Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bach - Cantata For Bass 'Ich Habe Genug' BWV 82

Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last 27 years of his life in the employ of the church as Cantor and Music Director of the Thomasschule and the churches of Leipzig, a position he was appointed to in 1723.   He was responsible for teaching music to students and for music used in church services.  Music was a very important part of Lutheran Church services and Bach usually used  his own compositions for  Sunday services as well as special church holidays. Most of the cantatas he used for church services were composed in the first three years he was in Leipzig, and he arranged them in yearly cycles. Each cantata was integrated into the service by the use of scripture that was relevant to the church calender as well as the content of the sermon. Musicologists have determined that Bach wrote over 300 cantatas during his life, and that about 100 of them are lost.

Ich Habe Genug (I Have Enough) was first performed on February 2, 1727 for the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary (also known as Candlemas).  The text of the cantata is not from the Bible, nor do musicologists know who wrote it, but it is based on the Song of Simeon also known in Latin as Nunc Dimittis

Bach used the cantata three more times over the years, changing the vocalist and/or instrumentation each time. The original version is scored for Bass soloist, oboe, strings and continuo. The cantata consists of five parts:

Part One  -  The Bible story in Chapter 2 Of Luke relates that Simeon was a devout Jew who was at the Temple when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to be consecrated as the firstborn son. Simeon had been promised by God that he would not die until he saw the Saviour. Simeon took the infant in his arms and the text of the aria reflects the story.  The music is in C minor, with the oboe beginning a melody that is soon taken up by the Bass. The oboe gently weaves in and out of the music as it takes the lead one moment, then takes up a contrapuntal accompaniment to the Bass. The key signature of C minor in this case  gives the music more the mood of resignation than sorrow.
Aria: Ich habe genug
I have enough, I have taken the Savior,
the hope of the righteous, into my eager arms;
I have enough! I have beheld Him,
my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
now I wish, even today with
joy to depart from here. 

Part Two - The music shifts to major mode in the opening of the recitative. The theme of resignation and desire for death continue in this section in preparation for the next aria.
Recitative: Ich habe genug
I have enough.
My comfort is this alone,
that Jesus might be mine
and I His own. In faith I hold Him,
there I see, along with Simeon,
already the joy of the other life.
Let us go with this man!
Ah! if only the Lord might rescue me
from the chains of my body;
Ah! were only my departure here,
with joy I would say, world, to you:
I have enough. 

Part Three - Cast in the key of E-flat major, the aria is a lullaby that changes the tone of resignation for death to one of joy in longing for the peace of death.
Aria: Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen
Fall asleep, you weary eyes,
close softly and pleasantly!
World, I will not remain here any longer,
I own no part of you that
could matter to my soul.
Here I must build up misery, but there,
there I will see sweet peace, quiet rest.

Part Four -   An impatient voice wonders when the 'now' of death is to come. The music ends in the minor mode in preparation for the final aria.
Recitative: Mein Gott! wenn kömmt das schöne: Nun! 
My God! When is the lovely now of death to come,
when I will journey into peace
and into the cool soil of earth,
and there, near You, rest in Your lap?
My farewells are made, world, good night!

Part Five -  The final aria returns the key to C minor. The oboe returns but more as an addition to the violins instead of a separate voice. Bach uses melisma, the singing of the same syllable over a range of notes to perhaps lend some 'life' to a cantata that deals with death, although the text continues to express the longing for the pleasant sleep of death.
Aria: Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod
I delight in my death,
ah, if it were only present already!
Then I will emerge from all the
suffering that still binds me to the world.

It may seem odd that a work that deals with the joys of death can be one of Bach's most familiar and popular cantatas. The text of course is an important part of any cantata, including this one. But in this case the quality and depth of feeling of the music has more to do with the works popularity than its text.

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