Royal Academy of Music/Kohn Foundation Bach Cantatas

Sunday, 04.12.2016 12:00, Duke’s Hall

This performance is dedicated to the memory of Sir Ralph Kohn, 1927–2016.

Iain Ledingham
Rachel Podger leader

JS Bach Ich freue mich in dir, BWV 133 (I rejoice in Thee)
JS Bach Nur jedem das Seine!, BWV 163 (To each only his due!)
JS Bach 'Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen', BWV 248v (Glory be to Thee, O Lord, Christmas Oratorio part V) 

Performed on historical instruments

Tickets £14 (concessions £11), season discounts available, on sale online, by telephone 020 7873 7300 (weekdays in term-time, 10.00am–4.00pm).

At the bottom of the score for Bach’s 1724 six-part Christmas Sanctus lies a jotted-down melody which takes centre-stage as the chorale tune for ‘Ich freue mich in dir’, composed for the third day of Christmas in the same year. The chorale melody which forms the basis for this cantata is set to text from a hymn by Caspar Ziegler. The cantata is uplifting as the text focuses on the personal joy that the birth of Jesus and the word of God brings to Christians. Bach’s setting is fairly modest for a celebratory cantata but joyful warmth is evident throughout, with only a slight shadow passing as the soprano painfully considers those who are not touched by the birth of Christ.

Closely linked to the Gospel for 23rd Sunday after Trinity, Salomo Franck’s text for BWV 163 pronounces that, if we owe the sovereign taxes and duties, we owe God the greatest gift of all; our hearts. The text pauses to wonder what we can offer God, especially when our hearts may no longer be pure. Comparing the heart to a counterfeit coin that has been made dull (damaged by Satan), the text is an exploration of true and false, pure and damaged, sin and virtue. It has been suggested that these dualisms apparent in the text could have been inspiration for Bach’s unusual scoring for two obbligato cellos during the bass aria, vocal duets, and even for the melodic exchanges that occur in the opening aria.

Although the scoring is modest, the fifth cantata in the Christmas Oratorio perhaps contains some of its most joyous and cheerful music. Bach chose to write an entirely new opening chorus for this cantata to celebrate the Sunday after New Year, and it is as radiant as the guiding star that the text describes. The narrative turns from outward light to the internal hope that our hearts might too be illuminated, and Bach creates intricate and winding obbligato parts for the violin and oboe d’amore. This section is the only one in the Oratorio to finish with a simple, plainly harmonized, chorale.

‘The great obsession in my life is the music of JS Bach, to me the greatest, finest example of music, and I couldn’t imagine life without him... The happiest music I know is the Christmas Oratorio. To me that is absolutely the most wonderfully happy music. Bach for me is my oxygen. It’s such universal music, it’s for every creed and religion and belief. The expression, the humanity behind it all, the depth of love, of affection – this is the greatest human expression. Bach is the most spiritually divine composer who ever lived.’
Sir Ralph Kohn, interviewed in Gramophone Magazine in January 2014

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