Bach’s epic setting of the tune, “Nun dankett alle Gott,” BWV 192, headlines our program for tomorrow’s Bach at Noon, and it is a barn-burner. The liturgical occasion for which it was written (in 1730) is lost to us, as was the tenor part, which, according to the late, great Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music, was reconstructed by the Bach scholar, Gunther Raphael. But, the theme of thankfulness and doxology seem appropriate to the month of November (and, hopefully, Election Day). The last Sundays after the Feast of the Holy Trinity, in Bach’s time (and among those who follow the lectionary, our time) tend to have a cosmic orientation, a kind of glance at the Alpha and Omega, foreshadowed in the doxology (“as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever). So, the themes of the three movements of this brief cantata are of thankfulness, an acknowledgement of God’s grace, and eternal praise.
Though short in length, the work is full of some of Bach’s most fierce choral writing (much rehearsal was required and copious polish was applied as we prepared to sing it)! The first movement is a choral fantasia – a lengthy extrapolation on the themes of the melody, which is sung as a cantus firmus (the soprano part singing the tune in rhythmic augmentation, that is very slowly) over the complex writing for the lower three voices. The instruments don’t really get a break either, with lengthy ritornellos or introductions and interludes – there are fleet dialogues between the wind instruments and there is also lots of speedy writing for the strings. The singers’ parts begin with stepwise ascensions in the lower three voices that seem to suggest the rising of praise and thanksgiving from the believers. It’s very arresting, and, when the sopranos join in to crown the the proceedings with the hymn tune “Now Thank We All Our God,” there is a sense of great nobility and beauty. A gracious duet for soprano and bass follows, which explores the grace through which we are sustained by God. It’s an excellent pause from the bravura moments of the preceding and following movements. After the duet, a jig (or choral gigue) to send you out, with toes tapping, on the text of the doxology.
The program will begin with Robert Schumann’s Drei Fantasiestücke, or Fantasy Pieces, I believe for piano and ‘cello, Op. 73. Schubert and Brahms are worthy competitors, but Schumann is probably our most autumnal composer, and these lovely pieces are full of full of color and a variety of textures. I think one could easily imagine this as the soundtrack to a walk in the woods (though Schumann had originally intended to call them “Night Pieces”), among resplendent leaves and a pleasing chill in the air.
As some of our marketing for the event suggests, if you’re feeling anxious about tomorrow, this will be an excellent hour of escapism and beauty to sustain you through what’s sure to be a long day (and night). We’re eager to share this beautiful music with you!