Geschwinde, geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde
BWV201 • “Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan”
About this work
In 1729, Bach took up the musical directorship of a series of concerts in Leipzig known as the Collegium Musicum, a generic term employed in Germany for (generally) semiprofessional and often informal concerts normally founded on student music making. Two such organizations existed in Leipzig in Bach's day, the one he became involved with having been founded by Telemann in 1702. Such concerts generally involved the performance of instrumental works (Bach's keyboard concertos were intended for performance at the Collegium Musicum) and small-scale secular vocal works. For the occasional special concert, larger works were sometimes given; it is into this category that Bach's secular Cantata No. 201, ("Haste, haste, you whirling winds" or "The Dispute between Phoebus and Pan") falls. It was composed in the same year that Bach took up the directorship, a time when he would obviously want something new for the Collegium. The text, an adaptation of an episode in Ovid's Metamorphosis, is by Picander, the pseudonym of the poet Christian Friedrich Henrici.
Bach enjoyed a fruitful period of collaboration with Picander around this time, the partnership producing not only the St. Matthew and St. Mark Passions but also both sacred and secular cantatas. The designation of the work as a dramma per musica is revealing, since that was a rubric frequently applied to operas during the eighteenth century. Indeed, in common with a number of Bach's other secular cantatas, "Phoebus and Pan" might be regarded as a miniature opera, the closest the composer came to a genre he otherwise never explored. The plot, probably rich in contemporary allusions, involves a thinly veiled satire on poor music making and singing. Phoebus and Pan each anger the other with claims of vocal superiority. Their quarrel is interrupted by Momus (soprano), who pokes fun at Pan. Eventually Mercurius (alto) suggests a singing contest, which is opened with a beautiful aria for Phoebus. Pan, in contrast, makes a fool of himself thanks to Bach's employment of stock clichés and popular, low style that alludes to the simple galant music gaining popularity at the time. The two judges who have seconded the contestants (Tmolus for Phoebus, Midas for Pan) both find in favor of their principals. Midas' obviously absurd decision earns him a pair of asses' ears (and a wonderful bray in the accompaniment!) to join his champion's fools' cap. The work opens and closes with large da capo choruses. Sharply characterized and wittily inventive, "Phoebus and Pan" reveals a side of Bach too little familiar to those who know him only by his instrumental and sacred vocal works.