Advent I or Levavi
Today is Advent I, the fourth sunday before Christmas, and the start of the liturgical year. Bach left us 3 magnificent cantatas for this day. They all deal with the excitement of the upcoming birth of the Saviour.
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, was a hymn written by Martin Luther himself based on the oldest known Christmas hymn, Veni Redemptor Gentium, written by Pope Ambrosius (339-397). Bach used a libretto based on this hymn for two different cantatas, one from the Weimar period and one written in Leipzig.
Bach often reused themes or partial or even complete cantatas to create new work. This style is called musical parody. And today has a prime example of this practice by Bach.
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36, is part of a parodial collection of five cantatas, BWV numbers 36 through 36d. The original one is 36c, a Leipzig University celebratory cantata from 1725 with the same title. Steigt freudig in die Luft, BWV 36a, a lost cantata was based on 36c and created one year later for the birthday of Princess Charlotte Friederike Wilhelmine (1702-1785), second wife of Bachs former patron, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. BWV 36d, a lost cantata from 1730 was Bach's first attempt to create a church cantata from the previous two cantatas. BWV 36, this cantata, was written for Advent I 1731, by changing the recitatives to choral passages. Die Freude reget sich, BWV 36b, is the last variation, written again for a Leipzig University celebration 10 years later (c. 1737-1738).
- Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61
(first performance 2 December 1714, Weimar period)
- Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 62
(first performance 3 December 1724, Leipzig period)
- Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36
(first performance 2 December 1731, final version, Leipzig period)
The Netherlands Bach Society website (in Dutch) has more information and performances for all three cantatas:
WBC01-Advent I or Levavi
Choose one of these streaming services to listen to this playlist:
Image of the day
Watercolor painting by Felix Mendelssohn of the Thomaskantorei in Leipzig, 1838. I was thrilled to find this painting, because of course it is thanks to Mendelssohn that Bach was rediscovered in the 19th century, beginning with him conducting the Mattheaus Passion in 1829.