All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Magnificat

Magnificat performed by the Netherlands Bach Society conducted by Jos van Veldhoven.

"Bach had a talent for writing things that are quite impossible to sing."

Jos van Veldhoven guides us through one of Bach's most beautiful manuscripts.

Cellists Lucia Swarts and Richte van der Meer about their fundamental role in 'Quia Fecit'.

What is it like for a soloist to sing the choir parts as well as the arias? Tenor Thomas Hobbs explains.

"It's not about taking any prisoners when you're playing this sort of music."

The mighty arm of God

The expressive power of this song of praise about God’s justice is overwhelming.

The Magnificat is the first large choral work that Bach composed after his appointment in Leipzig in the spring of 1723. It is an ‘old-fashioned’ but delightful five-voiced work that uses Latin, just like the other rarity among Bach’s works, the Mass in B minor. The text comes from the Gospel of Luke, and is about the visit made by Mary to her cousin Elisabeth, who was also pregnant. She welcomed Mary with the words: ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!’ Mary answered, saying: ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord (Magnificat anima mea Dominum), and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my saviour, for he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden’. The religious feast day associated with this event, the Feast of the Visitation, was held in Bach’s day on 2 July, although nowadays it is celebrated on 31 May. Bach may have planned the Magnificat to have been sung at this first important religious feast day after his appointment. But as his aim of composing a new cantata for each Sunday turned out to be rather a high one, he might have postponed the completion of the Magnificat until the next feast day, Christmas 1723. In any case, that was when it was first performed, supplemented by a few suitable hymns in German.

Bach revised his Magnificat ten years later. He replaced the recorders with transverse flutes, transposed the work to a different key, gave the solo trumpet passage in the tenth part to two oboes playing in unison, and left out the songs related to Christmas, which made the piece suitable for other occasions as well.

The Magnificat has twelve parts, each lasting no more than three minutes. But the expressive power of this song of praise about God’s justice is overwhelming. He lets rulers bite the dust while the humble are raised up, and he feeds the hungry while sending away the rich. The text is given warm colour by using brass for the martial sounds and woodwind for the more loving passages, alongside strings and basso continuo. The full ensemble plays only at the beginning, in the central section and at the end. In the intervening parts, different vocal and instrumental combinations alternate, in order to support the text as expressively as possible.

Bach also uses expressiveness down to the last detail; for example in the second part with dancy sounds to the word ‘exultavit’, in the fourth part by suddenly using almost the whole ensemble for the words ‘omnes generationes’ and in the sixth part through the triplets for the word ‘timentibus’. In part 7, Bach applies this same principle to the maximum, with a furious, six-voiced fugue to the text ‘fecit potentiam in brachio suo’, to illustrate with conviction how far the mighty arm of God extends.


BWV
243

title
Magnificat in D major

Genre
Latin church music (magnificat)

year
1723 / 1733

city
Leipzig

Lyricist
Mary’s Song of Praise, Luke 1: 46-55

Occasion
Christmas Day / Feast of the Visitation

First performance
25 December 1723 / 2 July 1733

Special notes/reuse
There are two versions, the first of which (in E flat major) is less common.

Cast & Crew

release date 12 September 2014
recording date 2 May 2014
Location Grote Kerk, Naarden
Conductor Jos van Veldhoven
Soprano 1 Julia Doyle
Soprano 2 Hana Blažíková
alto Maarten Engeltjes
tenor Thomas Hobbs
bass Christian Immler
ripieno soprano Lauren Armishaw, Griet de Geyter, Marjon Strijk, Kristen Witmer
ripieno alto Leandro Marziotte, Elena Pozhidaeva
ripieno tenor Kevin Skelton, Immo Schröder
ripieno bass Jelle Draijer, Sebastian Myrus
VIOLIN 1 Shunske Sato, Paulien Kostense, Anneke van Haaften
VIOLIN 2 Hanneke Wierenga, Annabelle Ferdinand, Annelies van der Vegt
VIOLA Deirdre Dowling, Esther van der Eijk
cello Lucia Swarts, Richte van der Meer
DOUBLE BASS Robert Franenberg
traverso Marten Root, Doretthe Janssens
OBOE Martin Stadler, Peter Frankenberg
BASSOON Benny Aghassi
trUmpet Robert Vanryne, Neil Brough, Mark Geelen
Timpani Peppie Wiersma
HARPSICHORD Siebe Henstra
positive organ Pieter-Jan Belder
concert Production Imke Deters, Marco Meijdam
ProducERS Zoë de Wilde, Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTOR Lucas van Woerkum
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY Sal Kroonenberg
CAMERA Sal Kroonenberg, Robert Berger, Benjamin Sparschuh, Lonneke Worm
FILM EDITORS Lucas van Woerkum, Frank van der Weij
MUSIC RECORDING PRODUCER Leo de Klerk
GAFFER Victor Jas
BEST BOY Ravi Piccolo
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Joggem Simons
Score reader Eva Mulder
MAKE UP Jamila el Bouch, Marloes de Jong, Hanneke de Hertog, Marjolein Vossenbeld
MUSIC RECORDING ASSISTANTS Jaap Firet, Gilius Kreiken, Jaap van Stenis
CAMERA ASSISTaNTS Izak de Dreu, Indy Hamid
MUSIC EDIT AND MIX Leo de Klerk, Frank van der Weij
MUSIC EDIT ASSISTANT Martijn Snoeren
COLORIST Jef Grosfeld
interviews Onno van Ameijde
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Angela Mast, Marlo Reeders

Vocal Texts

Original

1. Coro

Magnificat anima mea Dominum

2. Aria (soprano)

Et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo
salutari meo.

3. Aria (soprano), coro

Quia respexit humilitatem
ancillae suae:
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.

4. Aria (basso)

Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est
et sanctum nomen ejius.

5. Duetto (alto, tenore)

Et misericordia ejus a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.

6. Coro

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo
dispersit superbos
mente cordis sui.

7. Aria (tenore)

Deposuit potentes de sede et exatavit humiles.

8. Aria (alto)

Esurientes implevit
bonis et divites
dimisit inanes.

9. Terzetto (soprani, alto)

Suscepit Israel puerum
suum recordatus
misericordiae suae.

10. Coro

Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
Abraham et semini ejus
in saecula.

11. Coro

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum.
Amen.

Translation

1. Chorus 

My soul magnifies the Lord. 

2. Aria 

And my spirit rejoices in God 
my Savior. 

3. Aria, Chorus 

For He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden. 
Behold, from henceforth, I will be called blessed by all generations. 

4. Aria 

For the Mighty One has done 
great things for me, and holy is His name. 

5. Duet 

His mercy is for those who fear Him 
from generation to generation. 

6. Chorus 

He has shown strength with His arm, 
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 

7. Aria 

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 

8. Aria 

He has filled the hungry 
with good things, 
and sent the rich away empty. 

9. Trio 

He has helped His servant Israel 
in remembrance 
of His mercy. 

10. Chorus 

According to the promise He made to our ancestors, 
to Abraham and to His descendants forever 

11. Chorus 

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to 
the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, 
is now, and for ever and ever, 
Amen.

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