Since the beginning of the Shelter-in-Place order, I have been starting my mornings off with a 20-minute Centering Prayer meditation, followed by listening to a Bach cantata. These are works that Bach composed throughout his life for church services, mostly during his time as cantor at St. Thomas church in Leipzig (Germany). They were presented before the sermon, and are based on the readings for the day. Bach would expand upon and elucidate the scripture through a series of choruses, solo arias, duets, recitatives (accompanied speech-like movements) and chorales (using well-known hymn tunes of the day with which the congregation could sing along). In total, Bach wrote over 200 (!) cantatas, most of them sacred.
I have been sending out weekly emails to the choir with links to YouTube recordings, English translations of the German originals, and Wikipedia articles about the individual works. The YouTube recordings are taken from a series of live concerts the English conductor John Eliot Gardiner did in 2000 (the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death) with his original instrument (modern copies of or actual instruments from Bach’s time) group The English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir. They travelled around Europe performing the cantatas Bach composed for that particular Sunday for an entire year, playing in many historic churches, many of them directly connected with Bach. Below is the email from this week. I hope you will join me on this musical odyssey!
Here is an example for this week:
The Bach cantatas for this Sunday (“Rogation Sunday”) are much like those of last week–more small-scale intimate compositions, beginning with the bass/Vox Christi singing a gospel verse, followed by a series of arias and recitatives, and concluding with a simple 4-part chorale setting.
BWV 86 Wahrlich, wahrlich ich sage euch
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u211HWoRV0 (with commentary!)
BWV 87 Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2cqHi0JOts (starts at 13:10)
And a “bonus” cantata composed for a non-specific occasion which is much more joyful and extroverted:
BWV 97 In allen meinen Taten
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2cqHi0JOts (starts at 30:30)