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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Zerreißet, zersprenget, zerstrümmert die Gruft (Demolish it, disrupt it, destroy the vault)

Cantata BWV 205, G 36

  • Nameday of August Friedrich Müller
  • Editions: BG 11.2; NBA I/38
  • Rating: 1+

Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus (Aeolus placated) was composed for the nameday of a well respected academic at the University of Leipzig, August Friedrich Muller in 1725, while Bach was immersed in the white heat of sacred cantata production. As we know well, his productivity did not adversely affect his quality and this work is no exception. The scene, outside in the Catherinenstraße by torchlight, with possibly the largest orchestra that Bach ever assembled, must have been spectacular!

The libretto, by Picander, is a paraphrase of a section of Virgil's aeneid and is, frankly, a pleasant piece of twaddle! The excellent opening chorus introduces the chorus of winds who are angry that they haven't been allowed to reek havoc during the summer. In his opening recitative, Aolus (bass) who is the god of the winds agrees to unleash them, as summer is passing. He follows this with a tuneful aria in which he gloats over the amusement that he shall gain from watching the ensuing chaos. The god of evening breezes, Zephyrus (tenor), intervenes in his recitative and following aria, asking Aeolus to hold fire for a while. His aria is very attractive but he never gets around to saying why Aeolus should wait. Aeolus, very patiently acquiesces and spots Pomona (alto), the goddess of fruit trees, approaching with her own supplication. Her entreaty is a little more obvious, given the havoc that the winds would cause fruit trees. It's also delivered via another attractive, if not outstanding, aria. Aeolus appears unmoved so, in the following recitative, Pomona hands over to Pallas (soprano), goddess of wisdom. Pallas is far more subtle beseeching Aeolus, in an alluring aria, to allow Zephyrus's "musk laden kiss" to "play upon my mountain tops". As Anna Russell said: I'm not making this up, you know. Quite reasonably, by this time Aeolus is thoroughly bemused. At last Pallas tells him the reason: It's August Müller's name day! Aeolus immediately commands the winds to be still in a gloriously accompanied aria. The rest of the cantata is given over to mutual congratulation and praise for the good doctor, with a fine duet (with a lovely flute accompaniment) between Pomona and Zephyrus and a gloriously exsultant final chorus.

Some years later Bach parodied the music to a new text in praise of Augustus III, King of Poland in BWV 205a. Also the music of the duet between Pomona and Zephyrus re-appeared in the wedding cantata BWV 216 and the music of Pallas's aria was put to use in the sacred cantata BWV 171. Incidentally, Bach's son, Wilhelm Friedemann later re-parodied the work in Hallé in praise of Friedrich II of Prussia.

It does seem strange, in light of the extensive self borrowing from the other secular cantatas, that Bach did not re-use more of this fine cantata. Maybe he did and we don't know about it.

Copyright © 1999, Simon Crouch.