1 DVD - 5 420270 006250 - (c) 2001

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Glorius Bach!

Opening 1' 27"
- Cantata "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland", BWV 61 16' 10"
- Cantata "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147
32' 25"
- Magnificat in D major, BWV 243 28' 48"
Credits 2' 50"
Christine Schäfer, soprano
Anna Korondi, soprano (BWV 243)

Bernarda Fink, alto (BWV 147, 243)

Ian Bostridge, tenor
Christopher Maltman, baritone

Arnold Schoenberg Chor / Erwin Ortner, Chorus Master

Concentus Musicus Wien

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Conductor
Luogo e data di registrazione
Benedectine Monastery, Melk (Austria) - 2000
Registrazione live / studio
Producer / Engineer
Michael Heinzl
Edizione DVD
TDK - 5 420270 006250 - (1 dvd) - 82' 00" - (c) 2001 | ORF / RM Associates (c) 2000

The programme of this concert is dedicated to the works which Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for the Advent. The first work, the cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 61, was first perfermed on the first Sunday of Advent (in this case, 2 December) in 1714. Bach, then in the service of the Court of Weimar, was appointed Kappelmeister to the Court that year and his duties included the composition, every four weeks, of a cantata for the court church. Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is one of these works and is performed fairly frequently as a striking example of Bach's early compositional style.
The unusual feature in this cantata is the elaborate use of "musical rhetoric". This compositional technique, which lends the music concrete "meaning", was common in the baroque period. As Nikolaus Harnoncourt often points out, set meanings were attached to certain configurations of notes or pitch classes, which were almost to be understood as a sort of language. For example a continuous figure written in the form of a zigzag meant the Holy Cross. Operatic arias contained pre-determined "emotions" as can be seen in stylised numbers like the "revenge aria" or "jealousy aria" and composers vied with each other over their skills by refining this rhetoric.
In the case of Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland Bach used this technique in relation to the birth of Jesus. The first section in the cantata is an Overture taken from the tradition of the French opera. The Overture, which is characterised by its dotted rhythm and maestoso marking in 4/4 or 2/2, was played in France as the king entered the royal box in the theatre. With Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland Bach compares the arrival of Jesus or his entry into Jerusalem with the entry of the king and sets it against the glorioys form of the Overture.
Similar parallels can also be found in, for example, the bass recitative (No. 4). Here, the "knocking" which appears in the text and is meant to symbolise opening the door of the house or the hearts of the faithful is depicted with organ and strings (playing pizzicato). Here, the composer sets the words "klopfe an" with a broad downward figure marked to be played staccato. The elaborate setting to music of visual and acoustic elements is based on the symbolic way of thinking associated with the baroque which took for granted a wide degree of skill in the use of musical "vocabulary" which it interpreted through musical figures. Bach was a true master of this type of composition and his own day was considered a "scholarly musician".
The content of the following two pieces, originally written for Advent or Christmas, deals with Mary's conception. Bach reworked them later for the thematically related Mary's Visitation when the Virgin, as she awaits the birth of Jesus, is blessed by St. Elisabeth. The cantata Herz und Mund und Tat un Leben BWV 147 is one of the best-known of Bach's church cantatas, not least because of the chorale Jesus bleibet meine Freude, which was later arranged for keyboard and various othe instruments. The first performance took place on 2 July 1723 immediately after Bach took over his duties as Cantor at St. Thomas's in Leipzig.
The first version of the cantata (BWV 147a), the music for which was partly lost, dates from 1716. Bach intended it for the fourth Sunday in Advent (in this case, 20 December). The total length of the piece was shorter here, as the composer favoured the somewhat outdated form without the inclusion of recitatives. When re-working it, however, he added recitatives and switched the order of the chorales. This produced a work which, with a total of ten numbers in two parts, is one of the largest of Bach's church cantatas.
Here, as already mentioned, the focus is on Mary's blessing by Elisabeth (Luke I, 39-56). A feature of this is that the recitatives do not repeat the words of Mary or Elisabeth, but describe the story of the Visitation as a narrative. This makes is thoroughly didactis and theological which in turn distinguishes it from the operatic and dramatic style of the Passions which are oratorios. The work thus has a lyrical quality, expressing joy at the forthcoming birth of the Saviour and love for the infant Jesus.
The theme of the Magnificat BWV 243 is also that of Mary's conception and the adoration of Jesus. The work, which Bach had originally composed for Christmas 1723, was rewritten ten years later - just like the cantata Herz un Mund und Tat und Leben - for the Visitation of the Virgin. That was the year Bach and his family moved from Cöthen to Leipzig, where he took up his post as Cantor at St. Thomas's at the end of May. With its splendid festive music, Bach intended to do justice to his first major assignment after taking up his new position there.
At that time, the Magnificat (Hymn of praise to Mary) was sung separately from the main order of service at evening prayer. The Lutheran translation was normally sung in the evangelical church, although, in Leipzig, on major Feasts, the Latin version was often used, which is why Bach's Magnificat is set to the Latin text. Nonetheless, the first version (BWV 243a) contains two German chorales which sing in joyful praise of the birth of Christ. These and the other two Latin chorales were probably intended for the Christmas concert performance of the Magnificat, although scholars have found no proof of this.
In the second version of 1733 Bach transposed everything down a semitone from E flat to D major. This change is due to the use of trumpets which are thrown into higher relief as a result. Also, recorders were replaced by transverse flutes and oboes d'amore were added for the first time. Today, when we speak of Bach's Magnificat, we think mainly in terms of this second version. Its formal ending is actually superior to the first, although, in recent times, the first version is being increasingly performed. It impresses us with the unusual twists in its harmony and its instrumental colours.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016)
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