Birthday of Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Birthday of Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen

Two celebratory cantatas today from the Köthen period, dedicated to his patron there, Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen.

Leopold most likely made Bach's acquaintance at the wedding of his sister Eleonore Wilhelmine to Ernest Augustus I, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, which was held at his mother's estate in Nienburg on 24 January 1716. When his Kapellmeister left his post the following year, Leopold lost no time in offering the job to Bach, who signed his contract on 7 August 1717. Unfortunately, Bach was not able to break easily from his former employer Duke William Ernest of Saxe-Weimar, who imprisoned him from 6 November to 2 December 1717 for not following correct procedures in requesting release from his post as Konzertmeister at the court of Weimar. Only after 2 December 1717 Bach could finally take his new post in Köthen (source: Wikipedia).

The first one, Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück, BWV 66a, is a reconstructed version by Alexander Grychtolik based on music from the Easter cantata Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen, BWV 66. Grychtolik is a German harpsichordist and musicologist who specialises in the reconstruction of works by Bach; he also completely recreated the Markus Passion, of which the last surviving score was lost in a fire in 1945. So there may be discussion to the accuracy of this music, but at least it is a worthy attempt and an extra cantata for us to enjoy.

The second one, Durchlauchtster Leopold , BWV 173a dates from 1720. He reused material of this cantata to create Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut, BWV 173, for Pentecost Monday 1724 in Leipzig.

Bach stated repeatedly that his period in Köthen was the happiest time of his life (although he lost his first wife there but soon remarried). So it is very likely that he wrote a yearly birthday cantata for his employer, but only two survive. It is also assumed that the first of this cantatas was performed on December 10th 1717, so only a week after Bach was released from his Weimar prison... impressive.

Cantatas

  • Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück, BWV 66a
    (first performance 3 December 1718, Köthen period)
  • Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a
    (first performance 10 December 1722, Köthen period)

Playlist

WBCF1210-Birthday Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen

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Image of the day

Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen (1694-1728) in a contemporary painting by an unknown artist.

Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen (1694-1728) in a contemporary painting by an unknown artist.