0 Emmanuel Music - Bach Cantata BWV 84 - Program Notes

Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano

 

uncommon intelligence, imagination and textual awareness...
PDme

 

 

Bach Cantata Notes

BWV 84

BWV 84 was composed for Septuagesima Sunday. The 17-day period beginning on Septuagesima Sunday was intended to be observed as a preparation for the season of Lent. Septuagesima Sunday also marks the traditional start of Mardi Gras. The readings for Septuagesima, 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5 (our life is like a race and only one receives the prize) and Matthew 20:1-6 (the laborers in the vineyard) are just the kind of ideas that drove Karl Marx crazy. If ever there were passages that make Christianity the “opiate of the people” it is these words that support being happy with your place in life. Bach’s text here certainly toes the party line and yet in tone is more complex, even loveable.

The most striking thing about the opening aria of our cantata, one of three sacred cantatas for soprano, is its delicate, even reserved finish and elegance. A quick reading of the text could bring to mind a certain smugness. Bach has an enormous arsenal of characters; smug is not one of them. Rather the delicate dotted rhythms and the glistening, transparent orchestral texture create a magical world beyond human aggression and greed. Altogether, this is one of the most surprising text settings in all of Bach.

The recitative that follows is so skillfully laid out that the reactionary and unpleasant tone of its philosophy is underplayed. The childlike faith is again brought to the fore.
Saxony, where Bach spent his whole life, isn’t very far from the Alpine countries, so that it’s not surprising to find yodeling effects in Bach’s vocal works. The little whoop that happens on the word “weniges” is one of the many felicities of the second aria in the cantata. Written as a modified trio sonata with solo violin and oboe accompanying the soprano, the work has a delightful energy and spirited delivery that are in contrast to the muted tone of the first aria.

The second recitative immediately takes us back to the minor modes supported by sustained string chords. The image of consuming one’s spare allotment of bread continues. The main thrust of the recitative, however, is that of a prayer for God to grant to us that which is appropriate. The final phrase----I shall require nothing more----is musically terse and abrupt. There is, it seems, no more to be said.

The first four notes of the opening phrase of the final chorale, transposed into the major mode, were used to form the beginning of the violin and oboe melody from the second aria. The echo remains, therefore, of those joys of sharing and acceptance. However, the minor mode reminds us not of a spontaneous outpouring of bliss, but rather contented resignation.

© Craig Smith, with Ryan Turner


The readings for Septaugesima are just the kind of ideas that drove Karl Marx crazy. If ever there were passages that make Christianity the “opiate of the people” it is these words that support being happy with your place in life. Bach’s text here certainly toes the party line and yet in tone is more complex, even loveable.

The most striking thing about the opening aria of our cantata, one of three sacred cantatas for soprano. Is its delicate, even reserved finish and elegance. A quick reading of the text could bring to mind a certain smugness. Bach has an enormous arsenal of characters; smug is not one of them. Rather the delicate dotted rhythms and the glistening, transparent orchestral texture create a magical world beyond human aggression and greed. Altogether, this is one of the most surprising text settings in all of Bach.

The recitative that follows is so skillfully laid out that the reactionary and unpleasant tone of its philosophy is underplayed. The childlike faith is again brought to the fore.

Saxony, where Bach spent his whole life, isn’t very far from the Alpine countries, so that it’s not surprising to find yodeling effects in Bach’s vocal works. The little whoop that happens on the word “weniges” is one of the many felicities of the second aria in the cantata. Written as a modified trio sonata with solo violin and oboe accompanying the soprano, the work has a delightful energy and spirited delivery that are in contrast to the muted tone of the first aria. The cantata ends with a beautiful harmonization of the chorale “Wer weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende.”

©Craig Smith