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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Freue dich, erlöste Schaar (Rejoice thee, redeemed host)

Cantata 30

  • St. John the Baptist
  • Epistle: Isaah xl. 1-5 (Prepare the way)
  • Gospel: Luke i. 57-80 (The birth of John the Baptist)
  • Rating: 1

The very late cantata BWV 30 (dating from c. 1738) is a parody of the secular cantata BWV 30a. That is, the music and text of the secular cantata have been adapted to fit the requirements of a sacred cantata. In this case, BWV 30a (Angenehmes Wiederau) was a laudatory cantata written for J.C. Hennicke, on his appointment as feudal lord of Wiederau. This has been adapted to meet the requirements for a cantata for the feast of St. John the Baptist. Many of Bach's parodies succeed supremely well and we should be careful not to look down our (cult-of-originality-conditioned) noses at a procedure that was common practice in those days, or we would write off such masterpieces as the b-minor Mass and the Christmas Oratorio! However, critics have had a field day with BWV 30 since they claim that the adaptation of such a high spirited piece to such a solemn occasion was a misjudgement. This may convince you to pay more attention to BWV 30a itself. However, recordings and performances of the latter are even more thin on the ground than those of the former, so you may have little choice!

The opening chorus is a superbly joyful piece, notable for it's syncopated rhythm, that fairly motors along. This, together with the bass aria that follows the first recitative, work well in this context since they are expressions of praise. The problems set in for the critics in the alto aria. Whittaker says "There is absolutely no relation between text and music….It is the worst crime Bach committed against himself". However, the music, with a gorgeous flute and violin accompaniment, is lovely! The chorale that ends the first part of the cantata refers directly to John the Baptist, so serves to anchor the piece where it should be. The second part starts with a recitative followed by a bass aria about which Robertson says "The adaptation is as tasteless as that in [the alto aria]". Again, the music is fine. The critics seem far happier with the final aria for soprano where the charming melody suits the words very well. Following a recitative, the final chorus has the same joyful music as the opening chorus.

In summary, don't let the weakness of the parody prevent you from hearing this cantata in some form or another. The music is far too good for that!

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch.