Bach, on the Legendary Altenburg Organ
On The Bach Hour, John Eliot Gardiner leads the imposing and, ultimately, exuberant Cantata No. 146, anchored by an organ the composer himself considered one of the best of his time and place.
On the program:
Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582 - Gerhard Weinberger, organ (1739 Trost organ at the Schlosskirche, Altenburg, Germany)
Cantata BWV 146 Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen (translation) - Brigitte Geller, soprano; William Towers, alto; Mark Padmore, tenor; Julian Clarkson, bass; Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
The music you’re hearing was born as a violin concerto. And J.S. Bach knew a good thing when he had it. Years later, he recast the solo part for a pipe organ.
In this new guise, the music introduces the Cantata No. 146, injecting the piece from the very outset with a drive and a darkness that symbolizes the turmoil of life itself.
The imposing, and – ultimately – joyful Cantata 146 is coming up on The Bach Hour.
Hello, and welcome to The Bach Hour; I’m Brian McCreath. Bach’s genius comes through in his music in all sorts of ways. In that opening of the Cantata 146, Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen, or “We must enter the Kingdom of God through much tribulation,” he takes the DNA of one collection of notes and brings a whole new meaning to it. And that’s just the beginning of this remarkable work. A translation of the Cantata 146 is available at our web site, Classical W C R B dot org, where you can also hear this program again on-demand. Again, that’s at Classical W C R B dot org.
The Cantata 146 draws on the strength and color of Bach’s favorite instrument, the organ. And the performance of the cantata you’ll hear later utilizes an amazing instrument at the Schlosskirche, or Castle Church, in Altenburg, Germany. It’s a 1739 organ built by Heinrich Gottfried Trost. Bach himself was one of the very first to play the instrument after it was built.
Here is piece that gives you the full range of what this organ has to offer, not the least of which is its 32-foot bass stop. This is the Passacaglia in C minor, performed by Gerhard Weinberger, here on The Bach Hour.
[MUSIC – BWV 582]
Organist Gerhard Weinberger with J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor, performed at the Castle Church in Altenburg, Germany, an organ Bach himself played when it was dedicated in 1739.
Coming up, the same instrument sets an ominous tone in Bach’s Cantata No. 146.
Welcome back to The Bach Hour; I’m Brian McCreath.
The thematic material upon which Bach based his cantatas was the sometimes contradictory, double-edged nature of Bible readings and the Lutheran theology drawn from those readings.
For the Third Sunday after Easter, the Gospel reading that inspired Bach quotes Jesus, saying to his followers before his crucifixion, “In a little while, you won’t see me … you’ll weep and lament, but the world will rejoice … [and] your sorrow will be turned to joy.”
Bach responds to this in his Cantata No. 146 by first setting up a depiction of that weeping and lamenting by re-fashioning two movements from a concerto.
The first of these re-castings is purely instrumental and features a driving and swirling organ solo part. You might recognize it as a version of the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, a piece that comes up fairly often on concert programs and that’s actually based on an earlier work for violin that’s been lost.
The second movement of that same piece is the basis for the next movement of the cantata, but now Bach layers a quiet, pensive choral part on top of, the text translating as “We must enter the Kingdom of God through much tribulation.”
In effect, then, a piece that might have been a well-crafted work meant as simple entertainment has become a deep and vivid reflection on the daily struggles of life itself.
After that opening, the alto soloist fixes our gaze beyond a tumultuous earthly existence towards heaven. And then the soprano soloist takes us a step further into a deep, heartfelt longing for a union with the divine.
The recitative that follows is the pivot point between that longing and the sheer joy expressed by the tenor and bass in a duet on the words, “How I will rejoice, how I will delight, when all mortal sorrows are over!”
A chorale solidifies this journey from sadness to joy, and it’s one you may recognize as the basis for the Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, from the Cantata 147.
Remember, you can find a complete translation of the text for this piece by visiting us online at Classical W C R B dot org.
Here is the Cantata No. 146, Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen, or “We must enter the Kingdom of God through much tribulation.” John Eliot Gardiner leads the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, with soprano Brigitte Geller, alto William Towers, tenor Mark Padmore, and bass Julian Clarkson. Silas John Standage is the organist, playing the same instrument we heard earlier in the program at the Castle Church in Altenburg, Germany.
[MUSIC – BWV 146]
The final chorale of Bach’s Cantata No. 146, Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen, or “We must enter the Kingdom of God through much tribulation,” may sound familiar to you. It’s the same one that underpins Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” from the Cantata No. 147.
This performance of the Cantata 146 featured the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, directed by John Eliot Gardiner. Silas John Standage was the organist at the 1739 Trost organ at the Schlosskirche in Altenburg, Germany. And the vocal soloists included soprano Brigitte Geller, alto William Towers, tenor Mark Padmore, and bass Julian Clarkson.
Remember, you can hear this program anytime 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.