TBC Ep 17 | “So glaubt man denn,” and “Schweigt, ihr Flöten,” BWV 210/5 and 6


Tiny Bach Concerts Episode 17: Remarks by Tanya Kevorkian and performance by Filament Baroque


J. S. Bach led performances of his wedding cantata BWV 210, “O Gracious Day, Wished-for Time” on different occasions in Leipzig and Berlin in the 1730s and 1740s. Such cantatas were performed at the banquet following the church service. Wealthy brides and grooms commissioned and funded their composition and later performances. Imagine a large salon in a lavish home with tables full of guests, ample food and wine, and the ensemble of solo soprano and instruments (oboe, flute, strings, and continuo) performing, located not far from hosts and guests who are seated at the tables. This long, ten-movement cantata would have taken a bit over a half-hour to perform. In Leipzig, town musicians and boy singers from the St. Thomas School likely would also have performed, separately, at the banquet.

Our recitative-aria pair finds us midway through a drama: a telling of the conflict between music-despising Pietists and heroic defenders and patrons of music. (You can consult the text if you scroll down to the bottom of the text on the webpage.) Pietists are not called out by name but they are the only obvious candidates for the anti-music party. They had emerged in the 1680s as a small but passionate group that initiated extensive pamphlet wars. By the 1730s their presence was less prominent than it had been, and it is actually somewhat surprising that the debate they sparked would be the focus of this cantata. The fact that the cantata was apparently popular indicates that some people still held the view that virtuosic and instrumental music reflected and fostered vanity and loose morals, and that others vigorously disagreed.

The first two movements of the cantata hold up music as helping people celebrate “joyful hours.” Movements three and four introduce the Pietist voice that claims that music does “not harmonize with love” and that modest hymns are preferable to instrumental music. The last movements focus on defenders of music and specifically on the groom, who becomes the addressee, is praised lavishly and is wished well as a patron of music. The singer refers to besingen, or singing to someone, which was a common practice at weddings and reflects the direct relationship between performers and listener-patrons that was a hallmark of Baroque performance.

That brings us to movements five, a recitative for the soprano and continuo that characteristically of a recitative covers a lot of text, and movement six, an aria for soprano, flute, and continuo that, as was typical of an aria, focuses more on developing the music than the text. In the recitative, the fight is joined: responding to the accusation that music “leads astray,” its many benefits are extolled. Exalted patrons value it; like love, it is a child of heaven; it accompanies both rich and poor; it communicates God’s glory; it even strengthens people facing death. But nevertheless, some people reject it.

Movement six then castigates the Pietist viewpoint that instruments should be silent because they don’t please those who are jealous. Like the cantata generally, this movement does a nice job of showcasing the virtuosity of the flutist and the soprano. Far from falling silent, the flute continues its elaborate runs to the end of the movement, and soprano and flutist alternate and accompany each other as they develop the aria’s themes. Music therefore wins the battle.

Text and Translation:

“So glaubt man denn, dass die Musik verführe” and “Schweigt, ihr Flöten, schweigt, ihr Töne,” BWV 210/5 and 6

“So it is believed that music leads astray” and “Be silent, you flutes, you notes,” BWV 210/5 and 6

No. 5.
So glaubt man denn, dass die Musik verführe
Und gar nicht mit der Liebe harmoniere?
O nein! Wer wollte denn nicht ihren Wert betrachten,
Auf den so hohe Gönner achten?
Gewiss, die gütige Natur
Zieht uns von ihr auf eine höhre Spur.
Sie ist der Liebe gleich, ein großes Himmelskind,
Nur, dass sie nicht, als wie die Liebe, blind.
Sie schleicht in alle Herzen ein
Und kann bei Hoh' und Niedern sein.
Sie lockt den Sinn
Zum Himmel hin
Und kann verliebten Seelen
Des Höchsten Ruhm erzählen.
Ja, heißt die Liebe sonst weit stärker als der Tod,
Wer leugnet? die Musik stärkt uns in Todes Not.
O wundervolles Spiel!
Dich, dich verehrt man viel.
Doch, was erklingt dort vor ein Klagelied,
Das den geschwinden Ton beliebter Saiten flieht?

No. 5
So it is believed that Music leads astray
And does not harmonize with Love at all?
Oh no! Who, then, would not regard its worth
Which such exalted patrons respect?

Certainly, kind Nature
Draws us by it onto a higher track.
It is, like Love, a great heavenly child
Except that unlike Love, it is not blind.
It steals into all hearts
And can be with the High as well as Low.

It entices the mind
To Heaven
And can tell enamoured souls
Of the glory of the Most High.
Indeed, though elsewhere Love is called far stronger than Death,
Who denies that Music strengthens us
in Death’s extremity?
O wonderful Play!
You, you are much revered.
But, what lament sounds there,
Fleeing the nimble sound of beloved strings?

No. 6
Schweigt, ihr Flöten, schweigt, ihr Töne,
Denn ihr klingt dem Neid nicht schöne,
Eilt durch die geschwärzte Luft,
Bis man euch zu Grabe ruft!

No. 6
Be silent, you Flutes; be silent, you Notes
For Envy does not like your sound.
Hasten through the darkened air
Till you are called to the grave!

Transl. Dürr/Jones, The Cantatas of J.S. Bach (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 897-898, adapted T. Kevorkian.