J. S. Bach's "Kron und Preis," from Cantata 214
performed at Staunton Music Festival
August 23, 2019
Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, VA
Peter Walker, bass
Kris Kwapis, trumpet
SMF Baroque Players
conducted by Carsten Schmidt
video by Stewart Searle
About the Music
As a church musician in Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) continually needed service music. Among the most favored genres was the cantata. In Bach’s day this was a multi-movement vocal and instrumental work, typically featuring opening and closing choral numbers surrounding several arias. Many cantatas have been lost, though Bach probably wrote more than 250 during his career. Most are sacred, but he also composed a handful of cantatas on secular texts, of which perhaps thirty survive complete. These were generally intended for private occasions, festive social gatherings, and funerals. Tönet ihr Pauken, BWV 214, has just such a motivation. Bach composed the music to celebrate the birthday of Maria Josepha, wife of the Saxon Elector Augustus. The identity of the librettist remains unknown, but the message stands out clearly enough. The text presents four goddesses from classical myth who address themselves directly to the dedicatee, praising her virtues. Tönet ihr Pauken premiered at Zimmerman’s Kaffeehaus on Maria’s birthday: December 8, 1733.
The work encompasses nine movements. The first, a substantial overture in ABA form, is all about setting the proper tone. Prominent trumpets, timpani, strings in fast tempo, and rapturous vocal polyphony contribute to the celebratory tone. This is followed by a formal welcome from Irene (tenor), goddess of peace, and an aria for Bellona (soprano), goddess of war. Given the text’s opening line (“Blow the well-handled flutes”), Bach’s choice of accompanying instrumentation in this splendid aria is basically pre-determined. The message from Bellona is not one of destruction, but rather the sound of conflict turned toward music, as if swords might be beaten into warbling silver flutes rather than plowshares. Bach’s flattery of Augustus and his wife continues into Bellona’s recitative, but it is trumped by the heartfelt aria for Pallas, goddess of peace. Using reduced scoring for just alto, oboe d’amore, and continuo, Bach shows how convincingly he could have written opera arias had his inclinations taken him that direction.
Following Pallas’s recitative, we hear from the last of the four mythological giftbearers, Fama or Fame (bass). Here the celebratory tone resurges, and the text’s excessive kowtowing borders on the obsequious. Addressing Maria Josepha, Fama sings, “Whatever is pleasing to virtue, and that which belongs to heroines above, are your inborn gifts.” Rounding out the whole composition, Fama’s recitative and the closing chorus praise Maria’s glory among the Poles and Saxons (referencing her personal heritage), her hoped-for longevity, and her eternal place among the muses.
Many moments show an attention to detail, such as the pungent chromaticism at the very hint that Maria might one day die. The voice part leaps strikingly to the highest note on Sternen (stars) as if to embody the Electress’ eventual ascent to heavenly rest. Still, the overt and excessive flattery cannot be overlooked. Bach had already shown his desire to placate the Saxon Elector in previous works. With this birthday cantata, he hoped to elicit a job offer at the Dresden court; recall that Heinichen had died in 1729, thus opening the door to a possible change of post for Bach. Although the effort did not bear fruit in professional terms, this music clearly pleased Bach. Just one year later, he reused a substantial amount of it to create the celebrated Christmas Oratorio.
© Jason Stell, 2019
Described as a “commanding” singer by a recent Boston Globe review, Peter Walker enjoys a varied career as a singer of early and classical music. Recent performances include bass solos in BWV 36, BWV 147 and BWV 236 with the Handel + Haydn Society, Telemann’s Pimpinone with the Texas Early Music Project, and singing in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and London with the Clarion Society Choir, as well as appearances with Three Notch’d Road, Clarion Society Choir, Kuhmo Kamarimusiiki, Skylark Ensemble, Early Music New York, Blue Heron, Pomerium, Texas Early Music Project, and many others. He holds degrees from Vassar College and McGill University, where he studied with Drew Minter and Sanford Sylvan.
Kris Kwapis appears regularly as soloist and principal trumpet with period-instrument ensembles across North America, including Portland Baroque Orchestra, Early Music Vancouver, Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, Tafelmusik, and Bach Collegium San Diego. A Grammy-nominated artist, Kris has recorded on Kleos, Naxos, ReZound, Musica Omnia and Dorian labels and her playing has been broadcast live on CBC, WNYC, WQED, Portland All-Classical (KQAC), Sunday Baroque and Wisconsin Public Radio. Kris is on faculty at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music Historical Performance Institute and at her home in Seattle. When not immersed in music, she is active as a visual artist in the encaustic medium.
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