Peasant Cantata

Johann Sebastian Bach

Peasant Cantata

BWV212 • “Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet”

About this work

Along with the Coffee Cantata (BWV 211), the Peasant Cantata reveals Bach's rich but little-known comedic vein. The occasion of its composition was the appointment in 1742 of the Leipzig chamberlain Carl Heinrich von Dieskau as Provost (ruler) of a number of villages in the immediate vicinity of Leipzig, where Bach was based as cantor. To celebrate the event (and Dieskau's birthday), a fête was held, probably in the village of Klein-Zschocher, at which the principal entertainment was a firework display and the performance of Bach's cantata. The idea for a musical contribution came from Picander, the pseudonym of poet Christian Friedrich Henrici, himself a government official in Leipzig. Bach had enjoyed a particularly fruitful collaboration with Picander during the 1730s, the partnership producing not only the St. Matthew Passion and St. Mark Passion, but a number of sacred and secular cantatas. There are two rustic characters in this cantata, a courting couple sung by soprano and bass, Picander accordingly setting parts of the text in Saxon dialect (the title is an example). It is now also known that Bach's music drew heavily, perhaps exclusively, on popular tunes of the day, giving the cantata a deliberately bucolic character unique in his music. The opening sinfonia, a potpourri of dance tunes, is followed by a duet based on a rustic bourrée in which the couple celebrate the arrival of a new lord of the manor who gives them beer -- "real strong stuff." In the succeeding accompanying recitative (in which Bach introduces the tune of the "Quodlibet" from the Goldberg Variations) the peasant flirts with his girl, who responds with an aria in polonaise style expressing the excitement of love. Dance, in fact, dominates the musical numbers, among them the famous "La Folia," which Bach uses for the accompaniment to the aria (No. 8), in which the soprano sings the praises of the new chamberlain. Most maintain the same rustic quality, the sole exception being the more courtly minuet as the soprano sings of the sweetness of life in Klein-Zschocher (No. 14). These simple sentiments of courtship and fealty are rounded off with another delightful duet in which the couple announce their intention to leave for the tavern "where the bagpipes drone." It has been suggested that Bach, the highly sophisticated urban musician and master of counterpoint, was simply making ironic comment on the crudity of popular music in the Peasant Cantata. True or not, the work remains one of his most infectiously enjoyable.