BACH 746

The Complete Sinfonias
from Bach's Cantatas

The Berlin Bach Orchestra
Hans Pflugbeil, conductor

Total playing time 79 minutes


Click linked movements
for music samples.

1:   BWV 4 - Christ lag in Todesbanden
2:   BWV 12 - Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
3:   BWV 18 - Gleich wie der Regen und Schnee
4:   BWV 21 - Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis
5:   BWV 29 - Wir danken dir Gott
6:   BWV 31 - Der Himmel lacht, die Erde jubilieret
7:   BWV 35 - Geist und Seele wird verwirret
8:   BWV 42 - Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats
9:   BWV 52 - Falsche Welt, dir trau' ich nicht
10: BWV 75 - Die Elenden sollen essen
11: BWV 76 - Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes
12: BWV 142 - Uns ist ein Kind geboren
13: BWV 146 - Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal
14: BWV 150 - Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich
15: BWV 152 - Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn
16: BWV 156 - Ich steh' mit einem Fuss im Grabe
17: BWV 174 - Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte
18: BWV 182 - Himmelskönig, sei willkommen
19: BWV 196 - Der Herr denket an uns
20: BWV 249 - Kommt, eilet und laufet

The story of Bach's cantatas begins with his first employment at the age of 18, in August of 1703, when he was appointed organist to the New Church in Arnstadt having recently dazzled the congregation with his brilliant performance at the dedication of their new organ. While his duties as organist did not require the composition of cantatas, Bach nevertheless produced some of his earliest choral works at this time, including Cantata 150, and the Easter Cantata 4. Also significant during his Arnstadt years is the celebrated story of his unauthorized 3-4 month absence in 1705 to hear the famous organist-composer Buxtehude in Lübeck; Bach's earliest cantatas owe a considerable debt to the inspiration and musical formats of Buxtehude.

Moving to Mühlhausen in July 1707, he produced the Wedding Cantata 196. He remained there only a year, after which he accepted a two-fold position as member of the chamber orchestra and as organist to the Ducal Court at Weimar. At least 20 cantatas can be established with reasonable certainty as dating from this period, including Cantata 182, the Christmas Cantata 142, Cantatas 12, 18, 21, and the Easter Cantata 31.

Bach's next move was to the small Court of Anhalt-Cöthen, where he took up the position of Capellmeister. The Court was Calvinist, so there was no church music at Cöthen; however, Bach would compose much instrumental music, some of which was destined to be used in later compositions including Cantata Sinfonias. The Sinfonia from Cantata 29, for example, is derived from the Partita for Solo Violin, BWV 1006; the two Sinfonias from Cantata 35, opening Part 1 and Part 2 of this lengthy cantata, are both presumed to derive from a lost Violin Concerto, which Bach later (1730s?) adapted as a Harpsichord Concerto of which only a fragment remains. The Sinfonia from Cantata 52 is drawn from the First Brandenburg Concerto, while the Sinfonia from Cantata 174 (Leipzig 1729) is an adaptation of the first movement of the third Brandenburg Concerto with the addition of 2 horns and 3 oboes. The Sinfonias from Cantata 146 and Cantata 156 were both drawn from lost violin concertos, later adapted as Harpsichord Concertos in the 1730s (BWV 1052 and 1056 respectively).

When Bach took over the St.Thomas cantorate in the spring of 1723 as the leading musician of the leading cantorate in Protestant Germany, he achieved at long last the opportunity to realize one of his artistic aspirations: "the ultimate goal of a regulated church music." His first offering, on May 30, 1723, was Cantata 75, closely followed by Cantata 76, of which the Sinfonia to Part 2 of this work would later appear as a Trio Sonata for pedal-harpsichord or organ.

Why Bach should include a Sinfonia in his cantatas is not clear, since it has no religious significance, though Sinfonia would certainly not be out of place. An incentive might perhaps be a visiting musician of standing – a celebrated oboist for example, might be invited to perform as soloist in the Sunday Cantata, with a specially written (or adapted!) Sinfonia featuring a solo oboe part. In 1730 an alteration to the organ in the Thomaskirche allowed the Ruckpositiv to be played spearately, allowing Bach the opportunity to conduct from the organ. This might have given rise to the two "organ showcase" Sinfonias to Cantata 29 and Cantata 146.

This present assembly of Bach's Cantata Sinfonias brings to the listener not fortunate enough to possess the complete cantatas a wealth of instrumental richness which might otherwise never be encountered. The variety and freedom of form, and the wealth of instrumentation make for compelling listening from start to finish.

The front cover illustration to our booklet shows "singers and instrumentalists gathered around a harpsichord during a cantata rehearsal"; though dated 1775, the scene would not have changed in the forty or so years since Bach's days at Leipzig. Bach's rehearsals would have taken place in the large room on the second floor of the Thomas School building which adjoined the Thomas Church as was home to the St Thomas School and Choir – the Thomanerchor.

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