Bach wrote some of his most exquisite music about Zachary and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. The “Benedictus” in the Mass in B-minor (BWV 232) scores the cry, the song, the canticle, which burst from the lips of the old man Zachary when he gave his son the name “John” at circumcision. In the “Magnificat” (BWV 243) Mary, pregnant with Jesus, sings in joyful praise when her cousin Elizabeth recognizes who her child is. She goes on to praise deeds that seem to be more mocked than magnified in these times.
He has mercy upon those who fear him, from generation to generation; he has done valiantly with the strength of his arm, driving the proud astray in the conceit of their hearts; he has put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty-handed. Luke 1: 50-53
The well-known hymn “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” is derived from the 10th movement of Bach’s Cantata “Heart and mouth and deed and life. Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben.” (BWV 147) Bach wrote this piece for the feast celebrating Mary’s visit with her cousin Elizabeth.
Last night Anne Mei’s Baroque Ensemble performed this cantata. I was in Syracuse on the last leg of my journey beginning with Thanksgiving at Laura’s sister Julie’s in Mystic, CT, followed by visits with my brother Patrick in Auburn, MA, and my sister Kate in Suffield, CT. Poor Toto had to spend the week in the Bed and Biscuit Kennel. They treat her well, but we missed each other. She’s cuddled up next to me as I write. Poor thing is hobbling more and more on her back leg.
Here are two samples from last night’s concert. First, the chorale “Wohl mir, das it Jesum habe (It is well for me that I have Jesus),” which ends the first part of the Cantata. Anne Mei is playing viola in the ensemble.
And the alto aria “Schäme dich, o Seele nicht (Be not ashamed, o soul),” just because I love the oboe d’amore.