Music Monday: Bach and the Church Year
For years now, one of my favorite sites on the internet has been the Bach Cantatas Website.
This comprehensive site covers all of J.S. Bach’s cantatas and vocal works, and many of the instrumental works as well. Here you will find: detailed discussions, texts and translations, scores, commentaries, references, music examples, and discographies. You’ll also find information about performers of Bach’s works, their biographies and discographies. You can find out about poets and composers associated with Bach, and other resources such as calendars tracking the Lutheran church year and associated cantatas and works, chorale texts and melodies, books and movies about Bach, concerts, Bach festivals and tours, etc.
Before I came to write for Internet Monk, one of the blogs I had for awhile was a site called Baching through the Church Year, in which I began the process of exploring various cantatas written by Bach for the Sundays on the annual liturgical calendar. Because of other responsibilities, I had to quit before even making it through the first annual cycle, but I hope to incorporate a weekly cantata post here on Internet Monk in 2017, as we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation’s beginning.
Yesterday was the 18th Sunday after Trinity on the Lutheran Church Calendar, a Sunday for which Bach wrote two cantatas:
- BWV 96: Herr Christ, der einige Gottessohn (“Lord Christ, the only Son of God,” words by Richard Stokes)
- BWV 169: Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (“God Alone Shall Have My Heart,” words by Richard Stokes)
I’d like to focus on the second of these cantatas today.
At the site of the Bethlehem Bach Choir, we read this summary of Gott soll allein mein Herze haben: “Cantata 169 was written in 1726 for the 18th Sunday after Trinity. It is one of only two known cantatas written by Bach for that feast day. This is one of four cantatas written by Bach for solo alto, and, according to Schulenberg, it is the last and best of the four.”
The cantata begins with a lively Sinfonia, which is one of Bach’s best known and most delightful.
An alto Arioso and Aria then expresses how she finds in God her “highest good.”
We do indeed see
here and there on the earth
a small stream of contentment
that flows from the goodness of the Highest;
but God is the source, overflowing with rivers,
from this source I derive what for eternity
can refresh me truly and sufficiently:
God alone should possess my heart.
A Recitative prepares for by the next Aria by meditating on the question, “What is the love of God?” The aria which follows, having considered God’s love, cries out that other loves may die so that she may live fully in that love.
Die in me,
you world and all your loves
so that my heart
on earth for ever and ever
may practise God’s way of love;
Die in me,
arrogance, wealth and greedy lust of the eyes,
you abject promptings of the flesh.
The next Recitative reminds us of an important aspect of what it means for God to have our hearts.
But keep in mind also
to be sincere with your neighbour!
For it is written in the scriptures:
you should love God and your neighbour.
The cantata then concludes with the choral Chorale:
You sweet love, grant us your favour,
let us feel the ardour of love
so that we may love one another from our hearts
and remain with one mind in peace.
Lord, have mercy.
• • •
Here is the version to which I will be listening this week. It is from John Eliot Gardiner’s outstanding Bach Cantata Pilgrimage series, and features alto Nathalie Stutzmann.
Soli deo gloria!