Chattanoooga Bach Choir and Orchestra Delighting audiences with Classical and Baroque choral music since 1985

Program Notes

Notes for the latest concert; also see Past Program Notes

NOTES ON BWV 86—Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch

Wahrlich, Wahrlich, Ich Sage Euch, BWV 86 was written for the Fifth Sunday after Easter, within Bach’s first year as cantor in Leipzig. This was also Rogation Sunday, May 14, 1724. The given lectionary readings of the day came from the Epistle of James 1:22-27 (“doers of the word, not only listeners”) and the Gospel reading from John 16:23-30 (Jesus’ farewell and prayers to be fulfilled). The theme of the cantata is a quotation from the gospel reading, and presented in the first movement of the cantata, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, so will it be given to you”.
BWV 86 is one of those somewhat rare cantatas by Bach that does not feature an opening chorus. Could this suggest that is was written under pressures of time, even more pressure than usual for the cantor in Leipzig? Or perhaps more plausible, maybe Bach decided that after the grind of a Passion performance in Holy Week, and Eastertide cantatas week after week that he would have his choir only prepare a chorale on Saturday afternoon and thereby give them some rest. Whatever the reason, BWV 86 is still a beautiful cantata.
An aria for bass begins the cantata, accompanied by an orchestra of oboes and strings. It was the practice in 15th and 16th century church music to give the words of Christ to the bass vocalist. We see this famously in Bach’s setting of the Passion of St. John and the Passion of St. Matthew. We also heard this in BWV 104 presented in our cantata series a few weeks ago. The opening theme is first presented by the second violin and second oboe and here the style of the music is from more than a century earlier, ‘stile antico’ (ancient style). Here the writing for the orchestra could be written for voices with text, without changing the notes. The music is calm and peaceful, reflecting the words of Jesus. The opening theme is repeated by the orchestra and soloist, therefore repeating the words of Jesus (“truly, truly I say to you…”) over and over.
While the first movement was in the ancient style, the second movement is modern instrumental, secular music from the court. It is essentially a one movement concerto for violin, full of fast 16th and 32nd note passages. It is important to remember that Bach used the words ‘sacred concerto’ instead of ‘cantata’ for his church music. Later in the movement a dialogue forms between the slow rhythm of the alto soloist and the rapid notes of the violin soloist. Noteworthy is the text brechen (break), where the alto sings a broken chord on that word and at the text flehen (sighing or pleading) where the text is sung over two note slurs creating a pulsating strong/weak, strong/weak motif.
By no accident, Bach combines the style of the first two movements for the third. Here the two oboes play the contemporary, secular instrumental music of the court and the soprano(s) sings an ancient chorale from German church music. The instrumental music is in 6/8 meter, and conveys a dance feel, or secular music. The soprano chorale is from the 16th verse of the hymn Kommt her zu mir by Georg Grünwald (1530).
After a recitative by the tenor, and aria for tenor and string orchestra follows. The instrumental music is one of pure joy as the opening notes by the violins have the baroque joy motif (8th & two 16ths). When the tenor enters, the motif is based on three words, Gott hilft gewis (God helps indeed) and only five notes. The first violin opens the movement with that same five note motif. With arpeggios and occasional 32nd notes the music reflects the text of the prior recitative, the joy that comes in knowing that God’s help has been promised and God delivers on his promises.
The text of the final chorale is the 11th verse of Es ist das heil uns kommen her by Paul Speratus (1524). Listen for the joy motif in the alto and bass in the first half of the chorale.
BWV 86 is scored for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists, mixed choir (chorale only) two oboes, strings and organ continuo. This is the first performance of this work by the Chattanooga Bach Choir and Orchestra.

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