Bach – Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106 (Actus Tragicus)

Conducted by Gustav Leonhardt, the Collegium Vocale Gent and the Musica Antiqua Amsterdam perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God’s time is the very best time), BWV 106, also known as Actus tragicus. The piece is an early sacred cantata composed in Mühlhausen, intended for a funeral.

Programme

  1. Sonatina
  2. Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Chorus)
  3. Ach, Herr, lehre uns bedenken (Arioso)
  4. Bestelle dein Haus (Aria)
  5. Es ist der alte Bund (Chorus und arioso)
  6. In deine Hände (Aria)
  7. Heute wirst du mit mir (Arioso)
  8. Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit (Chorus)
  9. Commentary “Not Too Perfect”

Although Bach’s manuscript is lost, the work is agreed to be one of the earliest Bach cantatas, probably composed during the year he spent in Mühlhausen 1707/1708 as organist of the Divi Blasii church, at the age of 22. Various funerals known to have taken place at this time have been proposed as the occasion for the composition, for example that of his uncle Tobias Lämmerhirt from his mother’s family, who died in Erfurt on 10 August 1707, and that of Adolph Strecker, a former mayor of Mühlhausen, whose funeral was 16 September 1708.

The earliest surviving manuscript, in the hand of Christian Friedrich Penzel, was copied in 1768 after Bach’s death. It introduced the title Actus tragicus. The cantata was published in 1876 as part of the first complete edition of Bach’s works: the Bach-Gesellschaft-Ausgabe, edited by Wilhelm Rust.

The text consists of different Bible passages from the Old and New Testament, as well as individual verses of hymns by Martin Luther and Adam Reusner, which all together refer to finiteness, preparation for death and dying. There are two distinct parts to the cantata: the view of the Old Testament on death shown in the first part is confronted by that of the New Testament in the second part, leading to a symmetrical structure. The juxtaposition of texts from the Old and New Testament appeared before in the Christliche Betschule (Christian school of prayer) by Johann Olearius. Markus Rathey, professor at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, argued in 2006, that the sermon given at the funeral of Strecker is similar in ideas to the themes of the cantatas. It may be an indication that Bach composed the work for this occasion.

Notes

  1. “Ripieno” (Italian for “stuffing” or “padding”) refers to the bulk of instrumental parts of a musical ensemble who do not play as soloists, especially in Baroque music. These are the players who would play in sections marked tutti, as opposed to soloist sections. It is most commonly used in reference to instrumental music, although it can also be used in choral music. An individual member of the ripieno is called a ripienista. In the concerto grosso, the term is used to designate the larger of the two ensembles, and opposed to the concertino which are the soloists. In a ripieno concerto, there is no dominant soloist, and thus resembles an early symphony. It can also refer to the main body of orchestra in early orchestral music, although this use is today often disregarded. In band music, the term (or its variant spellings repiano and ripiano) is used similarly to designate the players not at the leading desk, especially the clarinet and cornet players in military bands. The term is also used to designate the organ stop with a full chorus.

Sources

Leave a Reply