Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten

Johann Sebastian Bach

Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten


About this work

The links between J.S. Bach and those offices that required from him the production of church music -- sacred cantatas, organ music, etc. -- were, if not broken altogether, very much weakened during his years as Kapellmeister at Cöthen (1718-23) (where the Prince loved chamber music and was bored by sacred music); not surprisingly, Bach produced very little such music during those years. There is, however, a body of secular cantatas from Cöthen which shows that, although separated from liturgical necessity, the composer still cultivated an interest in the musical genre that would later characterize his religious works. One of these, Cantata No. 202, Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, BWV 202 (the Wedding Cantata), showcases the occasional, dramatic quality of these works.

BWV 202 is actually one of three secular cantatas designed for use at wedding celebrations (the others are Cantatas Nos. 210 and 216, the latter of which has only partially survived); but its fame is such that it alone has earned the popular name Wedding Cantata. The author of the cantata's text remains unknown; it might have been Salomon Franck, or possibly C.F. Hunold. The nine musical numbers -- four arias (all but one of which are da capo arias), three recitatives, one recitativo and arioso, and a final, happy Gavotte -- are scored for solo soprano, oboe, strings, and basso continuo, and celebrate the dawning of both spring and love.

It is principally the text that distinguishes this cantata from Bach's sacred cantatas for solo voice; formally, the arias and secco recitatives are structured identically to their liturgical fellows. The first aria opens with a series of diminished harmonies; these paint a sensuous picture of spring's lazy pleasures as the singer invites the depressing shades of winter to depart. The contrast between the upward arpeggios of the A section and the bustling, lively B section underscores the textual change from shadow to sunlight, from winter's cold to spring's bursting flowers. The second aria, with its bustling continuo accompaniment, is a vividly melismatic depiction of warm breezes hurrying through the reborn world. The third, in ritornello form with solo violin, is the only aria without da capo, as well as the only one in a minor key. The fourth aria, "Sich üben in Lieben," features a delightful oboe melody; its form is ritornello da capo. The text remarks that love's pleasantries are better than the fleeting joys of spring. The concluding gavotte presents a stately little wedding march with tutti, which the soprano's line then gracefully ornaments.