach Collegium Japan, with soprano soloist Yukari Nonoshita, tenor Makoto Sakurada, and bass Jochen Kupfer, all conducted by Masaaki Suzuki.

And let’s return to that small church in Germany, with the modestly beautiful, small Zacharias Hildebrandt organ that so impressed Bach himself. Once again, this is William Porter, with Bach’s prelude on the chorale “Who only lets dear God rule,” here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC - BWV 642]

Recorded on the Hildebrandt instrument in Störmthal, Germany, William Porter was the organist in Bach’s prelude on the chorale “Who only lets dear God rule.”

Remember, you can hear this program again and much more at our web site, 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.