Tiny Bach Concerts Episode 14: Remarks by Ruben Valenzuela and performance by Bach Collegium San Diego
Hello, my name is Ruben Valenzuela and I am the Artistic Director of Bach Collegium San Diego. Today’s episode features the ensemble performing two extraordinary movements taken from the Bach cantatas: the Sinfonia of BWV 42 and the opening chorus which Bach labels as “concerto” of BWV 179. Cantata 42, from which the Sinfonia is extracted, was written for the first Sunday after Easter, April 8, 1725, and forms part of Bach’s second cantata cycle as Cantor of Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church. This extended Sinfonia is filled with an infectious exuberance and stands out as an absolute gem among the other sinfonias and concerto-like movements that appear in the cantatas.
Being written for the first Sunday after Easter, perhaps Bach was aiming to continue the musical feast into the season of Easter. It is quite possible that this Sinfonia formed part of an earlier work, perhaps a concerto for two oboes, bassoon, and strings. We really don’t know. The movement does not feature any particular solo instrument, but rather is more in keeping with the concerto grosso—in this case, the strings and a bantering dialogue with the winds. Certainly this music is an example of Bach at his most joyous and effervescent. The opening eventually gives way to a middle section marked cantabile before the return at the da capo.
The work that follows is taken from the opening of Cantata 179, written during Bach’s first year at St. Thomas. The cantata was written for the eleventh Sunday after Trinity, August 8, 1723, when the appointed gospel reading was the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, or tax collector, taken from Luke’s gospel. A brief synopsis of the gospel reading: two men come into the temple to pray but relate to God in distinctly different ways, an exercise in sinful pride and humility. On the one hand, the Pharisee lays on his superficial and boastful piety, while the tax collector is contrite and expresses sincere humility.
The parable sets the stage for Bach’s hermeneutical prowess, beginning with the opening text, “See to it that your fear of God is not hypocrisy.” This opening music sets the text in an antique motet style in four parts, instruments doubling throughout, and employs diverse contrapuntal techniques, each well-tailored to the text. (As a side note, Bach uses the same music for the Kyrie of the Mass in G, BWV 236.) One musical feature in this opening movement is what transpires of the words “mit falschem Herzen,” i.e, “with a false heart.” Here the music becomes increasingly chromatic, semitone by semitone, to make the textual point crystal-clear. I hope you enjoy the performance.