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Bach's Weimar Cantatas

Bach's Weimar Cantatas

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 22, 2005):
Peter Bloemendaal had asked about the gaps in Bach's cantata output during his Weimar years and whether some cantatas were lost or why no cantatas were required in certain months.

There are no easy answers here and very few speculations by Bach experts on this matter. It might be best to speculate on the basis of what is known today:

1713 BWV 21a (?)
1714 BWV 182, BWV 12, BWV 172, 21b, 199a, BWV 61, BWV 63 (?), BWV 152
1715 BWV 18 (?), BWV 54, BWV 31, BWV 165, BWV 185, BWV 163, BWV 132
1716 BWV 155, BWV 80a, BWV 161, BWV 162, BWV 70a, 186a, 147a

[1713 BWV 21a 3rd Sunday after Trinity (Wolff gives 1713 and 1714 in two separate sources dating from the same time 1995 (the 1713 date) and 1999 (the 1714 date)]

1714 BWV 182 Palm Sunday/Annunciation
BWV 12 3rd Sunday after Easter (Jubilate)
BWV 172 Whitsunday
BWV 21b 3rd Sunday after Trinity
BWV 199a 11th Sunday after Trinity
BWV 61 1st Sunday of Advent
BWV 63 Christmas Day
BWV 152 Sunday after Christmas

1715 BWV 18 Sexagesima (Dürr states that it could have been a year earlier)
BWV 54 3rd Sunday in Lent (Oculi) (Dürr dates BWV 54 as 1714)
BWV 31 Easter Sunday
BWV 165 Trinity Sunday
BWV 185 4th Sunday after Trinity
BWV 163 23rd Sunday after Trinity
BWV 132 4th Sunday of Advent

1716 BWV 155 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
BWV 80a 3rd Sunday in Lent (Oculi) (Dürr dates BWV 80a as 1715)
BWV 161 16th Sunday after Trinity
BWV 162 20th Sunday after Trinity
BWV 70a 2nd Sunday of Advent
BWV 186a 3rd Sunday of Advent
BWV 147a 4th Sunday of Advent

Possibly also from the Weimar Period:

Deest "Was ist, das wir Leben nennen" Music lost Funeral music

Cantata for the Organist Audition in Halle (1713) (this could however also be BWV 21, but Dürr thinks this could be BWV 63)

BWV Anh. I 209 "Liebster Gott, vergißt du mich" 7th Sunday after Trinity

Part VI of BWV 248 (WO) is substantially derived from a missing sacred cantata. Could this cantata have been from Bach's Weimar period? Dürr, however, thinks that this missing cantata was not that old, having been composed not long before it was taken up into the WO.

BWV Anh. I 191 "Leb ich oder leb ich nicht" possibly composed for May 19, 1715 (Dürr) Music lost.

Konrad Küster's redating of some of the Weimar cantatas to place them into the period in Weimar from the time Bach was called to Weimar (1708) until he assumed his official duties as "Concertmeister" (1714) with the requirement that he compose cantatas more regularly (once a month):

Possible 1st performances:
BWV 196 c. 1709 (?)
BWV 18 before 1714 (?)
BWV 199a before 1714 (?)
BWV 54 before 1714 (?)
BWV 143 before 1714 (?)

Bach's 1st 3 cantatas after his appointment as "Concertmeister" in Weimar in 1714:
Actual 1st performances:
BWV 182 Palm Sunday March 25, 1714
BWV 12 Jubilate April 22, 1714
BWV 172 1st Day of Pentecost May 20, 1714

The cantatas between the summer of 1714 and Easter 1715:
BWV 21a Occasion unknown June 17, 1714 (?)
BWV 61 1st of Advent December 2, 1714
BWV 152 Sunday after Christmas December 30, 1714
BWV 31 1st Day of Easter April 21, 1715

The cantatas from Trinity Sunday 1715 until the Fall of 1716 (smaller ensembles):
BWV 165 Trinity Sunday June 16, 1715
BWV 185 4th Sunday after Trinity July 14, 1715
BWV 163 23rd Sunday after Trinity November 24, 1715
BWV 132 4th Sunday of Advent December 22, 1715
BWV 155 2nd Sunday after Epiphany January 19, 1716
BWV 80a Oculi March 15, 1716
BWV 161 16th Sunday after Trinity September 27, 1716
BWV 162 20th Sunday after Trinity October 25, 1716

The cantatas from December 1716:
BWV 70a 2nd Sunday of Advent December 6, 1716
BWV 186a 3rd Sunday of Advent December 13, 1716
BWV 147a 4th Sunday of Advent December 20, 1716
BWV 63 1st Day of Christmas 1716 (?)

At this point Küster develops a theory loosely connecting Bach's feverish cantata-composing activity and the death of Johann Samuel Drese on December 1, 1716. The death of Drese, the prominent Kapellmeister in the Weimar region, caused a vacancy that was eventually filled by his son. Was Bach applying pressure on the authorities after Christmas 1716 by not composing any more cantatas for Weimar after he had proven himself worthy of presenting a new cantata each week? Did he realize that he was being overlooked in regard to a post that he might have sought? Did composing all those cantatas in one month (a feat which he would continue in Leipzig for a few years) make him wonder if all the effort (changing from composing one cantata a month to one a week) was worth it if he was not adequately compensated or not promised a more influential position in the future? Was he hoping to combine his own position as "Concertmeister" with that of the "Capellmeister" who had just died? And the questions go on an on.

Peter Bloemendaalwrote (February 26, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Peter Bloemendaal had asked about the gaps in Bach's cantata output during his Weimar years and whether some cantatas were lost or why no cantatas were required in certain months.
There are no easy answers here and very few speculations by Bach experts on this matter. >
You are right. The questions remain. We know for what occassions Bach did compose his Weimar cantatas, but the problem why there are such prolonged gaps, especially in the second half of 1715 and in the middle of 1716 is still unsolved. I assume Bach could draw from lyrics by Salomo Franck and Erdmann Neumeister for the appropriate occasions. Didn't they inspire him or are his cantatas missing? I find Küster's theory about the connection between Bach's proliferous output December 1716 and Johann Samuel Drese's death on the first of that same month very plausible. In May 1716 Bach had received a raise in salary. He was to be paid the income of a Capellmeister, equal to that of Drese Senior and Junior. It is very likely that now the elder had died Bach also wanted the position by proving his worth once more by writing a cantata a week. It must have been a great disappointment to him that his achievements were not appreciated accordingly. It may have another reason for his moving to Cöthen a year later.


Missing Weimar Cantatas

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (February 28, 2005):
In Volume 1 of Christoph Wolff and Ton Koopman's "The World of the Bach Cantatas" there is an interesting chapter, called "Stages in Bach's Life and Work", dealing with the period 1703-1723, in which Bach worked successively in Arnstadt, Mühlhausen, Weimar and Köthen. Andreas Glöckner, who has published about Bach's Weimar and Köthen years, informs us that after Easter 1715 Bach already seemed to have lost much of his initial enthusiasm for composing a monthly cantata. He minimized the dimensions and the instrumentation. The role of the choir is reduced to a simple chorale movement at the end of the cantata. This may be due to certain restrictions the reigning duke imposed on his court organist and concert master. Fact is, that on August 1st 1715 Prince Johann Ernst von Sachsen Weimar died at the age of 18, and consequently on August 11th the "gänzlich Landestrauer" ("total national mourning") was proclaimed for the entire principality of Weimar. All musical and theatrical performances were forbidden, even of church cantatas. Not until November 10th music could be heard again in churches and the cantata performances in the palace chapel were resumed, in turns by the concert master Bach, the Kapellmeister Drese sr. and his assistant Drese jr. So composing monthly cantatas were not necessary for at least half a year. General mourning was only lifted on February 2nd 1716 and two months later, there was even still an obituary service in the palace church for the deceased prince. His death was also a great loss to Bach because of the professional musical talents and interests of the young prince, who had the court's music library extended with loads of copies of recent music. He had acquired them in Amsterdam on his grand tour to the Low Countries, thus providing Bach with the latest Italian music by Antonio Vivaldi, Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello, Giuseppe Torelli and others, as well as the latest keyboard transcriptions of Italian concerts. In this commemorative service, a two-part lamenting cantata for 22 voices was performed, of which only the text has survived. It is presumed that It was composed by Bach on words of Salomo Franck.

On December 1st 1716 Kapellmeister Drese died. Bach wanted his position badly, but did not even make it to the final selection. Not even his creative outburst at the departure of Drese sr. made enough impression on those who were to take the decision. Bach was so disappointed that his quill dried up. When the job was finally given to Drese Jr. in August 1717, Bach had long given up composing cantatas and was looking for another position.


Early Weimar cantatas [BeginnersBach]

Jack Botelho wrote (November 6, 2005):
"The arias as well as the introductory instrumental movements of BWV 182 and BWV 12 afforded Bach his first sustained opportunity to explore in depth the innovations of the newer Italian operatic style and the Vivaldian concerto; the majority of the movements unfold according to the principles of ritornello form with its clearly delineated phrasing and harmonic structure. Within this framework Bach achieves a seemingly inexhaustible richness of variety and invention."

- Joshua Rifkin, excerpt from notes of cd release
Three Weimar Cantatas BWV 182, BWV 12, BWV 172
Dorian Recordings DOR-93231

From the above informed statement, Bach's cantatas rest on Italian foundations which Bach absorbed during his tenure as organist and concertmaster at the Catholic court of Saxe-Weimar. Later at Leipzig, Bach would turn these forms to promote his own native Christian Lutheranism.

Steven Foss wrote (November 6, 2005):
[To Jack Botelho] He later would use these same forms rewritten in Parody Mass fashion in his Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) (in reference to the Lutheran Cantatas).

"In the 1730s, when he may have been toying with the idea of expanding the initial Kyrie-Gloria Mass, Bach studied and performed Palestrina's Missa sine nomine, which he then copied with revisions, and Antonio Lotti's Misse sapientiae. Other works with direct bearing on the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) include an unnamed Mass in F major by Giovanni Battista Bassani, to which Bach added a setting of Credo in unum Deum (BWV 1081) and Antonio Caldara's Magnificat, the Suscepit Israel portion of which forms the basis for Bach's contrapuntal study BWV 1082."

More sources of Bach's Italian influence.

Jack Botelho wrote (November 10, 2005):
[To Steven Foss] I have read that Bach also set G.B. Pergolesi's 'Stabat Mater' as a German hymn. It would be interesting to inquire as to how many and/or which re-workings by Bach are in his own hand and if any attribute the original composer.

I understand that such inquiry may be offensive to some, that the question "Why ask such questions with regard to authenticity if it is fairly clear at this time, for the most part, the corpus of compositions by Bach that are authentic" - however, it should be clear, but it may well be worth stating, that the compositions by others that Bach chose to copy or re-work are important for determining the master's influences and also to shed light on what Bach as a connoiseur considered to be compositions of worth. The idea that Bach lived in a musical vacuum and composed masterpiece after masterpiece simply of his own genius is an idea that perhaps reflects the biases of modern cultural isolationism.


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