Johann Christoph Bach: Welt, gute Nacht / Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists

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JOHANN CHRISTOPH BACH Herr, werde dich und sei mir gnädig. Mit Weinen hebt sich’s an. Wie bist du den, o Gott. Der Gerechte, ob er gleich zu zeitlich stirbt. Ach, dass ich Wassers g’nug hätte. Fürchte dich nicht. Es ist nun aus mit meinem Leben. Meine Freundin, di bist schön John Eliot Gardiner (cond); Julia Doyle, Katharine Fuge (sop); Clare Wilkinson (mez); Nicholas Mulroy (ct); Jaes Gilchrist, Jeremy Budd (ten); Matthew Brook, Peter Harvey (bs); English Baroque Soloists (period instruments) SOLI DEO GLORIA SDG 715 (78:11 Text and Translation)

If you have ever wondered what happened in German music between Heinrich Schütz and J. S. Bach, Bach would have had an answer for you. Most likely he would have mentioned several of his illustrious forebears, and most certainly he would have named his older first cousin once removed, Johann Christoph Bach (1642–1703), whom he identified as “a profound composer.” That judgment was seconded by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who described Johann Christoph as a “great and expressive” composer. Both father and son performed the elder Bach’s music in the course of their respective duties. The great Johann Christoph—not to be confused with Sebastian’s like-named older brother—was born in Arnstadt and trained by his father, Heinrich Bach (1615–92). His younger brother, Johann Michael (1648–94), also an important composer, later became Sebastian’s first father-in-law. His first position (1663) was as organist in Arnstadt, but two years later he was appointed organist at St. George’s Church in Eisenach. He eventually became a chamber musician at the ducal court there and held both positions for the remainder of his life. Little is known of Johann Christoph’s private life other than his contentious relationship with his employers and his impoverishment at the end of his life. In Eisenach he often worked with his first cousin, Johann Ambrosius Bach (1645–95), a town musician and father of the younger Johann Christoph (1671–1721) and Johann Sebastian. When Sebastian became orphaned in 1695 a logical move might have been to place him in the custody of the established cousin in Eisenach, but the latter’s financial condition probably dictated the move to his 24-year-old brother’s home in Ohrdruf. Sebastian’s musical training came primarily from his brother. But he was not a distinguished composer. Who can doubt that Sebastian’s inspiration had some roots in his musical memories of Eisenach?

Johann Christoph, of course, composed primarily for the church. Undoubtedly much of his music is lost. The extant catalog is small: two arias, two Konzerte (cantatas), two laments, two dialogues, and eight motets—the most famous of which, Ich lasse dich nicht , is variously attributed to him and to Sebastian. There are 44 organ chorales with preludes and an organ prelude and fugue. A few harpsichord pieces were probably written for the court. His style was progressive for its time and place, but listeners anticipating an appendix to Johann Sebastian’s legacy must be mindful that influence does not flow backward. Vocal parts are relatively undemanding, owing to the level of competence of the available choristers, but the instrumental accompaniments can be quite elaborate. One may find that Johann Christoph’s music has a logic of its own, and also that the younger Bachs were judicious in their assessment of it.

The disc title, Welt, gute Nacht , is not the title of any of the works in the program. It is the last line of the first verse of the valedictory aria, Es ist nun aus mit meinem Leben . Most of these eight compositions are solemn—end-of-life arias, laments, funeral motets, and a penitential psalm—but the program has a 24-minute happy ending. Meine Freundin , with a text derived from The Song of Songs , was written for a wedding celebration and shows a lighter side of Johann Christoph’s dour countenance.

Johann Christoph has an ideal champion in John Eliot Gardiner. Gardiner, who, unlike the Bachs, is not plagued by inexpert choral singers, leads an octet of soloists in the choral parts (including the two arias) and a reduced English Baroque Soloists in the larger works. The two laments are beautifully sung as solos by Matthew Brook and Clare Wilkinson. Gardiner finds both expressiveness and profundity in his readings.

The prevailing culture throughout the lifespans of the seven generations of musical Bachs placed a much higher value on newly composed music than on music of the past. Were he to look in on us today, I suspect that J. S. Bach would be amazed and probably gratified to find dozens upon dozens of recordings of the B-Minor Mass and Brandenburg Concerto recordings beyond count. But he would be dismayed, I’m sure, by the sparse representation of Johann Christoph Bach on disc. This is a splendid release, and an important one, highly recommended.

Also recommended, Die Familie Bach vor Johann Sebastian (Archiv 419 253-2, two CDs), performed by Reinhard Gobel, Rheinische Kantorei, and Musica Antiqua Köln—music of Johann Michael, Georg Christoph (1642–97), Johann Christoph, and Heinrich Bach.

FANFARE: George Chien

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SDG 715

  • UPC: 843183071524

  • Label: Soli Deo Gloria

  • Composer: Johann Christoph Bach

  • Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: English Baroque Soloists

  • Performer: Clare Wilkinson, James Gilchrist, Jeremy Budd, Julia Doyle, Katharine Fuge, Matthew Brook, Nicholas Mulroy, Peter Harvey