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Il Gardellino and Bach's Story of Lost and Found

Oboist Marcel Ponseele and Il Gardellino performing
Kurt Van der Elst
Oboist Marcel Ponseele and Il Gardellino

On The Bach Hour, Marcel Ponseele leads the Belgian ensemble Il Gardellino in Bach's Cantata 154, an expression of the desperation of separation and the joy of reunion.

On the program:

Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV 654 (trans. Max Reger) - Markus Becker, piano

Cantata BWV 154 Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren (translation) - Caroline Weynants, soprano; Patrick van Goethem, countertenor; Il Gardellino, Marcel Ponseele, director

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, from Cantata BWV 147 (arr. Empire Brass) - Empire Brass; Douglas Major, organ (National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.)

Oboe Concerto in F, BWV 1053 - Il Gardellino, Marcel Ponseele, oboe and director

Sinfonia in D, BWV 1045 - Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, conductor


Brian McCreath (BM): We all forget things from time to time – keys, checkbooks, that one receipt you need to finish your taxes… And our sense of relief when we find that something is usually related to the importance of what was lost.

This music from J.S. Bach’s Cantata 154 expresses the joy and relief of recovering some of what’s most important in life after it had been lost.

Lost and found, in the Cantata 154, is coming up on The Bach Hour.

Hello, I'm Brian McCreath; welcome to The Bach Hour from 99-5 WCRB, a part of WGBH Boston. There’s only one story in the various accounts of the life of Jesus in which we see him as a child. But that one story provided plenty of inspiration for Bach as he wrote cantatas for the weeks immediately following Christmas.

Among them is the Cantata No. 154, Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren, or “My beloved Jesus is missing.” That title alone gives you a sense of the drama embedded in the cantata, and you can find a translation for that piece at Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also hear this program again on-demand. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.

Also on the program today, you’ll hear one of Bach’s concertos in a form in which we don’t usually hear it these days, but which may be the way Bach originally wrote it. It’s a reminder of Bach’s constant re-generation of musical ideas to create brand new works with their own distinct personalities.

That path has been followed by countless composers since Bach’s time, and here’s one example. This is pianist Markus Becker with Max Reger’s transcription of Bach’s Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, or “Adorn yourself, O dear soul,” here on The Bach Hour.


BM: Pianist Markus Becker, with a transcription for piano of a piece originally for organ by J.S. Bach. That was Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, or “Adorn yourself, O dear soul,” in a transcription by Max Reger.

Bach lived in a time of vibrant experimentation and development in opera. But he never wrote an opera himself. Whatever impulse he might have had in that arena was channeled into his cantatas, most of which were written for religious services. And for the services between the beginning of Advent – early December on the church calendar – and the beginning of the Trinity season in late spring, Bach’s raw material consisted of the stories of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.

There’s only one story that depicts Jesus as a boy. He’s 12 years old, and he visits Jerusalem with his parents. When it’s time to leave, his parents, Mary and Joseph, only realize once they’re travelling that Jesus isn’t with them. They return to the city only to find their boy at the temple, in deep conversation with the elders.

In his Cantata 154, Bach connects Mary and Joseph’s distress over their missing son to the feeling of an individual believer who’s lost touch with the divine. It’s an experience you hear as the piece opens with the words “My beloved Jesus is missing.”


BM: A chorale expands that anxiety to the wider community of believers, once again expressing a longing for Jesus. Finally, the bass soloist sings the words of Jesus himself: “Do you not know that I must be in that which is My Fathers?”  The response of Jesus’s parents in the story – and, by extension, the response of the believer – is one of relaxed joy and relief through the words, “What happiness, Jesus is found! Now I am troubled no longer.”


BM: If you’d like to see a translation of this piece from Boston’s Emmanuel Music, just visit us online at Classical WCRB dot org.

Here is Bach’s Cantata No. 154, with soprano Caroline Weynants, countertenor Patrick van Goethem, tenor Marcus Ullmann, and bass Lieven Termont. Marcel Ponseele directs Il Gardellino, here on The Bach Hour.


BM: The Cantata No. 154 by Bach, Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren, or “My beloved Jesus is missing.” The soloists included soprano Caroline Weynants, countertenor Patrick van Goethem, tenor Marcus Ullmann, and bass Lieven Termont. And the Belgian ensemble Il Gardellino was directed by Marcel Ponseele.

As you heard in the Cantata 154, a chorale in the middle of the piece expresses a longing for the divine on the part of the believer. But you may also have recognized that chorale as the basis of another of Bach’s works: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. Here is a luminous performance of that work, with Empire Brass and organist Douglas Major.


BM: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, a movement from Bach’s Cantata 147, and also based on a chorale you heard earlier in the Cantata 154. That performance featured Empire Brass and organist Douglas Major at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The performance of Bach’s Cantata 154 you heard earlier was directed by Marcel Ponseele, who also contributed as an oboist. Here is a performance that features Marcel Ponseele in a solo role. This is a reconstruction from what we know today as the Harpsichord Concerto in E major.


BM: Oboist Marcel Ponseele and the Belgian ensemble Il Gardellino, with a Concerto in F major by J.S. Bach. That’s a reconstruction that may represent the way Bach originally wrote the piece, one that only survives in a later version in E major for harpsichord.

And while there’s still some mystery surrounding the original form of that work, there’s quite a bit more mystery surrounding this piece, a sort of “orphan” movement that was probably part of a lost cantata. Masaaki Suzuki conducts Bach Collegium Japan, here on The Bach Hour.


BM: One of the more mysterious works in the Bach catalog, that was the sole surviving movement from a cantata by the composer, probably written early on in his career, but clearly with some pretty terrific players in mind. This set of terrific players was Bach Collegium Japan, conducted by Masaaki Suzuki.

Remember, you can hear this program again on-demand when you 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.