Chapter 95 BWV 214 Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!
Resound Drums, ring out Trumpets!
Chorus–recit (tenor)–aria (sop)–recit (sop)–aria (alto)–recit (alto)–aria (bass)–recit (bass)–chorus.
A cantata of homage.
NB see also C 248 vol 3, chapter 48: the Christmas Oratorio.
This is the second of the two works of homage from 1733 that provided so much material for the Christmas Oratorio, the other being C 213 (chapter 94). In fact this cantata provides two of the impressive choruses, those which spectacularly begin the first and third cantatas. Two of the three arias are also included in the Oratorio but none of the four recitatives, of which there are one for each voice. Readers should consult vol 3, chapter 48, for further detailed comments upon the four transcribed movements.
C 214 was written to celebrate the birthday of Maria Josepha, Electoress of Saxony and Queen of Poland. An indication of her status is clearly apparent in the scale of the imposing chorus which, including the da capo reprise, stretches to almost three hundred and fifty bars. The text calls for drums, trumpets and strings to resound and that is what Bach provides, although not precisely in that order. Nevertheless, this is the only movement in Bach’s repertoire which begins with a timpani solo, followed by flutes, oboes thence first violins and trumpet. The sweeping exhilaration of this movement is impossible to describe in words, urgently repeated notes, flashing scale passages and a grinding bass line all playing their part in generating the excitement of the occasion.
Since so much of the musical interest lies in the instrumental lines, the choral writing, by necessity and contrast, is less extrovert. The passages of imitation are short and uncomplicated (see, for example, bars 106-109 and 138-141). Much else is homophonic, a forceful punching out of the call for celebratory instruments to make their proper contributions (part A) and the tribute ‘long live the Queen’ (part B).
In the Oratorio, the text is based around a similar call for rejoicing, this time in the name of the Lord. Bach could, as elsewhere, have asked his lyricist to include specific references to the instruments so as to make the new verses appear to be fully suited to the music; but he did not. There is no mention of drums, trumpets or strings; the opening bars are devoted entirely to the glorification of the Lord.
The secco tenor recitative declaims—-today is the day on which to rejoice and celebrate the Queen’s birthday—-my olive tree is fertile and verdant—-and no tempest or menacing weather can frighten me. Bach paints both storm and lightening—-Sturm—-and Blitz—-with continuo bursts of activity and the final two bars of inclement weather are underpinned with repeated semi-quavers of foreboding.
Sturm Blitz trübe Wolen
The four voices are allotted mythological characters which inevitably have allegorical overtones. The soprano is Bellona (war), alto Pallas (knowledge), tenor Irene (peace) and bass Fama (fame). Their tasks are simply to pay homage to the Queen. There is no interaction between them, as in some other secular cantatas.
War leads the way in the first of three arias and it is notable that the pair of flutes, present though unmentioned in the text, are now called upon to blow forth—-such that the enemy and forces of nature blush—-the noise of clashing weapons heightens both spirit and mind. On the face of it, it may seem odd that one of the softest and most serene of instruments should be used to illustrate the clashing of weapons. But this particular armoury is not called upon in the context of active war or battle. It is a part of the happier process of celebration of peace and the softer coo-ings of the flute suddenly become appropriate. Clashing of arms is mildly depicted by the odd phrasing of the ritornello theme and later by more persistent rhythms of the middle section (from bar 47). But even this latter moment is brief and does little to detract from the return to the moments of joyous celebration.
Note the extended melismas on Freuden—-joys—-(bars 65-70 and 85-89). The three repeated notes (first heard in flute 1, bars 5-6) suggest an imperious call to arms which latterly becomes a summons to assemble and celebrate.
Opening flute theme.
This cantata marks a departure others where the established pattern of paired recitatives and arias is of the former coming first; here Bach experiments with the reverse process, the latter preceding the former. Thus we arrive at a soprano recitative in which War continues her tribute to the Monarch—-the exploding metal of my canons shakes the air, a happy sound to support my sons’ heroic steps.
Bach depicts the sounds of battle with continuo scales and rapidly repeated notes. But these, too, fall away quickly as the picture of the positive and peaceful day reasserts itself.
Now it is the turn of Pallas to add his support to the celebrations. His aria is marginally more muted, set in a minor key (the only movement of the cantata) an oboe d’amore providing the wistful ritornello melody. He calls upon the muses, in a rather measured manner, to abandon traditional songs, pen and script and rejoice spontaneously. There is, of course, an obvious irony in that both lyricist and composer have given much thought to the form and expression of their tributes in verse and music to a text which argues against the adoption of such crafted arts in the demonstration of natural rejoicing!
The notion of uninhibited joy is depicted in the swathes of rapid passages in the latter part of the aria. These begin with the voice (from bar 69) soon to be taken up by the oboe. Before long they combine (from bar 91), a clear symbol that Pallas’s call to join in celebration has been heard and adopted.
The constant interplay between voice and oboe begins with the echoing of just a few notes (from bar 17), suggestive of Pallas summoning and the Muses responding. This rapidly proceeds, however, to a virtuosic abandonment of constraints amid the swathes of demi-semi-quavers which do not abate until the closing bars of ritornello theme.
In the Oratorio Bach set the aria for flute and tenor, a decision which required transposition. The flute line is further adorned and some minor adjustments are made to the vocal part. The text is a similar call for celebration, this time for the shepherds to hasten to the crib of the Newborn Babe.
Pallas’s recitative is bathed in sustained string chords, perhaps because of the early mention of the Queen having been sent from heaven itself. The loyalty and support of the Muses for the Monarch is affirmed as the music moves from the shadows of F#m to the warmer and more positive tones of D major where Fame, in the guise of the bass voice, is about to deliver an aria that seems to have taken on its own individual reality, so well has it become known (no 8 in the Oratorio).
Strings and continuo support the singer in this vigorous aria but the instrument that really captures attention and remains in the memory is the solo obbligato trumpet. It opens with a bold, powerful declaration, firstly supported by the violins, then rising majestically above them in a manner that suggests triumph, dignity and splendour. The text is based around two ideas, each of which forms one of the main da capo sections—-I will ensure that fame will saturate the world with the glorious Queen’s name—- and—-you have the gifts of virtue only to be found in heroines.
In the Oratorio Bach adds a flute to strengthen the first violin line but otherwise he is content with the original. There the homage to the Queen becomes a tribute to Christ who, though having come to save the world, now lies humbly in a manger. The ringing trumpet sounds are, if anything, even more appropriate in the heralding of the Saviour than in the celebrating of a mortal dignitary.
The downward direction of the opening theme is reversed in the later statement of the ritornello, rising instead of falling (bars 67-8). Such details create a powerful musical effect; even more, they suggest the echoing of the Queen’s name around the world, just as the text suggests.
Fame’s recitative is delightfully buttressed by chords from the woodwind, flutes and oboes. Bach also employs them much in the way that he used the continuo flurries of triplets in the second duet of C 207a (chapter 93). In both cases they have a grammatical function, marking the ends of phrases and sentences.
The four woodwind passages here are also designed to emphasise the meaning of significant lines, the first (bar 3) representing the voice of Fame penetrating the earth’s very orbit. The second (bar 6) is a similar depiction of her fame, extending to the earth’s vaults. The third (bar 9) follows the request for her to receive ongoing protection from heaven. But when we come to the fourth and last, the direction changes from rising to falling.
Such an alteration of track of an established figure usually denotes a symbolic moment. Here, the text has moved away from the Queen’s ethereal relationships (with the world, the firmament and heaven) to a more mundane focus (her subjects here on earth)—-through her, shall her subjects be strengthened. The final bars also require the wind to sustain chords, a musical suggestion of the Queen’s long and continuing life. Even the singer’s final phrase rises to the top of his range as mention is made of her subsequent (but clearly regrettable for those left behind to mourn) transit to the stars.
The attention to every detail of the text is remarkable and causes one to wonder why some recitative texts stimulated Bach’s imagination in this way and others, with no less imagic potential, are set so plainly and directly. There is, perhaps, no accounting for the mind of genius.
The cantata ends with a jovial chorus. Like the first it is in 3/8 time, D major and calls upon the full instrumental resources. Unlike it, this is extremely concise (less than 100 bars), more overtly dance-like and it lacks the baroque embellishments of the sweeping scales. The structure of the movement is both simple and economical:
A Opening instrumental ritornello: 4 X 4 bar phrases = 16 bars total.
B Solo section featuring T, S and A.
A1 Combined choir and orchestra.
A2 Version of A, orchestra only.
B2 Second solo section.
A3 Version of A with combined choir and orchestra.
Each section is 16 bars long, making 96 bars in all. It can be seen from the above layout that there are two instrumental and two solo sections, and two with choir and orchestra combined. None is identical to any other, although each begins with the same rhythm, four quavers followed by four semiquavers. This, and the tight organization of the material, creates a sense of seamless unity.
The choir simply asks for more joyous days, for which ‘Long Live the Queen’. Tenor, soprano and alto (Peace, War and Knowledge) have, in that order, the solo roles in which they espouse the blossoming of the trees, resounding of weapons and the singing of Muses. The movement was later taken over, virtually without change, for the Oratorio (no 24) where it opens and closes the third cantata with conventional expressions of homage to the Saviour.
This is a work that should be performed in full, regardless of the duplicated role of many of its movements in the Oratorio. Certainly, one would not like to be without the first aria or the last recitative. Furthermore, the placing of all the movements within their original context provides the listener with a perspective which frames them differently.
Copyright: J Mincham 2010. Revised 2012, 2014, 2017, 2020.