BACH 736

Cantatas 198 (Trauerode),
54 and 106 (Actus Tragicus)

Hermann SCHERCHEN conducting
the Vienna Academy Choir
and State Opera Orchestra

1: CANTATA 198: Trauer Ode for the Funeral of Queen Christiane Eberhardine of Poland/Saxony, performed at a special Memorial Service in the University Paulinerkirche, Leipzig, October 17th, 1727
CHORUS: Lass, Fürstin / Soprano Recit / Soprano Aria / Alto Recit / Alto Aria / Tenor Recit / CHORUS / Tenor Aria / Bass Recit / CHORUS: Doch, Königin! Du stirbest nicht.
Magda Laszlo, Soprano / Hilde Roessel-Majdan, Alto / Waldemar Kmentt, Tenor / Alfred Poell, Bass

2: CANTATA 54: Widerstehe doch der Sünde
Resist sin or its poison will take you - Weimar pre-1714
Alto ARIA: Widerstehe doch der Sünde / Alto Recit / Alto Aria
Hilde Roessel-Majdan, Alto

3: CANTATA 106: "Actus Tragicus" - Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit
God's Time is the Best Time - Arnstadt 1707-8.
Instrumental SONATINA / CHORUS: Gottes Zeit / Alto & Bass DUET / CHORUS: Glorie, Lob, Ehr' und Herrlichkeit
Hilde Roessel-Majdan, Alto / Alfred Poell, Bass

Total Time 78:26

Of all Bach's great Cantatas, the composition and performance of the Trauerode was probably the most significant to the composer, the performers and the citizens of Leipzig.

In 1697, Friedrich August, Elector of Saxony, assumed the Polish crown, a move requiring him to adopt the Catholic faith. Despite the Elector's, and Saxony's solid Lutheran Protestant background, this was no problem for the opportunist Friedrich August who readily acceded despite a storm of public protest. His wife, Queen Christiane Eberhardine however, positively refused to renounce her Protestant faith. She went into self-exile in Pretzsch Castle on the Elbe where she remained until her death on September 5th, 1727. Her death was deeply mourned in strongly-Lutheran Saxony, and it was felt in Leipzig that some special memorial was required. Hans von Kirchbach, a nobleman student at the University of Leipzig, proposed a memorial service in the Paulinerkirche (University Church) during which he would deliver a valedictory address. Von Kirchbach commissioned Johann Christoph Gottsched to write verses for a Mourning Ode, and Bach to set these verses to music.

The scoring of this work is extraordinary. A large and expressive grouping of instruments is used, including the usual complement of violins, violas, two flutes, two oboes and the usual continuo bass and harpsichord, together with a pair of those sweetly sorrowful instruments the oboes d'amore, two violas da gamba and two lutes. This pairing of so many highly contrasted and richly colored instruments is remarkable for Bach's time and must have occasioned considerable amazement and satisfaction, quite aside from the gratifying musical sound. The multiplicity of instruments also indicates the readiness, if not insistence, on the part of every capable musician in the city, to participate.

A great catafalque bearing the Queen's emblems stood in the center of the crowded church, and the service began with the ringing of all the bells of the city. The Service was attended by all the civic, and many visiting dignitaries and diplomats, together with as many citizens who could get in.

Hermann Scherchen gives his performance all the gravity and solemnity it requires, and any listener following the text can hardly fail to be moved by the outpouring of loyalty on the death of Leipzig's beloved queen.

MUSIC SAMPLES
Opening Chorus: Lass Fürstin
Look back oh Princess, and see the wealth of tears we shed at thy Memorial
Central Chorus: An dir du Vorbild grosser Frauen
In thee, thou model of great women
Closing Chorus: Doch, Königin
No Royal Queen! Thou shallt not die!

For more information, illustrations and full text see
"Trauerode" at BaroqueMusic.org.

We follow this with Cantata 54 in which we are given a strict, almost Bible-thumping injunction to resist temptation, a text which Bach accompanies with suitable dissonances and diminished chords. In this particular recording, the legendary alto Hilde Roessel-Majdan gives the key recitative with such feeling and clarity that its message cannot possibly be lost! "Die Art verruchter Sünden ist zwar von außen wunderschön; Allein man muß hernach mit Kummer und Verdruß viel Ungemach empfinden. Von außen ist sie Gold; Doch, will man weiter gehn, So zeigt sich nur ein leerer Schatten und übertünchtes Grab." The array of despicable sins is indeed from outside very attractive; but they bring only sorrow and frustration and much hardship. From outside Sin is gold, but when you explore more deeply it is but an empty shadow, a whited sepulchre.
The concluding movement demonstrates a preference Bach was to retain throughout his cantata-writing: important messages were given fugal treatment. "Wer Sünde tut, der ist vom Teufel, Denn dieser hat sie aufgebracht." He who commits sins, he is of the Devil, for it is the Devil who has created them.

We end with yet another of Bach's finest cantatas, the Actus Tragicus, a Funeral Cantata with the message that "God's time is the best time". The text contrasts the Old Testament fear of death with the New Testament joy in death. As usual with Bach, it is the latter which triumphs. The opening Sonatina sets the mood of peace and tranquility which pervades the whole work. The Duet is particularly beautiful. The bass has the text: "Heute, heute wirst du mit mir in Paradies sein" Today thou shallt be with Me in Paradise,while the alto sings the chorale "Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin" With peace and joy I journey there.

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