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July 2, 2012

Bach Cantatas (37): Visitation (July 2)

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary points at the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, as told in the Gospel of Luke, 1:39–56.

Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth at a time that both are pregnant, Mary with Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist. Mary wants to bring divine grace to Elizabeth and her unborn child, for the first time exercising her function as "mediator" between God and man. During the meeting Mary also proclaims the Magnificat ("My soul doth magnify the Lord"), and therefore this canticle has traditionally been reserved for this feast day.

This feast is of medieval origin (middle of the 13th c.). It was kept by the Franciscan Order which spread it to many churches. In 1389 Pope Urban VI inserted it in the Roman Calendar, for celebration on 2 July.

Readings:
Isaiah 11:1–5, Prophecy of the Messiah, "A rod shall come out of Jesse"
Luke 1:39–56, Visitation and Magnificat

References:
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Cantatas:
  • Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147, 2 July 1723 (adapted from BWV 147a for Advent IV)

    Part 1
    Chorus: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben
    Rezitativ T: Gebenedeiter Mund!
    Aria A: Schäme dich, o Seele nicht
    Rezitativ B: Verstockung kann Gewaltige veblenden
    Aria S: Bereite dir, Jesu, noch heute die Bahn
    Chorale: Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe
    Part 2
    Aria T: Hilf, Jesu, hilf, dass ich auch dich bekenne
    Rezitativ A: Der höchsten Allmacht Wunderhand
    Aria B: Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen
    Chorale: Jesu bleibet meine Freude


    ("Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life") Needless to say, this cantata is famous because of the melody "Jesu bleibet meine Freude" at the end of both parts. But it is also overall a very strong piece of music. There is a fine opening with a high-pitched chorus with brilliant trumpet, oboe and strings, followed by a choral fugue. The tenor recitative features a lush string accompaniment. The melancholy alto aria concentrates on illustrating the word “shame.” In the soprano aria we find one of Bach's well-known "walking music," a walking bass with above it a high, silvery soprano asking Jesus "to prepare the path." There is also an interesting violin part. Both halves of the cantata end with the familiar "Jesu bleibet meine Freude" chorale setting, added by Bach for the Leipzig performance. The chorale melody is doubled on the trumpet. The heartfelt tenor aria that opens the second part of the cantata is based on a three-note motto “Hilf, Jesu, hilf.” The lengthy alto recitative is accompanied by two English horns. The energetic bass aria brings not only the trumpet but also the full orchestra back, after which "Jesu bleibet meine Freude" concludes this beautiful cantata. (****)

  • Meine Seel erhebt den Herren, BWV 10, 2 July 1724

    Coro: Meine Seel erhebt den Herren
    Aria (soprano): Herr, der du stark und mächtig bist
    Recitativo (tenor): Des Höchsten Güt und Treu
    Aria (bass): Gewaltige stößt Gott vom Stuhl
    Duetto (alto, tenor) e chorale: Er denket der Barmherzigkeit
    Recitativo (tenor): Was Gott den Vätern alter Zeiten
    Chorale: Lob und Preis sei Gott dem Vater


    ("My Soul Magnifies the Lord") Setting of a German translation made by Luther of the Magnificat. The original plainsong psalm tune (the Tonus Peregrinus) plays a large part in this cantata, starting with the introductory ritornello of the choral first movement. This chorus has a great intensity, perhaps symbolizing the joyous anticipation felt by Mary. The bravura soprano aria has a tune that is easy to whistle along with. It is followed by a secco recitative for the tenor. In contrast, the bass aria - only accompanied by the continuo - has a strong dramatic quality. It is even humorous in its depiction of the downfall of the high and mighty with deep descending scales. The haunting duet for alto and tenor is also known as one of the "Schubler Chorales" for organ (BWV 648). The trumpet plays again the Tonus Peregrinus. In the following recitative there is some nice tone painting when at the words "His seed would multiply, like the sand on the sea-shore," as the strings produce the effect of waves striking the shore. The sturdy Gregorian Tonus Peregrinus returns to end the cantata. (***)

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