Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano

 

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Bach Cantata Notes

Ach, ich sehe, itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe,
BWV 162


The young Bach held the post of court organist at Weimar from 1708-1717.  During these nine years Bach wrote most of his organ works and approximately twenty cantatas. However, it was not until 1714 when, he was given the title of Konzertmeister by Duke Wilhelm Ernst, that he became responsible for the writing of a cantata every month.  These Weimar cantatas exhibit the influence of the Italian style and the librettos follow the operatic form where the emotional core of the cantata is an aria or duet, offset by recitative. The most important of Bach’s librettists in Weimar was the court poet Salomo Franck, who also served as head of the Mint in Weimar.

First performed in October of 1716 with a text by the aforementioned Salomo Franck, BWV 162 is based on the readings for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 22: 1-14 the parable of the marriage of the king’s son).  Franck’s libretto sets the parable as a contemporary occurrence, comparing life with a journey to a nuptial feast in which a believer going to the wedding wakes to the essence of God’s blessings, and arrays himself in the garment of faith. After this happens, the individual is filled with the joyful conviction of the next life.

Franck has a love of poetic compounds, extended metaphors and polar opposites. The opening bass aria refers to ‘Seelengift’ (poison of the soul) and ‘Lebensbrot’ (bread of life), heaven and hell, life and death, rays of heaven and fires of hell. John Eliot Gardiner observes: “This is some wedding: no wonder the last line is ‘Jesus, help me to survive!’” With its antiphonal violins initially in canon and an unusual part for a corno da tirarsi or slide trumpet -- added in the 1723 Leipzig version and played today by french horn -- Bach’s music casts a solemn tone. At the same time, the continuo imitates the feet of Christians hurrying to the wedding as the upper strings sigh restlessly. This gives way to a tenor recitative in which the marriage feast is considered a blessing of God, and which announces that the preparations for the banquet are complete.

The journey continues in the soprano aria where it is clear that an obbligato part is missing. Since the full score is no longer extant and the parts appear to be incomplete, it is impossible to say for certain for what this movement was originally scored. Today’s performance provides one of many possible solutions to the missing part by a violin obbligato. The soprano pleas to Jesus that, although unworthy, she may be admitted as a guest to the feast.  The placid mood and flowing lines of the phrase 'Brunnquell aller Gnaden' (spring of all mercies) are refreshingly depicted by the violin only to be disturbed in the agitated text of the middle section: ‘Ich bin matt, schwach und beladen’: ‘I am faint, weak and oppressed.’ However, the sixteenth note tapestry of the continuo assures us that the soul’s desire for refreshment will eventually be granted.

In the fourth movement, an alto recitative, the incident of the guest without wedding garments from the second half of the Gospel reading appears. The singer beseeches to be given the proper attire of a garment of faith.

The appeals have been heard and responded to and the celebratory duet confirms the shift from doubt to certainty. Now dressed appropriately in ‘the robe of righteousness’ the alto and tenor describe their joyful arrival at the feast with long vocal melismas and passages, now in close canon, then in parallel thirds and sixths, and animated leaps in the striding continuo line. The final chorale is a simple dignified expression of personal fulfilment. It foresees ‘unending joy’ as the words of the chorale now change from the opening aria text ‘Ah! I see’ to ‘Ah! I have already seen.’

© Ryan Turner