The Bach Experience BWV 149

Thursday, June 13 - 12:30 pm
Myers Park United Methodist Church - Jubilee Hall

BACH: Man singet mit Freuden, vom Sieg , BWV 149

Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg, BWV149 marks Bach’s third and last complete cantata for the Feast of St. Michael, the libretto of which was also drawn from Picander, this time directly from his 1728 cycle of cantata texts. The cantata was therefore probably composed in that year or the year after. If the opening chorus of Es erhub depicted the battle between Michael and the dragon, the opening chorus of Man singet depicts the celebration after the angel’s victory. No strife enters into the joyful chorus, in a lilting triple meter and with homophonic declamation. The chorus is in fact a parody, drawn directly from the closing chorus of the secular “Hunt” cantata BWV208. The original F major, suitable for the original hunting horns, was transposed to D major to accommodate the festive trumpets, and the linear biblical text was assigned to the strict da capo form in this masterfully executed parody.

A strophic aria of praise for continuo and bass follows the opening chorus; as in Es erhub, this is followed by a turning inward to the individual believer and his or her dependence on the hosts of angels for protection.

The soprano aria and tenor recitative that follow invoke one’s own personal guardian angel: “Sie sind bei mir allerenden” (“They are with me everywhere”). The angels are then described in both movements as the soul’s guide to heaven: “Tragen sie mich auf den Händen” (“They shall bear me up in their hands”). The tenor recitative makes direct reference to the closing chorale with “deinen Schoß” (“your bosom”).

Duet was not one of Bach’s most common textures; each one, however, is an absolute gem of an aria. “Seid wachsam, ihr heiligen Wächter” is no exception, a duet for alto and tenor with obbligato bassoon. The highly unusual color points toward the nightfall of struggle that precedes the dawn of salvation in death. At risk of reading too much into Bach’s textures, I might wonder if Bach’s duet represents the duality of soul and angel, believer and watchman, preparing for arrival before the Father. The final four-part chorale remains unadorned, but for a delightful surprise at its conclusion—at which point we imagine a smile breaking across the face of the austere Bach of our collective imagination. – Brett Kostrzewski

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