Chapter 90 BWV 134a Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht
Time, which creates the days and years.
Recit (tenor/alto)–aria (tenor)–recit (tenor/alto)–duet (alto/tenor)–recit (alto/tenor)–aria (alto)–recit tenor/(alto)–chorus.
A cantata of homage.
NB This essay should be read in conjunction with that on C 134 chapter 49, vol.1.
This work has several points in common with C 173a discussed in the previous chapter. Both were originally composed in Còthen as works of homage and reused as a part of the first Leipzig cycle. Both were based upon a pair of allegorical figures; in this case Time present and past. Both were composed for small chamber orchestras and a pair of wind instruments there flutes, here oboes. And finally, both were intended as works of deference and respect for Prince Leopold, C 173a for his birthday and this work on the occasion of the New Year. Each begins with a modest recitative, allowing the sense of occasion to build during the course of the performances.
As with the previous essay, we will not here discuss in detail the movements the cantatas have in common, for which readers should consult chapter 49 of vol 1. They should also bear in mind that the original model was C 134a not 134 which is now deemed to belong to the first Leipzig cycle.
It is worth noting that while Bach generally began his municipal cantatas with an impressive chorus or sinfonia (C 120, which begins with an alto aria, is the exception), he was as likely to commence works of homage with a recitative e.g. Cs 208, 173a and 134a. The objective may have been to allow for a gradual escalation of interest and excitement. Whatever the reason, it is a practice he abandoned in several of the middle period homage pieces which, instead, begin with rousing choruses. The recitatives for C 134a, however, are of particular interest as Bach provided three versions, the first of which appears in the work under discussion.
Later versions, from 1724 and 1739 have the same texts but with a number of significant musical alterations (see vol 1, chapter 49 for further discussion of this point).
The tenor and alto, the first representing Time past and the second Time future (or, as some may like to think of it, Divine Providence) share the short opening secco statements—-
Tenor: Time, that creates the days and years, has bestowed bounty upon this province
Alto: And with nobility and the grace of God.
In the 1724 revised version, the first four bars are paraphrased but the writing for both voice and continuo become instantly more florid with the soprano entry, clearly a depiction of the joyous, ecstatic Soul!
The happy tenor aria survives in both versions and with a similar text—-arise, rejoice, a divine light shines upon you and you must give thanks. Two oboes merit occasional bars of independence from their doubling duties in what is essentially a happy dance movement. The coincidences of text require the absolute minimum of musical adaptation and Bach is able to make much use of the monosyllabic auf—-arise—-in both versions.
The second recitative’s considerable length is slightly compensated for by the discourse that ensues, following the initial oration of Times Past informing us what he has furnished for the Prince and, through him, his principality—–he has deflected famine and murder and bestowed a golden age of prosperity. Time Future promises even greater gifts. The stage is thus set for an amiable squabble which takes us into the following duet.
This is one of those movements in which Bach transcends the popular notion of the baroque ‘sewing machine’ rhythm. It is long, particularly so for an allegro movement, likely to last over eight minutes in performance. Indeed, it need not have been so because structurally Bach could well have ended the A section at bar 54, manipulating the reprise to end in the tonic key of Eb. In fact he chose to continue for another thirty-five bars, completing it at bar 89! This, combined with the aria’s almost central position within the cantata structure, determines its significance.
In fact the two Times are not really at variance with each other; they both strive to conquer and shine forth and they conclude, in a manner which Bach must have considered entirely satisfactory, that whatever their trivial dispute might have been, it only energises them in order that they may make music in praise of the ‘most lofty’. There is a delightful ambiguity in that this personage is not overtly defined; is it meant to refer to God or Prince?
There is, however, no doubt about the direct reference to the part played by the strings in the text and Bach’s subsequent demands upon them! And if the audience have any remaining reservations about the message being communicated, repeated sustained notes and melismas on words of ‘praise’ and ‘blessing’ must surely reassure them.
This is a stunning movement which commands attention from the first to the last of its two hundred-plus bars.
The third recitative, again secco and split between the voices is, at just over forty bars, the longest of the four. The focus now changes from the past and present to the future, as indicated by the fact that it is now Providence, the soprano who begins—-consider, fortunate land, how much you have been given in the form of this Prince’s intelligence and nobility and the Princess’s virtue. But now we are brought to those pervading qualities of Lutheran guilt and obligation—-pray to the stars and implore God for the best of future times! Think not only of what your God may do for you but think also of what you must do in return!
Bach takes this imprecation very seriously. He spreads it over a dozen bars (from bar 13) a grinding quaver continuo underpinning chromatic arioso vocal line which conveys perfectly the feeling of imploring. Time past joins in with full support—-the province must now bend its knee in its seeking of future happiness.
If there had been any difference of opinion between the two main characters, it has now been buried in their united reproaches to the populace at large. The soprano completes the movement by reminding everyone that God looks down upon the devout and rewards them well.
The next movement is something of an oddity and it may be significant that Bach chose not to retain it in his later use of the cantata within a religious context. Within C 134a it makes sense as a moment of personal reflection upon the admonitions of the preceding recitative. It is the only aria in a minor key and supported by just the continuo (harpsichord and bass). Its phrasing is, at times, oddly disjointed and it moves through some foreign and sometime dark keys e.g. Fm, around bars 51-2. It is dominated by the opening ritornello theme, with its persistent repeated notes.
Like all the arias (and the chorus) it is in da capo form with an A section reminding us that the Lord has bestowed great happiness upon the noble dynasty. In the B section we are told that Heaven itself joins in the songs of those souls protected and made prosperous by Him.
But clearly this is not the manifestation of a song of gladness or delight for everyone. Indeed, there would seem to be a thinly disguised moral precept here that we all should take note of. We may well continue to be happy and prosperous, but the future depends upon us and how we conduct ourselves. These are matters of some gravity and this aria allows us the opportunity to consider such weighty issues.
Elsewhere Bach might well have employed the bass, the traditional voice of authority, for the expression of these thoughts. He had one available, as we discover, in the closing chorus. But perhaps he felt that the message came across more strongly from the far-sighted Spirit of the Future than through the sermon of an earthly Pastor.
We have been reminded of our duties and given time to contemplate them. The final recitative again unites both Times; they call upon God to pour forth His blessings, in order to favour Leopold into his old age and bring happiness and prosperity to all. Note the single moment of word painting in bar 6, the descending octave scale depicting the pouring down of the divine benefice. Time Future reminds us, finally, of that well established German adage ‘God’s grace is renewed every day’.
Bach also used the closing chorus to close the revised C 134 and further comments about its structure and hornpipe-like character may be found in vol 1, chapter 49. Yet again this is a movement that appears to have been converted from an existing duet to a four-part chorus.
There are a number of clear pointers in this direction. Much of the significant writing is for the tenor and alto with the other two voices largely adding their weight for the tutti sections in homophonic passages. This would indicate that an early duet version of this movement and, perhaps, indeed an entire cantata, may have pre-existed and has since been lost.
We cannot be sure about this. It may be that Bach deliberately wished to contrast and distinguish the voices of the allegorical Times figures against those of the populace. However, the chorus has so much in common with those movements which have been arranged in this manner for us not to be suspicious (see for example, the closing movements of C 184 and 173, chapters 59 and 60).
Certainly, everyone is now united in delivering the same message—-delight and happiness bring joy to this house and the Grace of Heaven will dwell within these illustrious souls—-may they thrive and live long is the cry of us all! Our rulers are touched by the benefice of Divinity, we may all benefit from this happy situation and finally, we have been made aware of our individual duties and obligations.
It is not a bad message with which to enter the New Year!
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012, 2014, 2017.