Bach Cantata BWV165 – 11 June

The Choir of St James’

Amy Moore – Soprano Soloist
Brooke Shelley – Soprano
Nyssa Milligan – Alto Soloist
Pip Dracakis – Alto
Owen Elsley – Tenor Soloist
Luke Iredale – Tenor
Phil Murray – Bass Soloist
Lincoln Law – Bass


 Julia Fredersdorff – Violin 1
Meg Cohen – Violin 2
Nicole Forsyth – Viola
Anita Gluyas – Cello
Jackie Hansen – Bassoon
Alistair Nelson – Organ

Directed by
Warren Trevelyan-Jones

Cantata 170611_3sml

This cantata was composed in 1715 while Bach was ‘Kapellmeister’ or ‘concertmaster’ at the Weimar court, and first performed on Trinity Sunday, 16 June 1715. It was probably also performed in 1724, during Bach’s posting in Leipzig. BWV 165 comes from Bach’s second group of Cantatas, written for performance by a select group of court employees, possibly only one to a part, for a small chapel. It uses the Trinity Sunday themes of water and the Holy Spirit – to be born again through Baptism and the Eucharist – and some very clever compositional devices to put forth these ideas.

Bach had been commissioned, as part of his court position, to write one cantata a month for the court chapel in the palace, the Schlosskirche. He was aiming to write a complete cycle of cantatas for the church year within four years. The court chapel was small, and the singers who performed there were the core of the musicians employed by the court – probably seven singers, three leaders (including Bach, who often wrote the violin solo movements for himself), and five other instrumentalists who often played combinations of instruments – sometimes unrelated – to cover all the symbolic and orchestration possibilities for Bach. Additional musicians were sometimes brought in from the local military band (very related to local practice here in St James’, by the early 19th century, where the regimental bandsmen provided the ‘Gallery Band’ for services prior to any organ in the church), and also singers and musicians from the local school and town. Bach led the cantatas himself, from the violin.

The text of many of the Weimar cantata arias was written by Salmo Franck, the court poet, and the chorale text for this particular cantata from Ludwig Hembold’s hymn Nun lasst uns Gott dem Herren (1575) – which revolves around baptism and the Eucharist.

Salmo’s imaginative text matches Bach’s symbolism through melodic figures, metre harmony and the very particularly setting of the text. The baroque era was one of preaching (or arguing) through the formal structures of rhetoric – both in music and in words. For the illiterate, or even literate ‘upper orders’ court congregations of the 17th and 18th centuries, this must have deepened the experience to have the message more than twice, in music, words and the combination of the two in Bach’s cantatas.

The cantata is in six movements, and moves from G major in the first soprano ‘aria’ or concerto (which, using the rhetorical ‘doctrine of the affections’ could mean faithful love – quite an earthly love, probably man towards God, in Bach’s compositions), through related minors of C minor (lament and longing) and A minor (tenderness) in the bass recitative and alto aria, and B minor (divine fate, or submission to God) again in the bass recitative, back to a resounding G Major in the tenor aria – about the insights of ‘death’s death’ through baptism – and chorale.

The probable tuning (or temperament) of the Weimar court organ, and resultant key colours when the musicians tuned strings or reeds to it, pointed out all these ‘affections’ with G major sounding open and glowing, and more remote minor keys such as B minor dark, mysterious and ‘submissive’.    [Nicole Forsyth, 2017]

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