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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Du Wahrer Gott und Davids sohn (Thou very God and David's Son)

Cantata 23

  • Quinquagesima Sunday
  • Epistle: 1 Corinthians xiii. (The praises of charity)
  • Gospel: Luke xviii. 31-43 (We go up to Jerusalem)
  • Rating: 1*

The second half of Bach's audition for the Cantorate of St. Thomas', Leipzig. (See also BWV 22). There's an excellent essay about BWV 23 by Christoph Wolff in his collection Bach - Essays On His Life and Music that I heartily recommend to you. Briefly, two points from that essay: For a long time it was thought that only cantata 22 had been given as Bach's audition but recent inspection of the performing parts reveals that the parts for cantata 23 had been copied by the same hand as had copied the parts for the audition pieces of Graupner, one of Bach's competitors for the cantorate. Strong evidence for cantata 23 being given during the audition! Also, there is evidence that Bach composed an extra movement for this cantata, after having arrived in Leipzig for the audition. Perhaps, having arrived, he understood better what was required of him. Certainly, without the final movement, the cantata would be very short, at well under fifteen minutes. It must be admitted that it also sounds a bit like he started again: The quality of the added chorale movement is very high but it does sound as though it's tacked on to the end of something already complete.

I think that I would have given Bach the job as soon as I'd heard the first few bars of the opening movement! There's a superb "double duet". The two oboes weave an incredible hook (I defy you on hearing this for the first time not to go away humming or whistling this figure, it's totally addictive!) whilst the soprano and alto sing a duet of incredible sadness. After a recitative, there's a complete change of mood with the wonderful, surging choral movement Aller Augen warten which would quite happily round the piece off. The chorale setting adds a bonus five minutes of excellent music to this already wonderful cantata!

Copyright © 1995 & 1997, Simon Crouch.