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Light and Hope in Bach's Cantata No. 1

Montreal Baroque
Montreal Baroque

On the program:

French Suite No. 6 in E, BWV 817 (arr. Feldmann) - Klaus and Rainer Feldmann, guitars

Cantata BWV 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (translation) - Monika Mauch, soprano; Matthew White, countertenor; Charles Daniels, tenor; Stephan MacLeod, bass; Montreal Baroque, Eric Milnes, conductor

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G, BWV 1048 - Dunedin Consort, John Butt, director


The world of J.S. Bach’s cantatas is one of great challenges.  They confront with honesty and directness the inner struggles we all face in our daily lives, naturally leading to some intensely emotional experiences.  But sometimes life brings us light and hope, setting aside those times of wrestling with difficulty. 

Light, hope, and joy, in Bach’s Cantata No. 1 is coming up on The Bach Hour.

Hello, I’m Brian McCreath.  Welcome to The Bach Hour, from WCRB, a part of WGBH Boston.  The Cantata No. 1, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, or “How Brightly Shines the Morning Star,” was among the first of Bach’s cantatas to gain a popularity beyond musicologists, and you can find a translation of it from Boston’s Emmanuel Music when you visit us online at Classical W C R B dot org, where you can also hear this program on-demand.  Again, that’s at Classical W C R B dot org.

Hope for the future is at the heart of the Cantata No. 1.  And we can imagine the kind of hope Bach felt when Anna Magdalena Wilcke became his second wife in 1721.  Here is one of the pieces Bach included in a notebook of music for his new wife.  This is the French Suite No. 6, performed on guitars by Klaus and Rainer Feldman, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC - BWV 817]

That’s the French Suite No. 6 by Bach, performed by two brothers, guitarists Klaus and Rainer Feldman.

Coming up, the arrival of good news comes through in the Cantata No. 1.  You’re listening to The Bach Hour, from WCRB, online at Classical W C R B dot org.


Welcome back to The Bach Hour, from WCRB.  I’m Brian McCreath. 

Our web site, Classical W C R B dot org, is a rich resource for exploring Bach’s music.  Not only can you hear this and past episodes of The Bach Hour on-demand, you can also hear the Bach Channel, a 24/7 stream of Bach’s music.  And you’ll also find links, videos, and interviews to deepen your experience of Bach and the musicians who perform his music.  Again, that’s at Classical W C R B dot org.

There are very few experiences in life as joyful as the discovery of an impending birth.  It’s that euphoric hopefulness that lies at the core of Bach’s Cantata No. 1, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, or “How Brightly Shines the Morning Star.”  But this instance of hope embodied in a new life has implications beyond the baby’s immediate family.  The mother in question is Mary, and the baby is Jesus.  The Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated on March 25th, nine months before Christmas, commemorates the story from the Gospel of Luke in which the angel visits Mary to give her the news that she’ll give birth to Jesus. 

The hopeful tone is evident from the very start, as a hymn tune provides the basis for a choral fantasy, reflecting the brightness of the work’s title and text. 


Solos for soprano, tenor, and bass soloists echo and reinforce the thankfulness and praise for the divine of that opening chorus, ending with a chorale text that translates as, “Come, you lovely crown of joy, do not delay, I await you with longing.

Here is a performance of Bach’s Cantata No. 1, with soprano Monika Mauch, counter tenor Matthew White, tenor Charles Daniels, and bass Stephan MacLeod.  Eric Milnes conducts Montreal Baroque, here on The Bach Hour.


The Cantata No. 1 by Bach, in a performance by Montreal Baroque and conductor Eric Milnes.  The soloists, who also made up the chorus, included soprano Monika Mauch, counter tenor Matthew White, tenor Charles Daniels, and bass Stephan MacLeod.

If a spiritual hope is what the Cantata No. 1 expresses, a more earthly hope led to the music you’re about to hear.  In the midst of reconstituting his domestic life by marrying Anna Magdalena in 1721, leading to the French Suite you heard earlier, Bach also assembled a collection of pieces for the Margrave of Brandenburg as a sort of musical resume in the hope of securing a new position.  Here is part of that collection, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, performed by the Scottish musicians of the Dunedin Consort and their director, John Butt, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC - BWV 1048]

We’ve probably all sent off a job application that seemed to go into a black hole, with no response.  That was the case for Bach and his Brandenburg Concertos, which were meant to impress the Margrave of Brandenburg enough to secure a new position.  Nothing came of it for the composer, and he may never have heard the pieces performed.  But the music itself remains brilliant, as you heard in the Third of the Brandenburg Concertos, performed by the Dunedin Consort and director John Butt.

Remember, you can hear this program again on-demand when you visit our web site, Classical W C R B 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 next week, on The Bach Hour.