The name "Whit Sunday" is thought to originate in the custom that those formerly baptized on this feast would wear white garments.
Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks (50 days) after Easter Sunday, hence its name. It falls on the tenth day after Ascension Thursday.
Bach wrote four cantatas for this Sunday.
Acts 2:1–13 "The Holy Spirit"
John 14:23–31, "Farewell discourse, announcement of the Spirit who will teach"
BCW, BDE, CN, LSG, JN, LVH, WP, Text
- Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! BWV 172, 20 May 1714
Coro: Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten
Recitativo (bass): Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten
Aria (bass, trumpets & timpani): Heiligste Dreieinigkeit
Aria (tenor, strings): O Seelenparadies
Aria (soprano – Soul, alto – Spirit, oboe, cello): Komm, laß mich nicht länger warten
Chorale (violin): Von Gott kömmt mir ein Freudenschein
optional: repeat of the opening chorus
("Ring out, ye Songs") Grand and festive cantata suitable for this important Church feast. Based on the reading "Whoever loves Me will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him." Opening chorus in da-capo form with grand fanfare-like scoring to underline the day's festive character. The recitative broadens into an arioso and is followed by a bass aria accompanied by three trumpets representing the "Holiest Trinity" in the text. The tenor aria is in minor mode as an expression of the desire for the text's "spiritual paradise" (which has not been attained yet). It is accompanied by a flowing ritornello theme in the violin, the "heavenly wind" of the Spirit. The ensuing duet between soprano and alto is a dialogue between the Holy Spirit and a believing Soul, and is combined with an instrumental choral cantus firmus. A remarkably multi-layered movement. A five part choral closes the cantata, after which the opening chorus can be optionally repeated. (***)
- Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten, BWV 59, 28 May 1724
Duetto (soprano, bass): Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten
Recitativo (soprano): O was sind das vor Ehren
Chorale: Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott
Aria (bass): Die Welt mit allen Königreichen
("Whoever loves me, will keep My word") Very short cantata (parts of which were in fact reused for BWV 74 to better effect). The opening duet is quite charming, almost like an Italian chamber concerto. Trumpets are also present, but the fine string accompaniment dominates. The text and music both stress the "whoever loves me." The accompanied soprano recitative moves into an arioso and is followed by a straightforward chorale ("Come, Holy Spirit"). The song-like bass aria is accompanied by solo violin and expresses the anticipation of heavenly bliss. The final choral is missing, although a note by Bach in the autograph indicates that he intended to end the work with one. Usually, the third verse of "Come Holy Spirit" is played here. (**)
- Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten, BWV 74, 20 May 1725
Chor: Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten
Arie S: Komm, komm, mein Herze steht dir offen
Rezitativ A: Die Wohnung ist bereit
Arie B: Ich gehe hin und komme wieder zu euch
Arie T: Kommt, eilet, stimmet Sait und Lieder
Rezitativ B: Es ist nichts Verdammliches an denen, die in Christo Jesu sind
Arie A: Nichts kann mich erretten
Choral: Kein Menschenkind hier auf der Erd
("Whoever loves me, will keep My word") This cantata has the same title as the previous one, but Bach used a different author for the text. It presents a more personal treatment of the Bible text, although Bach reuses music from BWV 59 in the first two movements. The message of Pentecost is reflected in the joyful opening chorus with colorful instrumentation. The first aria is for soprano with oboe da caccia. After an alto recitative follows the second aria, for bass as Vox Christi ("I go away and come again unto you..."). The tenor aria again proclaims the joy of the Whitsun story, in a dance-like and declamatory movement. The quickly rising and descending character of the catchy string melody illustrates the "going away and coming again." A bass recitative accompanied by oboes proclaims the central message "There is nothing damnable in those who are of Christ Jesus." The final vigorous alto aria is accompanied by concertante violin and engages in some virtuoso word painting to illustrate the empty rattling of hell's chains by Satan. A quiet but attractive choral ends the cantata. (***)
- O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, BWV 34, c 1746–1747
Coro: "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe" Recitativo: "Herr, unsre Herzen halten dir"
Aria (Alto): "Wohl euch, ihr auserwählten Seelen"
Recitativo: "Erwählt sich Gott die heilgen Hütten"
Coro: "Friede über Israel"
("O Eternal flame, o fount of love") Derived from a now lost wedding cantata, as is still clear from the ardent text of the opening chorus - the fiery love between man is wife is transformed into the heavenly flames of the Holy Spirit. This is in fact one of Bach's great and elaborate choruses, with perfectly integrated trumpets. The "heavenly flames" of Pentecost are represented musically by crackling semiquaver figurations in the first violins. The chorus concludes with a great fugue. Also the most beautiful alto aria "Happy are ye, ye chosen souls" still retains something of the wedding cantata, for example in the reticent accompaniment by flutes and muted strings, or in the tender affection it exudes. The gentle, rocking melody now is supposed to evoke the "floating spirits." A bass recitative next leads into the final joyous choral exhortation for peace, a rousing close to a great cantata. (****)