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May 27, 2012

Bach Cantatas (28): Pentecost Sunday (Whit Sunday)

Pentecost Sunday is also called "Whit Sunday." Pentecost is an important feast in the Christian liturgical year commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Pentecost is sometimes described as the "Birthday of the Church."

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"


  • 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. (****)

(1) New Year's Day (2) New Year I (3) Epiphany (4) Epiphany I (5) Epiphany II (6) Epiphany III (7) Epiphany IV (8) Feast of Purification of Mary (9) Septuagesima (10) Sexagesima (11) Quinquagesima (Estomihi) (12) The Consecration of a New Organ (13) The Inauguration of the Town Council (14) Oculi (15) Wedding Cantatas (16) Feast of Annunciation (17) Palm Sunday (18) Easter Sunday (19) Easter Monday (20) Easter Tuesday (21) Easter I (Quasimodogeniti) (22) Easter II (23) Easter III (24) Easter IV (25) Easter V (26) Ascension Day (27) Ascension I (28) Pentecost Sunday (29) Pentecost Monday (30) Pentecost Tuesday (31) Trinity Sunday (32) Trinity I (33) Trinity II (34) Trinity III (35) St. John's Day (36) Trinity IV (37) Visitation (38) Trinity V (39) Trinity VI (40) Trinity VII (41) Trinity VIII (42) Trinity IX (43) Trinity X (44) Trinity XI (45) Trinity XII (46) Trinity XIII (47) Trinity XIV (48) Trinity XV (49) Trinity XVI (50) Trinity XVII (51) Trinity XVIII (52) Trinity XIX (53) Trinity XX (54) Trinity XXI (55) Trinity XXII (56) Trinity XXIII (57) Trinity XXIV (58) Trinity XXV-XXVII (59) Advent I-IV (60) Christmas Day (61) Second Day of Christmas (62) Third Day of Christmas (63) Sunday after Christmas