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April 15, 2012

Bach Cantatas (21): "Quasimodogeniti" (1st Sunday after Easter)

The first Sunday after Easter is also known as "Quasimodogeniti Sunday." The Latin "quasimodogeniti" means "like newborn babes" and is the opening phrase of the Introit for the church's worship of this Sunday: "Like newborn babes desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby." (1 Peter 2: 2-3)


Epistle: 1 John 5: 4-10 (Faith overcomes the world);
Gospel: John 20: 19-31 (Christ appears to the Twelve; the "doubting Thomas").

  • BWV 67 Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ (Leipzig, April 16, 1724)

    Chorus: Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ
    Aria: Mein Jesus ist erstanden
    Recitative: Mein Jesu, heißest du des Todes Gift
    Chorale: Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag
    Recitative: Doch scheinet fast
    Aria and chorus: Friede sei mit euch!
    Chorale: Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ.

    ("Hold in remembrance Jesus Christ"). The text of this cantata is allied to the gospel reading of the story of the doubting Thomas: one of the disciples who is seen as a doubtful Christian with his heart not at peace. Starts with a lively chorus which establishes a joyful Easter spirit, an exhortation to hold on to the memory of the risen Christ. The interesting  piece contains three elements: a marching theme, long held notes on the world "hold" and rising melismas to express the resurrection. This is followed by a tenor aria with obbligato oboe d'amore which expresses conflicting emotions ("My Jesus is risen, why am I afraid?"): joy about the Resurrection, but also doubt concerning its reality. The next recitative-chorale-recitative structure provides a wonderfully dramatic narrative which continues the spiritual vacillation of the tenor aria, built around the Easter hymn "The glorious day has arrived." This is followed by an extraordinary duet between the bass soloist as Vox Christi ("Peace be with you") and the chorus. The strings play a sort of martial music, as if war is waged for the soul of the believer - until in the last part heaven and earth combine in harmony. As this cantata proves, contrapuntal music is perfect for expressing conflicting emotions. The cantata ends with a peaceful harmonization of the choral "O Prince of Peace." (****)

  • BWV 42 Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats (Leipzig, 1725)

    Recitativo (tenor, bassoon): Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats
    Aria (alto, oboes, bassoon): Wo zwei und drei versammlet sind
    Aria (soprano, tenor, bassoon): Verzage nicht, o Häuflein klein
    Recitativo (bass, bassoon): Man kann hiervon ein schön Exempel sehen
    Aria (bass, violins, bassoon): Jesus ist ein Schild der Seinen
    Chorale: Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich

    ("On the evening of the very same Sabbath") Starts with an extended orchestral sinfonia, instead of an opening chorus. The sinfonia has a concertino woodwind group and may well go back to a now lost concerto. It has lyrical and tender character, and again evokes the joyful atmosphere of Easter. The tenor recitative quotes from the gospel about the appearance of Jesus to his disciples. The long and gentle alto aria takes up the same theme and may well have been based on the slow movement of the lost concerto used at the beginning. This highlight is followed by a duet for alto and soprano in a jerky rhythm ("Do not despair"), and then a bass recitative and aria. In the bass aria we hear the impotent rage of Christ's antagonists in the restless violin figures, while the vocal line expresses the reassurance of faith and the unassertive rhythms in the continuo symbolize persistence and strength. As usual, the cantata finishes with a choral setting. Like BWV 42, this a great and very original work, more impressive than the cantatas Bach wrote for Easter itself. (****)

(1) New Year's Day (2) New Year I (3) Epiphany (4) Epiphany I (5) Epiphany II (6) Epiphany III (7) Epiphany IV (8) Feast of Purification of Mary (9) Septuagesima (10) Sexagesima (11) Quinquagesima (Estomihi) (12) The Consecration of a New Organ (13) The Inauguration of the Town Council (14) Oculi (15) Wedding Cantatas (16) Feast of Annunciation (17) Palm Sunday (18) Easter Sunday (19) Easter Monday (20) Easter Tuesday (21) Easter I (Quasimodogeniti) (22) Easter II (23) Easter III (24) Easter IV (25) Easter V (26) Ascension Day (27) Ascension I (28) Pentecost Sunday (29) Pentecost Monday (30) Pentecost Tuesday (31) Trinity Sunday (32) Trinity I (33) Trinity II (34) Trinity III (35) St. John's Day (36) Trinity IV (37) Visitation (38) Trinity V (39) Trinity VI (40) Trinity VII (41) Trinity VIII (42) Trinity IX (43) Trinity X (44) Trinity XI (45) Trinity XII (46) Trinity XIII (47) Trinity XIV (48) Trinity XV (49) Trinity XVI (50) Trinity XVII (51) Trinity XVIII (52) Trinity XIX (53) Trinity XX (54) Trinity XXI (55) Trinity XXII (56) Trinity XXIII (57) Trinity XXIV (58) Trinity XXV-XXVII (59) Advent I-IV (60) Christmas Day (61) Second Day of Christmas (62) Third Day of Christmas (63) Sunday after Christmas