EXPLORING MUSIC

A Real Zinger

Author

David M. Greene

Publication

MHS Review 215 Vol. 1, No. XVII January 9, 1978

Listen

 What these two works have in common are (1)1715, (2) Weimar, (3) Salomo Franck, and (4) spotty representation on records. No.31, a real zinger, is presently represented on Schwann by Harnoncourt's version in Vol. IX of his ongoing traversal of the complete cantatas, and in the MHS catalogue by Fritz Werner's reading. Mono versions by Felix Prohaska and Marcel Couraud, and a very short-lived East German effort on the Pirouette label(!), have all vanished. There was long ago a recording of No. 185 by Hans Grischkat on the Renaissance label, which resurfaced briefly on Baroque, but I find no evidence of any others.

 

Salomo Franck was the curator of the Ducal Numismatic Museum at Weimar. (I do hope that the printer won't convert him to "Salami Frank," though after looking through Vol. I, No. 15 of this journal, nothing would surprise me.) He supplied Bach with at least sixteen cantata libretti. Bach's early biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, assumes Bach was attracted to Franck's work by his poetic insight, his mysticism, and innate feeling for nature'" though there was also Salomo's superior age and position to think about. But Franck, for all his baroque extravagance, was not exactly a major poet, and was not guiltless of tripping, so to speak, over his own feet.

 

The Easter cantata (No. 31), which marks the beginning of the partnership, was one of the happier collaborations between the poet and the composer: both were obviously inspired by the occasion, which was Easter Sunday and all that it connotes. There's been a good deal of grousing about the cantata's lack of direction, beginning as it does with cosmic rejoicing and ending with a series of meditations on our own mortality (Alec Robertson baldly calls them a "death wish”), but both artists knew just what they were about. And what they were about was a profound and mystical celebration of life with a capital "L".   The celebratory aspect of the music was in no way hindered by the large orchestral forces available to Bach in Weimar, including, besides strings and the usual continuo instruments, three trumpets, timpani, three oboes and a "taille" (a tenor oboe, probably identical with the oboe da caccia). The opening sinfonia is a is a vast peal I of laughter that is taken up by the chorus, to the words The heavens laugh, the earth rejoices" (at the Resurrection, of course). After a developmental section the laughter" returns, to the text, The Creator lives, the Highest triumphs." " Here, however, it is not laughter but the impulse of life itself, the repetition linking Creator and created.  The chorus ends soberly with the reflection that Christ chose to die that He might live. This titanic opening is followed by a recitative and aria each for the three soloists--bass, tenor, soprano in that upward progression. The culmination is in the soprano aria--a reflection on the fact that we, like Christ, must die to be carried up to new life with God. It is supported by pizzicati 'cellos, and a lovely consolatory oboe obbligato soars over it. Toward the end (reminiscent of that stunning chorale entrance in Berg's violin concerto), the violins and violas steal in with the old hymn "When my final hour is nigh," which becomes the subject of the final chorale.

 

It would be nice to report that Cantata No. 185 is the equal of this one, and has been unduly neglected, but apparently the Fourth Sunday after Trinity did not inspire Franck (a lot of capitalistic imagery owing to being around coins too much) and so Bach has trouble getting off the ground. The work is, unusually, for four solo voices, oboe, strings and continuo. About the best Bach can manage is some rather grotesque scene-painting, though Whitaker likes the opening duet. The best Robertson can summon up in praise is "mini-Bach."

 

 

 

A Real Zinger

Author

David M. Greene

Publication

MHS Review 215 Vol. 1, No. XVII January 9, 1978

Listen

 What these two works have in common are (1)1715, (2) Weimar, (3) Salomo Franck, and (4) spotty representation on records. No.31, a real zinger, is presently represented on Schwann by Harnoncourt's version in Vol. IX of his ongoing traversal of the complete cantatas, and in the MHS catalogue by Fritz Werner's reading. Mono versions by Felix Prohaska and Marcel Couraud, and a very short-lived East German effort on the Pirouette label(!), have all vanished. There was long ago a recording of No. 185 by Hans Grischkat on the Renaissance label, which resurfaced briefly on Baroque, but I find no evidence of any others.

 

Salomo Franck was the curator of the Ducal Numismatic Museum at Weimar. (I do hope that the printer won't convert him to "Salami Frank," though after looking through Vol. I, No. 15 of this journal, nothing would surprise me.) He supplied Bach with at least sixteen cantata libretti. Bach's early biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, assumes Bach was attracted to Franck's work by his poetic insight, his mysticism, and innate feeling for nature'" though there was also Salomo's superior age and position to think about. But Franck, for all his baroque extravagance, was not exactly a major poet, and was not guiltless of tripping, so to speak, over his own feet.

 

The Easter cantata (No. 31), which marks the beginning of the partnership, was one of the happier collaborations between the poet and the composer: both were obviously inspired by the occasion, which was Easter Sunday and all that it connotes. There's been a good deal of grousing about the cantata's lack of direction, beginning as it does with cosmic rejoicing and ending with a series of meditations on our own mortality (Alec Robertson baldly calls them a "death wish”), but both artists knew just what they were about. And what they were about was a profound and mystical celebration of life with a capital "L".   The celebratory aspect of the music was in no way hindered by the large orchestral forces available to Bach in Weimar, including, besides strings and the usual continuo instruments, three trumpets, timpani, three oboes and a "taille" (a tenor oboe, probably identical with the oboe da caccia). The opening sinfonia is a is a vast peal I of laughter that is taken up by the chorus, to the words The heavens laugh, the earth rejoices" (at the Resurrection, of course). After a developmental section the laughter" returns, to the text, The Creator lives, the Highest triumphs." " Here, however, it is not laughter but the impulse of life itself, the repetition linking Creator and created.  The chorus ends soberly with the reflection that Christ chose to die that He might live. This titanic opening is followed by a recitative and aria each for the three soloists--bass, tenor, soprano in that upward progression. The culmination is in the soprano aria--a reflection on the fact that we, like Christ, must die to be carried up to new life with God. It is supported by pizzicati 'cellos, and a lovely consolatory oboe obbligato soars over it. Toward the end (reminiscent of that stunning chorale entrance in Berg's violin concerto), the violins and violas steal in with the old hymn "When my final hour is nigh," which becomes the subject of the final chorale.

 

It would be nice to report that Cantata No. 185 is the equal of this one, and has been unduly neglected, but apparently the Fourth Sunday after Trinity did not inspire Franck (a lot of capitalistic imagery owing to being around coins too much) and so Bach has trouble getting off the ground. The work is, unusually, for four solo voices, oboe, strings and continuo. About the best Bach can manage is some rather grotesque scene-painting, though Whitaker likes the opening duet. The best Robertson can summon up in praise is "mini-Bach."

 

 

 

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