Few facts have come down to us about the circumstances under which Bach’s Wedding Cantata was conceived or performed. Bach scholar Joshua Rifkin has proposed that the Wedding Cantata dates from the composer’s time at the ducal court of Weimar between 1708 and 1713 for a number of reasons – the method of notation Bach used, literary scholarship attributing the text to the composer’s Weimar collaborator Salomo Franck, and many musical similarities between the cantata and Bach’s other Weimar works. Bach (1685-1750) probably composed the Wedding Cantata for friends, people close to him in rank and age, since the text contains no references to a noble patron and lacks the elaborate allegory that characterizes many of the composer’s works for aristocratic celebrations.
The pictorialism of Franck’s text seems to have inspired Bach. From the very opening pages, the music brings the poetry vividly to life, as the tenderness and warmth of the oboe and the soprano seemingly banish the wintry cold of the strings. The galloping continuo line in the second aria depicts Phoebus and his swift steeds, while the third aria relies on a solo violin to portray Cupid sneaking around.
The next aria is completely delightful, with its tripping oboe solo and spirited melody, the perfect picture of high spirits and lapping waves. The cantata closes with a gavotte, a French dance originally from the 17th century – the ideal way to end (or begin) a wedding celebration.
- John Mangum is a Ph.D. candidate in history at UCLA studying 18th-century German opera.
Be gone, melancholy shadows,
frost and winds, go to rest!
would grant our breast
none but happy fortune
for she brings flowers.
The world becomes new again,
in the mountains and the valleys
the graces redouble their beauty,
the day is free from cold.
Phoebus races with swift steeds
through the newborn world.
Yea, since it pleases him
he wants to be a lover.
Therefore, Cupid also seeks his pleasure
when purple in the meadows laughs,
when Flora’s splendor
is gloriously arrayed
and when in her kingdom,
just like lovely flowers,
hearts, too, passionately triumph.
When spring’s breezes blow
and waft through colorful fields,
Cupid steals forth
to search for his treasure
which, everyone knows, is this,
that one heart kisses another.
And this is good fortune,
that by the exalted favor of destiny
two souls attain a single treasure
shining with abundant happiness and blessings.
To practice love
to embrace in high spirits
is better than Flora’s fleeting delight.
Here the waves swell
Here the triumphant palms
laugh and watch lips and breast.
So shall the bond
of chaste love,
be free from the
inconstancy of change!
Neither sudden downturn
shall disturb the lovers’ pursuits!
See in contentment
a thousand bright and beneficent days
so that in the near future
your love will blossom!