Quinquagesima

Sunday 27 February 2022

Quinquagesima or Estomihi

27 February 2022 – Today is Quinquagesima or Estomihi or Shrove Sunday. Quinquagesima because we are 50 days before Easter, Estomihi refers to the opening verse of the Introit for the day, Psalm 31:3: "Esto mihi in Deum protectorem". It is the last Sunday before Lent, and Lent (like Advent) falls under Tempus Clausum, a penitential period focused on self-reflection, prayer, penance and repentance. No extravagant celebrations were allowed (like big weddings), and in Leipzig there was also no music in mass. Lucky for us Weimar did not observe that rule.

Bach has four cantatas for you, all from the Leipzig period. Philippe Herreweghe and the Collegium Vocale recorded these cantatas on one CD, so as an exception I've chosen only one performer today.

Important to note as well is that the first two cantatas, BWV 22 and BWV23, are the audition pieces Bach composed for the position of Thomas cantor in Leipzig. Originally, Leipzig offered the position to Georg Philip Telemann, at that point the most highly regarded German composer, but he turned the offer down because he got a promotion and higher wages at the court in Hamburg.

The city council then had a selection of seven other candidates (including Johann Friedrich Fasch) but they could not agree among themselves if they wanted a good teacher at the Thomasschule or a good musical director. So they opened up the position for sollications.

Two composers react: Christoph Graupner and Bach. Because Lent and Tempus Clausum was nearly there, the council had Graupner perform on Sexagesima and Bach a week later on Quinquagesima. But after Graupner's performance the council already decided in his favour. So Bach performed, already knowing he would not be chosen.

A local newspaper printed that the Bach cantatas "have been highly praised by all those who judge such things". However, the council had already chosen Graupner, and Bach returned to Köthen. Lucky for us Graupner preferred to stay at the court in Darmstadt after a pay rise.

City counselor Abraham Christoph Platz then stated that "if you can't get the best ones, you have to take the middle ones", and the offer was extended again to Bach, who accepts. He is released by the Köthen court and travels to Leipzig with his family and his belongings (which took four wagons and two carriages according to a local paper) and settles in the newly renovated apartment in the Thomasschule on May 30th. The rest is history, with a lot of magnificent music for us to enjoy.

Cantatas

  • Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe, BWV 22
    (first performance 7 February 1723, Leipzig period)
  • Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23
    (first performance 7 February 1723, Leipzig period)
  • Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott, BWV 127
    (first performance 11 February 1725, Leipzig period)
  • Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem, BWV 159
    (first performance ? 27 February 1729, Leipzig period)

Extra information

The Netherlands Bach Society website (in Dutch) has more information and performances of BWV 22, 23 and 159:
https://bachvereniging.nl/nl/bwv/bwv-22/
https://bachvereniging.nl/nl/bwv/bwv-23/
https://bachvereniging.nl/nl/bwv/bwv-159/