Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Friday, June 17

Bach and Mattheson

Synopsis

Back in 1714, today’s date fell on a Sunday, and, if you had happened to be attending a church service at the German Court of the Duke of Weimar, you might have heard some new music by the Duke’s court composer and organist, Johann Sebastian Bach.

It’s possible that Bach’s Cantata No. 21 was first performance that day: its first part performed before the sermon, its second part right afterwards. The opening text, which Bach sets as a fugue, begins “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” or, in English, I had much affliction.”

Now even in Bach’s day, composers were afflicted with critics, including snide remarks in print from fellow composers. In 1725, a then-famous composer—and critic—Johann Mattheson took Bach to task for the way in which he had set his text by quoting exactly what is being sung:

"I, I, I, I had much affliction, I had much affliction, in my heart, in my heart. I had much affliction, in my heart…” etc… Mattheson’s point, apparently, was that vocal music should not stutter, but flow gracefully in the “gallant” style that was becoming more fashionable and trendy back then.

Even so, Mattheson knew that Bach was the real deal, and earlier had praised Bach in print for church and keyboard music so well written that (quote), “we must certainly rate this man highly.”

Music Played in Today's Program

J.S. Bach Cantata No. 21 (Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis) t.b.a.

Additional Information

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