All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit 'Actus tragicus'

BWV 106 performed by the Netherlands Bach Society conducted by Jos van Veldhoven
Oostkerk, Middelburg

Viola da gamba player Mieneke van der Velden, conductor Jos van Veldhoven and recorder player Heiko ter Schegget discuss the combination of instruments of this cantata.

Musical and theological tour de force

Unusual instrumentation produces unearthly sounds.

The combination of instruments Bach uses here can be described in many ways – famous, idiosyncratic, exceptionally beautiful and meaningful. In any case, the instrumentation is an unusual one. The violins are conspicuous by their absence, but there are two recorders and two viola da gambas, which provide a soft, comforting and sometimes almost heavenly sound. The recorders seem to symbolise earthly suffering with their sharp seconds and unisons, which recorder player Heiko ter Schegget says should not be ‘too beautiful’. He explains why in the interview.

Eternal life lies at the heart of the ingenious construction of this cantata. Bach makes a stark contrast between the earthly death of the Old Testament (everyone must die) and the redemption of the New Testament. The text cites various books of the Bible, in accordance with the Lutheran view that God’s plan for our salvation covers the whole Bible. The chorus ‘Es ist der alte Bund’ functions as a dramatic climax and axis of symmetry, in which Bach spectacularly combines the familiar memento mori warning (remember that you have to die) with the soprano’s proclamation of the coming of Jesus. This discussion grows into a musical and theological tour de force when at the end of the movement Bach no longer juxtaposes the two ideas, but sets them above and below one another.

This is one of Bach’s earliest cantatas and the music was undoubtedly intended for a funeral. So of course historians have searched for a fitting occasion for it, such as the funeral of the brother of Bach’s mother, Tobias Lämmerhirt, who died in Erfurt on 10 August 1707. The funeral was four days later. As Erfurt is about 60 kilometres away from Mühlhausen, this hypothesis should be taken with a pinch of salt, unless of course Bach could have started on the composition earlier. Incidentally, it is not clear who thought up the epithet ‘Actus Tragicus’, which first appeared in a manuscript dating from after Bach’s death.


BWV
106

title
Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit

epithet
Actus Tragicus

genre
cantata

year
1707?

city
Mühlhausen

Lyricist
unknown

Occasion
funeral music

First performance
unknown

Cast & Crew

release date 4 March 2016
recording date 16 May 2015
Location Oostkerk, Middelburg
Conductor Jos van Veldhoven
Soprano Dorothee Mields
alto Alex Potter
tenor Charles Daniels
bass Tobias Berndt
ripieno soprano Marjon Strijk
ripieno alto Barnabás Hegyi
ripieno tenor Immo Schröder
ripieno bass Jelle Draijer
recorder Heiko ter Schegget, Benny Aghassi
viola da gamba Mieneke van der Velden, Ricardo Rodriguez Miranda
cello Lucia Swarts
DOUBLE BASS James Munro
organ Siebe Henstra
Theorbo Mike Fentross
FILM DIRECTORS AND EDITORS Jasper Verkaart, MaNOj Kamps
MUSIC RECORDING PRODUCERS Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Micha de Kanter
camera Maarten van Rossem, Paul Caspers, Jorrit Garretsen, Rieks Soepenberg
GAFFER Daan de Boer, Denny Schoute
Make-up Erica Stuyfzand
colorist Daphne Maierna
concert Production Erik van Lith, Marco Meijdam
ProducER Jessie Verbrugh
interview Jasper Verkaart, MaNOj Kamps

Vocal Texts

Original

1. Sonatina


2. Chor

Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit.
In ihm leben, weben und sind wir,
solange er will.
In ihm sterben wir zur rechten Zeit,
wenn er will.

3. Arioso (Tenor)

Ach, Herr, lehre uns bedenken,
dass wir sterben müssen,
auf dass wir klug werden.

4. Arie (Bass)

Bestelle dein Haus;
denn du wirst sterben
und nicht lebendig bleiben!

5. Chor und arioso (Sopran)

Es ist der alte Bund:
Mensch, du musst sterben!
Ja, komm, Herr Jesu!

6. Arie (Alt)

In deine Hände
befehl ich meinen Geist;
du hast mich erlöset,
Herr, du getreuer Gott.

7. Arioso (Bass), Choral (Alt)

Heute wirst du mit mir
im Paradies sein.

Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
in Gottes Willen,
getrost ist mir mein Herz und Sinn,
sanft und stille.
Wie Gott mir verheissen hat:
der Tod ist mein Schlaf worden.

8. Chor  

Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit
sei dir, Gott Vater und Sohn bereit’,
dem Heilgen Geist
mit Namen!
Die göttlich Kraft
mach uns sieghaft
durch Jesum Christum, amen.





Translation

1. Sonatina


2. Chorus

God’s own time is the very best time.

In him we live and move and have our being, 
as long as He wills it.

In Him shall we die at the right time,
 if He wills.

3. Arioso 


Ah, Lord, teach us to number
our days, that 
we may apply
our hearts unto wisdom.

4. Aria

Set thy house in order:

for thou shalt die,
and not live.

5. Chorus and Arioso

This is the ancient law:

man, thou must perish!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come!

6. Aria

Into Thine hand
I commit my spirit;

Thou hast redeemed me,
O Lord God of truth.

7. Arioso and Chorale

Today shalt Thou be with me
in paradise.

In peace and joy I now depart 
according to God’s will,

I am consoled in heart and mind, 
calm and quiet. 

As God has promised me: 
death has become my sleep.

8. Chorus 

Glory, laud, praise and majesty

to Thee, God, Father and Son be given,

the Holy Ghost
with these names!

May divine strength

make us triumph

through Jesus Christ, Amen.



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