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J.S. Bach Knew These Works Could Stand the Test of Time

Credit: GDLoft
J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

J.S. Bach wrote hundreds of sacred cantatas for voices and orchestra on liturgical texts. One season in Bach’s life reveals some of the cantatas he thought would endure through generations.

SL_ADLF_170320_Bach1734and35.mp3
Matthew Glandorf, artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia, talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis in 2016 about the significance of 1734 and 1735 in Bach's musical life, and how music he programmed that year speaks to us today.

Radio script:

[MUSIC: Bach, Cantata No. 47, Wer sich selbst erhohet (Whoever exalts himself will be abased)]

Susan Lewis: In the mid 1720s, J.S. Bach composed an enormous amount of music for church services in Leipzig, including an entire cantata each week; by 1734 and 1735, he was repeating selected works. Matthew Glandorf is artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia.

Matthew Glandorf, artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia

Matthew Glandorf: The thing that struck me about 34/35—he is clearly picking works that he felt were worthy of re-performance, and that’s something that was a little unusual for the time.

SL: Bach’s versatile, creative, and practical approach is also apparent, as he adapted works to the musicians he had on hand. Temple University music professor Steven Zohn.

"It's a little scary. I feel for Bach's musicians...they [pieces] are hard, especially if you've never looked at them before. In a way, we're discovering these pieces in a similar way that Bach's musicians did."—Steve Zohn

[MUSIC: Bach, Cantata No. 82, Ich habe genug (I have enough)]

Steven Zohn: So, Cantata 82 for oboe becomes a piece for flute and soprano when he redoes it, and that changes the character of the piece.

SL: Bach would mirror the message of the day’s scripture using his language of notes, dynamics, rhythms, and the relationship between instruments and musical lines. He was not, says Glandorf, trying to show off his brilliance, but was instead reaching out.

[MUSIC: Bach, Cantata 47]

MG: He’s trying to say, this is the human condition. These are things that are going to challenge you in life, and I’m going to write about that in a way that you can connect with. The richness and variety of these compositions is just astonishing.

[MUSIC: Cantata No. 47]

SL: During that 34/35 season, in addition to his other duties, Bach also composed and arranged public concerts, and wrote his Christmas Oratorio.  

"It's very rare that you get to actually step into the creative process of the composer quite so in depth, and that's why this year has been so exciting for us."—Matthew Glandorf

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.