Chapter 73 BWV 210 O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit
Auspicious, long awaited day.
A wedding cantata for solo soprano.
It is worth taking a few moments to compare this less well known, but somewhat weightier work, with C 202 discussed in the previous chapter. Both are for solo soprano (possibly Anna Magdalena?) and, as in the case with most of the secular works, neither incorporates a chorale. There are no choruses and the instrumental resources are sparse. They are similarly structured, C 210 consisting of five paired recitative/arias whilst C 202 has four similar groupings following the opening aria. All the recitatives from C 202 and three from C 210 are secco and considerable use is made of the da capo ternary aria in both cantatas.
Nevertheless, there are some important differences. The arias in C 202 tend to be shorter and more succinct, bringing to mind the perfect miniature movements from the Magnificat. But C 210, with only one additional movement (a short recitative) runs to over half an hour of performance time as opposed to the twenty minutes of C 202. Bach makes liberal use of both oboe and flute in the last recitative of C 210, an effect which presumably pleased him as this was one of only two to survive the reworking of the cantata from the original C 210a (see below). All in all, C 210 is the more substantial and weighty of the two cantatas, a fact which might indicate the greater importance or social status of the couple whose union the music celebrated.
Dürr gives us what history is known of the original secular model of the wedding cantata (p 879) and dates it from 1729. Only the solo soprano line survives from that work but it is no great loss, since all the arias were reused for the wedding version and, with some alteration, two of the recitatives. The extant text affords comparisons with the settings of the three re-composed recitatives (C 210/3/5 and 7).
Whereas the text of C 202 concerns itself with the metaphor of the changing seasons, that of C 210 relies heavily on comparisons with the medium of music itself. This, perhaps, comes as no surprise when we look at the lyrics of its predecessor C 210a which is predicated similarly. There is no doubt that Bach’s lyricist (could it have been Bach himself?) drew heavily upon the earlier verses, a fact that would have made the task of the musical adaption of the original for its new purpose, much simpler. There is, indeed, very little labour required to convert a declaration of honour for an esteemed and urbane personage into an avowal of marriage celebrating the union of an equally cultured couple.
Apart from a slightly altered ending, the opening recitative of C 210 follows that of its model closely. The wedding text is a joyful recognition of the arrival of the fortunate day of marriage, a banishment of all sorrow and an acknowledgement of the part that both God and Heaven have to play in the successful conducting of human affairs. That of the earlier model is an appreciation of the music, the greatest of the arts, divine melody clearly being a gift from heaven itself. The upper strings enclose the soprano melody in a haze of sustained chords, a veritable halo of enriching harmonies.
The scene is set for the first aria which, in both cantatas, calls out for the sounding of passionate songs—-they are so beautiful that they cause the human spirit initially to faint away in pleasure; but the active strings are there to revive and rejuvenate it. The soprano is consequently supported by busy upper strings, one oboe d’amore doubling the first violins.
Although the supremacy of music over the other arts was established in the original text, this aria is obviously also intended to evoke the spirit of the dance. The sixteen-bar ritornello theme is divided neatly into four balanced phrases of equal length, and the rhythm suggests that of a minuet or passepied.
The upper strings are active throughout, though not necessarily more so in the middle section where their reinvigoration of the human breast is specifically remarked upon. This is a strong indication of this being a middle-late period work when Bach did not feel the need to paint every picture and action through the music as he was wont to do in his youth. In fact, it is the vocal line that principally displays virtuosic revitalisation here, as indicated by the taxing melismas emphasising increased strength and refreshment. Perhaps the most obvious piece of word painting is formed by the long notes suggesting a swoon (from bars 32 and 56).
The second recitative was newly composed, secco and in a minor mode, perhaps preparing us for the injunction to take respite that forms the basis of the following aria. As a consequence, Bach neither leads us to its key or its mode as was his practice in C 202. Here, and in the third recitative, the tonal planning is slightly more subtle, leading us to the dominant chord of the following aria, not the key-chord. The vocal writing is declamatory, a call for the lively strings to cease! Loving couples should be calm, lacking in vanity and capable of discovering within their own hearts an appropriate song for the Father.
One cannot escape the feeling that this is all rather tongue in cheek. Bach’s whole life was devoted to composing invigorating and inspiring music for the church, God, Jesus as well as various social events. The strong suspicion is that the lyricist is playing the game of setting up a supposition in order to attack or demolish it later. But Bach has to follow suit and the next (second) aria is a call for the tones of weariness to fall away since they are not appropriate for a happy marriage—-rest and be silent, those restrained and weary melodies!
The aria is conceived in four contrapuntal lines, the continuo underpinning a solo violin, oboe d’amore and soprano. The key is E major, an interesting and enigmatic one for Bach since, although he selected it for some of his more extrovert and profound works (one violin and one keyboard concerto) he also used it for some of his most elegiac music e.g. the chorale/fantasia beginning C 8—-When Oh Lord will I die—-(vol 2, chapter 16). Here the character is decidedly of the latter type, restrained, subdued and, with a 12/8 time signature, suggestive of a pastoral quality.
The aria is not strictly da capo, although it has a clear middle section (from bar 31) where the initial melodic idea is briefly inverted, now rising instead of falling. The reprise of the A section (from bar 55) begins without modification but it latterly departs from the original in a number of details, the most significant being the more prolonged use of the voice’s middle and lower registers.
It is a song calling the subdued music to be silent, but as we guessed from the preceding recitative it is not to be taken too seriously. Indeed, although the rich counterpoint and gently swaying melodies have a softening, even sobering effect, the moments of semi-quaver imitation between the violin and oboe (first heard at the end of the ritornello theme) serve to remind us that music is, after all, a moving, organic process.
Oboe d’amore above violin.
We cannot stifle it and nor should we; its essential vitality asserts itself even at moments when there is talk of its suppression.
The following recitative is the longest and perhaps most significant of the five. It has a boldly rhetorical character and the argument is put with considerable force—-Do people really believe that music deludes us and is incompatible with love? But great patrons value and esteem it and it leads us to a higher plane, a gift from Heaven itself! It enters our hearts, unites us all, draws our thoughts to Heaven and comforts us in death itself. The shaping of the melodic line is consummate throughout, following every textual nuance and demonstrating clearly why Bach resolved to compose the movement anew. The fluent German speaker will follow this with ease but a good translation makes it possible for all listeners to enjoy this flawless art of recitative creation.
One might be forgiven for thinking that the argument is now won but Bach, and his lyricist, continue to play the game. Following a little continuo burst representing the agonies of death (bar 23) the mood of the last four bars changes—-but what is this dirge emanating from our much loved strings?
The ‘dirge’ actually comes from the flute, heard for the first time in this cantata and entering with a broken, slightly fractured line which lasts for one bar only, to be immediately interrupted by the soprano—-hush, flutes you do not appeal to envy—-go through the darkness until you are called to the grave!
Flute and voice entries.
Hush, you flutes
Precisely why the sound of the flute is so unwelcome is not entirely clear, but one suggests that flautists should not take this personally. This is, surely, merely a symbol of that which is inappropriate; it leads us towards Satan and consequently must be resisted. After all was it not Luther who declared that the devil must not have all the best tunes? It is even possible that submerged within this text there are references to the place and status of appropriate music in Lutheran society which a well educated and cultured couple might be expected to recognise.
But even if the conceit has become a trifle silly, Bach’s music remains of the highest order. The halting, original flute phrase is rapidly transformed into flowing sequences of triplet semi-quavers, later to be joined by the voice. Arguments, or possibly one should say prejudices against the place of music in ceremony, become dispelled by the harmonious union of instrument and voice; the very existence of the music erodes and ultimately destroys the basic contention which, in the intellectual climate wherein Bach doubtless moved when producing a commissions of this kind, can scarcely have been taken seriously by those present!
The ritornello theme that we were prevented from hearing at the beginning because of the dramatic necessity to interrupt the flute, is heard several times as an episode and finally to close the movement.
The fourth recitative mirrors the third in that it takes the form of a similar rhetorical argument—-what grave? Must music perish to please the rabble? No, take heart, for Heaven protects you—-your songs have nothing to do with the children of Satan! Great patrons exist and we now gather to honour one at his wedding!
The strategy is now clear. Society needs great patrons of the arts and the man about to be married is lauded as one of them! Comparison is even made with the historic Roman patron Augustus Maecenus, the implication being that the present bridegroom is of a similar status!
The following aria is now addressed directly to the bridegroom—-great patron, your pleasure and honour vanquishes even our offerings—-but yet nothing, surely, delights you more than agreeable music. The aria, for strings oboe and continuo is in the rather leaden key of C#m and may have been deliberately chosen to suit the text of the original (from C 210a) which similarly praises an important music-loving patron. It may be that this gives us some clue as to the characters of the men to whom the two cantatas were differently addressed. Perhaps they were quite serious individuals and the tributes suited to them needed be somewhat solemn, formal affairs. There is nothing of the lightness of spirit or a sense of fun that we might expect in this particular movement!
It is also the briefest and most compact of the arias, reprising only the rather severe ritornello theme. The oboe leads, with relatively modest support from the strings and its theme is somewhat odd.
The first bar is an appropriately serious theatrical statement, the second a rapid little upward skirl. Is Bach encapsulating in the fabric of the music a dual message, that of a formal statement of honour to a (possibly) self-important nobleman, immediately to be followed by a suggestion of the fun, fluidity and liveliness that is inherent within musical expression? We cannot be sure, of course, but if we know anything of Bach’s complex mind, it is surely his ability to suggest an intricacy of partially hidden messages in the music, placed there for those who were capable of teasing them out.
The nobleman is enjoined to remain well disposed to his music. Not only will it cheer him when necessary, but it also may transmit his well-earned praises to the world, shining like a diamond, durable as steel! The movement ends with a direct tribute to the wedding couple and a wish for enduring joy and success.
The closing cadence of the recitative takes us to the key of the final aria in which, symbolically, all instruments join in the expression of joy and happiness. The flute and oboe alternate between doubling and imitating each other and the first violin moves from a busy semiquaver accompaniment to join the wind instruments in rapturous scales (from bar 21).
The movement is packed with delightful gems for the connoisseur to enjoy. The rising harmonic sequences suggest the increasing happiness the pair may expect. The little octave ‘kick’ (bar 33) implies a moment of almost ecstatic joy at the mention of the happy couple. The long, complex melismas in the middle section depict, musically, the flowing delights filling the couple’s dwelling. It is, above all, a dance of delight, but it is much more than that. Compare its complexity with that of the simple gavotte which ended C 202; there is a world of difference which tells us something of the functions and people for which and for whom Bach supplied his music, a wide range from lower middle class to the nobility, moving across the social spectrum.
This is not an easy work to penetrate and some may be inclined to dismiss its lyrics as frivolous or even faintly ridiculous. But close analysis reveals a complex piece in which writer and composer collaborated closely, revealing something of the world in which they lived and worked. The intellectual conceit of the lyrics, and Bach’s dealing with them gives a fascinating glimpse of the aristocratic culture of the time.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012, 2014, 2017, 2020.