in: News & Features

October 9, 2017

Bach Cantata Gets US premiere After 231 Years

by

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

The King’s Chapel Concert Series opens its 60th anniversary season on Sunday October 29th with a festive program featuring J.S. Bach’s beloved Magnicat, a perennial favorite on Boston concert programs. In addition to this masterpiece of the family patriarch, you will also get to hear the first American performance of a festival cantata by his second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Musik am Dankfeste wegen des fertigen Michaelisturms was written for the dedication of the completed tower of St. Michael’s Church in Hamburg, Germany, which took place on Reformation Sunday, October 31, 1786. The manuscript for the cantata eventually found its way to the library of the Berlin Sing-Akademie. At the end of the Second World War, the Russian army removed this entire library for safekeeping in Kiev.

It was not rediscovered until 1999, when its return prompted the initiative of the complete, and now considerably augmented, new editions of the works of C.P.E. Bach, spearheaded by The Packard Humanities Institute, edited and headquartered right here in Cambridge.

Since the manuscript disappeared before the early music revival started in Europe and the US in the 1950s, this occasion marks the first performance of this historical gem on this side of the Atlantic. Managing-editor Paul Corneilson tells us, “We have published more than 80 volumes through 2017, and we expect to finish the remaining thirty volumes in about four years.” More information on the project is here.

BMInt’s noted CPE Bach authority David Shulenberg writes of the Musik am Dankfeste wegen des fertigen Michaelisturms:

“Bach re-used the opening chorus of “The Hymn of Thanks” the following year, when a new tower on the Hamburg’s Church of St. Michael (known as the Michel) was dedicated on Reformation Day 1786, that is, Oct. 31. The original church building, consecrated in 1661, had burned in 1750, and its replacement was dedicated in 1762 in a ceremony that included a work by Telemann. (TWV 2:12). Despite its full scoring and lengthy text in twelve movements, what we may call Bach’s “Tower Festival Music” (H. 823) is, like some of his other late church works, composed on a relatively small scale. Only the incorporation of the double-chorus Heilig into the first part, this time preceded by the usual arietta, makes it comparable in scope to some of the earlier inaugural and seasonal pieces. The arias are all short, despite their relatively lengthy texts; one of these (“Wenn Gott zu strafen schwöret”) is a parody of “Wenn einst vor deinem Schelten” from the inaugural music for Pastor Schäffer, heard the previous year at the church of St. Nicholas. Here the energetic aria (“If God must punish”) served conveniently as an answer to the preceding recitative, which recounted the destruction of the previous church building with vivid if predictable writing for the strings.”

Sunday, October 29, 2017, 5 pm.
King’s Chapel, 58 Tremont Street, Boston

Advance tickets $15/10 available here.
Doors open at 4:30 pm, tickets at door $20/15
More information at www.kings-chapel.org 

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