This Friday I am playing J. S. Bach at Valparaiso University.
Cantata 21, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (I had much grief) is not a piece I had encountered before, but it is absolutely gorgeous. The opening Sinfonia is a long, complex, heartfelt, darkly chromatic, richly intertwined duo for oboe and violin, which I cannot WAIT to play, and the soprano aria is also going to be a treat for me.
I’m looking forward to this concert because of its interesting format – it opens at 5pm in the art gallery with solo violin works, and progresses to the recital hall for the cantata. I’m optimistic that there will be some speaking or at least excellent notes tying this all together. The progressive nature of the concert appeals to my taste for new and innovative presentations, and of course the intellectual complexity and depth of Bach’s music speaks to me from across the ages. This cantata was composed in 1713, and now, over 200 years later, still has the power to move us.
The work’s textual theme is laid out in the opening chorus:
I had much trouble in my heart; but your consolations revive my soul.
Its subsequent arias spell out the “trouble”:
Sighs, tears, anguish, trouble,
anxious longing, fear and death
gnaw at my constricted heart,
I experience misery, pain.
Streams of salty tears,
floods pour continually forth.
Storms and waves press against me,
and this trouble-filled sea
will weaken my spirit and life,
will break mast and anchor,
here I sink to the ground,
there I gaze into the maw of Hell.
In the ninth movement of the cantata, Bach sets two verses of George Neumark’s Hymn, (Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten)
What good are heavy worries?
What can our woe and sighing do?
What help is it, that every morning
we bemoan our hard lot?
We make our torment and sorrow
only greater through melancholy.
Think not, in your heat of despair,
that you are abandoned by God,
and that God places in His lap
the one who feeds on constant happiness.
The coming time changes much
and sets a destiny for each.
I’m not a religious believer, but Bach was, and I choose to take his texts – biblical and otherwise – as a message to release the anxiety that our country’s current alarming election cycle has engendered in all of us. Come next week, this particular phase of the trauma will be behind us, and I’d love to think that some of the rifts and hatreds that have come to the fore in recent months can begin to heal and subside.
I am ALWAYS optimistic, and I love and respect human beings collectively. Immersing myself in Bach today has caused me to feel sentimental, and I’ll say out loud that I have high hopes for a healing of our wounds, together, over the next four years.
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