Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano

 

uncommon intelligence, imagination and textual awareness...
PDme

 

 

Bach Cantata Notes

BWV 130

Originally composed for the feast of St. Michael and all the Angels, Bach's libretto for BWV 130 seems to be written to appeal to children, even introducing somewhat arbitrarily two favorite Old Testament stories, Daniel in the lion's den and Elijah's chariot of fire. For all of its grandeur, the cantata has a childlike quality, and the transition from the bombast of the bass aria with trumpets and drums to the section of the cantata about angels watching over us is wonderfully like turning the page of a child's book at story time.

The chorale Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir is the tune known in English-speaking countries as the Doxology. It is an irregular tune in only four phrases. Unlike the Magnificat melody, for instance, it is thoroughly tonal and needs no special adjustments to be the backbone of a large chorus movement. Its very brevity, however, does make for a short movement. The trumpet parts in this as well as the later aria with bass are very complicated however. When we compare parts such as these with the parts written for cantatas in Weimar we realize how much more accomplished Bach's Leipzig players were. Here the trumpets and drums are just as active as the oboes and the three groups, brass and drums, oboes, and strings are treated as equal choirs. The actual musical material is quite minimal, brass fanfares that are echoed by arpeggios in the strings, and most ingeniously a two note falling figure that is reversed and played twice as fast by the strings and winds This figure is always played fauxbourdon style to give the movement great harmonic richness without any actual chromaticism. A secco alto recitative leads into the wonderfully thunderous bass aria with trumpets, timpani and continuo. The long, and one must add, extremely difficult trumpet melismas clearly represent the wagging of the dragon's tail.

The recitative for soprano and tenor with strings has a wide-eyed quality that is tremendously appealing. The close harmony between the voices enriched by the strings is most captivating. The following tenor aria about the cherubim is a charming Gavotte with flute. We have hardly seen any movement in this Leipzig era in such a purely gallant style. Bach would later explore this style with interesting results. Here it is an isolated but beautiful incident. The easygoing melismas on the word "schar" against the flute figuration are but a few of the felicities of this lovely piece. A four-voice harmonization of the opening chorale with appropriate trumpet and drum fanfares at the cadences closes this brief cantata.

©Craig Smith

 


The feast of St. Michael and all of the Angels is celebrated on September 29 and in 1724 fell between the 16th and 17th Sundays after Trinity. All of Bach's Michaelmass pieces call for trumpets and drums as well as the usual complement of strings and winds. The epistle for the day is the story of the war in heaven between Michael and the dragon as recorded in Revelation. The Gospel, from Matthew, advises that we must become as children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. The holiday has always been a favorite of children, what with its battle between Michael and the serpent. Bach's libretto is clearly written to appeal to children, even introducing somewhat arbitrarily two favorite Old Testament stories, Daniel in the Lion's den and Elijah's chariot of fire.

For all of its grandeur, the cantata has a childlike quality, and the transition from the bombast of the bass aria with trumpets and drums to the section of the cantata about angels watching over us is wonderfully like turning the page of a child's book at storytime. The choral, "Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir," is the tune known in English-speaking countries as the Doxology. It is an irregular tune in only four phrases. Unlike the Magnificat melody, for instance, it is thoroughly tonal and needs no special adjustments to be the backbone of a large chorus movement. Its very brevity, however does make for a short movement. The trumpet parts in this as well as the later aria with bass are very complicated however. When we compare parts such as these with the parts written for cantatas in Weimar we realize how much more accomplished Bach's Leipzig players were. Here the trumpets and drums are just as active as the oboes and the three groups, brass and drums, oboes, and strings are treated as equal choirs. The actual musical material is quite minimal, brass fanfares that are echoed by arpeggios in the strings, and most ingeniously a two note falling figure that is reversed and played twice as fast by the strings and winds This figure is always played faux bordon style to give the movement great harmonic richness without any actual chromaticism.

An alto secco recitative leads into the wonderfully thunderous bass aria with trumpets, tympani and continuo. The long, and one must add, extremely difficult trumpet melismas clearly represent the wagging of the dragon's tail. The recitative for soprano and tenor with strings has a wide-eyed quality that is tremendously appealing. The close harmony between the voices enriched by the strings is most captivating. The following tenor aria about the cherubim is a charming Gavotte with flute. We have hardly seen any movement in this Leipzig era in such a purely gallant style. Bach would later explore this style with interesting results. Here it is an isolated but beautiful incident. The easygoing melismas on the word "schar" aginst the flute figuration are but a few of the felicities of this lovely piece. A four-voice harmonization of the opening chorale with appropriate trumpet and drum fanfares at the cadences closes this brief cantata.

©Craig Smith