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The Brilliance of Bach's Cantata 51

Angel with Trumpet in Stained Glass, Saint Nicolas Church of La Ferté-Milon
Pierre Poschadel
/
Wikimedia Commons
Angel with Trumpet in Stained Glass, Saint Nicolas Church of La Ferté-Milon

On The Bach Hour, soprano Malin Hartelius and trumpeter Niklas Eklund are the soloists in a work marked by virtuosity, deep soulfulness, and ravishing exuberance.

On the program:

Lute Suite No. 4, BWV 1006a - David Russell, guitar

Cantata BWV 51 Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! (translation) - Malin Hartelius, soprano;  Niklas Eklund, trumpet;  English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

Canons on the Ground from the Goldberg Variations, BWV 1087 - Anderson & Roe Piano Duo

Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 - Alina Ibragimova, violin; Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen, conductor

TRANSCRIPT:
 
[MUSIC]

In the middle of Bach’s Cantata No. 51 there’s a deeply emotional intimacy. But in a way it’s hidden, overshadowed by a couple of spectacular bookends.

[MUSIC]

You’ll hear both the flash and the intimacy of the Cantata No. 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, coming up on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC]

Hello, I'm Brian McCreath, and welcome to The Bach Hour from WCRB, a part of WGBH.

The Cantata No. 51 is one of the very few of Bach’s cantatas that can be called truly popular in the broadest sense. It’s also a piece that very likely held a special place among the cantatas for the composer himself, and for very personal reasons. You’ll more about that in a bit, and in the meantime, if you’d like a translation of the text for the Cantata 51, you’ll find it by visiting us online at Classical WCRB dot org, where this and past programs are available on-demand. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.

First, though, here is guitarist David Russell, with Bach’s Lute Suite No. 4, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 1006a]

If that music sounded familiar to you, you may have heard it at some point in its original form, as the Partita No. 3 for solo violin. After writing that piece, Bach transcribed it for the lute, which was the basis for this performance by Scottish guitarist David Russell.

There’s an odd dichotomy when it comes to the roughly 200 surviving sacred cantatas by Bach. On the one hand, these pieces were so clearly central to Bach’s work and identity as a composer, and they represent, as a body, one of the supreme achievements of any composer. But they’re also among his least known pieces, modern audiences being much more familiar with the orchestral suites and concertos.

But the Cantata No. 51 is an exception. Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, or “Exult with God in every land,” is both an immensely popular work and one that embodies all the musical and theological significance as the other, lesser known pieces.

It was probably written in 1729, for a private performance, with a virtuosic part for a solo soprano and an equally virtuosic solo trumpet part. That lineup is unique in Bach’s music and probably reflects his admiration of Italian cantatas of the baroque, like those of Alessandro Scarlatti.

As the piece begins it’s off to the races, with an exuberant trumpet line, to set up words from the soloist: “Exult in God in every land! Whatever creatures are contained by heaven and earth must raise up this praise…”

[MUSIC]

But that burst of thanks changes dramatically for the second movement, a prayerful recitative that sets up one of Bach’s most beautifully intimate arias, on the words, “Highest, renew Your goodness every morning from now on.”

[MUSIC]

It’s a sweet introspection of the sort you don’t want to end. But, of course, it does, and Bach brings us out of it gently, with a short, grounding, chorale-based movement, before launching back into exuberance for a last movement with a one-word text: Alleluia.

You can find a complete translation of this piece by visiting us online at Classical WCRB dot org.

Here is a performance of the Cantata No. 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, with soprano Malin Hartelius and trumpeter Niklas Eklund. The English Baroque Soloists are directed by John Eliot Gardiner, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 51]

It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that J.S. Bach had more than a theological affection for his Cantata No. 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, or “Exult with God in every land.” His young wife, Anna Magdalena, was by all accounts a fine soprano, and her father had been a trumpeter. It was also the case that one of Bach’s most reliably brilliant musicians in Leipzig was the trumpeter Gottfried Reiche, who almost surely was the original soloist in the Cantata 51. So the combination of soprano and trumpet may have held a bit of extra meaning for the composer, especially for a work of joy, intimacy, and praise.

This performance of the Cantata No. 51 featured a couple of Swedes in the solo roles. Malin Hartelius was the soprano, and Niklas Eklund played the trumpet, with the English Baroque Soloists, in a concert performance in Bremen, Germany, during the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage of conductor John Eliot Gardiner.

Hearing a piece like the Cantata 51 gives us a picture of Bach as a religious person, but also one who new a thing or two about creating musical beauty. And sometimes the path to that beauty came through a brilliant sense of math. That’s what’s behind these Canons, performed by the duo Anderson and Roe, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 1087]

A set of Canons built on the same musical DNA as Bach’s Goldberg Variations, performed here by the duo Anderson and Roe.

Alina Ibragimova was born deep in the heartland of Russia. She later moved to the UK, where she’s based now, and where she teamed up with the ensemble Arcangelo for a recording in 2015. With director Jonathan Cohen, here is Alina Ibragimova with Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 1055]

That’s Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor. Alina Ibragimova was the soloist, with the ensemble Arcangelo and director Jonathan Cohen.

Remember, if you’d like to hear this program again 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.