A few months ago, when I was preparing for my exam, I sent the Bach alto aria I was learning to my German theologian friend, Anna, to check that my translation wasn’t too wildly wrong. She sent back the translation with her comments, and also mentioned that in Bach, the alto soloist is usually the voice of the believing soul. I thought that sounded gorgeous, and set out today to find some advent-suitable soulfulness to share with you.
And I found some. But this isn’t it, because what I also found in my travels was that Bach, being the excellent church musician that he was, had actually written a cantata for the second Sunday in Advent – which is today. I am not an excellent church musician, but I am a conscientious one, and having found beautiful music that was actually written for this precise day in the church year, I am incapable of choosing something else.
Bach is not a composer known for his lively sense of humour (unless you like obscure mathematical jokes involving making codes out of people’s names and setting them to music, in which case you’ll probably find him an absolute scream). Indeed, the first allegedly humourous piece of his that I heard was an obscure cantata using Greek myth to express the fact that he was a much better musician than one of his rivals, who pretty much had donkey’s ears. This sort of thing is extremely amusing, when your name is Johann Sebastian…
But he was, apparently, capable of more generally intelligible light moments, and he wrote, as it happens, an entire cantata about coffee. What could be more appropriate for a Monday morning?