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Bach Cantata Listener's Guide

Schwingt freudig euch empor  (Soar joyfully on high)

Cantata BWV 36c, BC G 35

  • Birthday Tribute
  • Editions: BG 34; NBA I/39
  • Rating: 2+

The cantatas in the familily associated with cantata BWV 36c had a complicated genesis which I won't attempt to fully unravel here other than to say that much of the music is derived from this, the earliest, secular, cantata. In this family, all except for the music of BWV 36a survive. Throughout the cantata, there is a fairly straightforward correspondence between movements of the various members of the family. The major difference that you'll notice is that in the sacred BWV 36 there are, instead of the secular recitatives, four chorale movements, three of which are verses from Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland (see BWV's 61 and 62, for example).

Schwingt freudig euch empor is thought to have been written as a birthday tribute to a Leipzig academic, possibly Johann Burckhard Mencke who was fifty in that year. The opening movement is a jolly affair, with prominent oboe d'amore, the words of which could suit any joyful occasion. The recitative that follows at least narrows the focus of tribute down to a teacher! The oboe d'amore returns to prominence in the following tenor aria with a lovely introductory line. The aria itself is attractive without being as memorable as the introduction would lead you to believe it should be. More encomia are heaped in the next recitative with the follwoing bass aria really laying it on thick: The day on which you were once born, is as sacred to us, as the one on which the creator said, let there be light! The librettist (thought to possibly be Picander) would surely have been glad that Bach made this into a jolly Happy birthday to you aria and didn't take it more seriously. The libretto doesn't improve in the next recitative but at least the final aria, for soprano, is a good 'un, where for once the vocal line doesn't let the virtuoso and attractive violin accompaniment down. This is a delicate little beauty worth making a detour for. The cantata closes with a very jolly chorus-with-recitative which has no analogue in the sacred BWV 36 (it was re-used in the secular BWV 36a and 36b).

Copyright © 1999, Simon Crouch.