The libretto of the Peasant Cantata BWV 212 was written by Picander (he of the the St. Matthew Passion) on the occasion of the new chamberlain Carl Heinrich von Diskau receiving allegiance as Lord of the Manor of Kleinzchocher (near Leipzig). As Picander was a government official responsible for collecting liquor taxes in the region and therefore answerable to the new Lord, it's a fair bet that this work was intended to ingratiate himself with the new boss! Fortunate in the choice of his composer partner, Picander cannot have failed to achieve his wish.
The Peasant Cantata is described as a cantata en burlesque on Picander's printed libretto and Bach's score fully complements the intentions of the libretto: A courting couple, he wanting a quick roll in the hay, she disliking such vulgarity, all to the background of praise for the new squire. Bach's music is suitably rustic and full of quotations from popular songs and other borrowings. For such a short piece (the work usually lasts for around half an hour) there are many movements, twenty four in all. Most are therefore very short and there are only two really substantial arias neither of which is original to this work (Klein-Zschocher müsse is taken from the lost cantata BWV Anh I 11 and Dein Wachstum sei feste comes from BWV 201). Because of the large number of movements, I won't comment on all of them individually, rather I shall just say that they more than adequately express the rustic charm required of them. However, it's worth pointing out that the opening sinfonia and the closing chorus are excellent examples of Bach's use of popular tunes of the time, setting the tone for the piece and providing a perfect conclusion respectively. The first substantial aria (Klein-Zschocher müsse),for soprano solo, benefits from an attractive flute accompaniment and the second (Dein Wachstum sei feste), this time for bass, is a merry affair with particularly attractive string accompaniment. However, rather than providing inspirational high points in the cantata, they provide a gentle oasis amongst all the other comings and goings.
Having said that all of this works so well, you may be surprised at my rating: the trouble is that the work really doesn't seem to me to have any great substance to it. Beautifully crafted certainly, but up to Bach's highest levels of inspiration? I think not.
Copyright © 1999, Simon Crouch.