Cantata No.75

Johann Sebastian Bach

Cantata No.75

BWV75 • “Die Elenden sollen essen”

About this work

Bach moved to Leipzig to take up his position as the newly-elected cantor at the Thomasschule on May 22, 1723. Although he was not formally installed until June 1, his duties apparently began immediately. On the following Sunday, May 30, (first after Trinity) a large-scale cantata of Bach's was performed for the first time at the Nicolaikirche, the principal church in Leipzig. This historic event was noted in the city annals, which reported that "Herr Bach, newly arrived from Cöthen to take up the post of Cantor, performed his first work, which received much applause." The cantata concerned was BWV 75 ("The miserable shall eat"), which bases its anonymous text on the Gospel for the day, the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The cantata is in two parts, which would have been performed either side of the sermon. Its expansive scale, running to no less than 14 movements, was emulated by Bach throughout his entire output of extant cantatas on only one other occasion -- the following Sunday in BWV 76. He obviously intended to make his mark on Leipzig quickly. The scoring is for an orchestra of trumpet, two oboes, bassoon, strings, and continuo in addition to the customary four-part vocal forces. The opening chorus is in the two-part French style, the majestic dotted rhythms of the first giving way to a fugue. The extended accompanied recitative for solo bass which follows rhetorically questions the value of wealth and power. The remaining solos of the first half of the cantata are two arias and recitatives for tenor and soprano respectively, the aria allotted to the former being a pastoral-type movement in dance rhythm, that of the latter making direct reference to the sufferings of the beggar Lazarus. Part one ends with a setting from Samuel Rodigast's hymn "Was Gott tut, das ist wohgetan" (1674), the four-part chorus set off against joyous orchestral interjections. Part two opens with a lively sinfonia which also introduces the hymn tune, here heard on the trumpet. Then comes a further alternating sequence of three recitatives and two arias, all of which develop the theme of the superiority of heavenly riches over those of the world. The bass aria with trumpet obbligato (No. 12) is a particularly splendid movement. The cantata concludes with a repeat of the chorale heard at the end of part one.