Bach 360°: Chorales, Cantatas and an Oratorio for Easter

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Two things are certain about the classical music calendar: Handel at Christmas and Bach at Easter. Of course, Bach wrote a joyous Christmas Oratorio that is also heard in December, but his most celebrated choral works are those of the Easter season: there's not only an Easter Oratorio, but also two passions based on the Crucifixion story, several cantatas, Easter chorales and chorale preludes.

This weekend brings performances of these works to venues throughout the New York area, and it also provides the focus for the final day of WQXR’s Bach 360 festival. Across the pond, meanwhile, the Royal Albert Hall in London is gearing up for a nine-hour Bach Marathon on Monday, led by conductor John Eliot Gardiner.

Bach’s music for Easter is a reminder that portions of his output never survived the centuries. The Easter Oratorio, BWV 249, which he composed in Leipzig and premiered on April 1, 1725, is based on a secular cantata (the so-called Shepherd Cantata) that was lost. The text remained, however, and the work was reconstructed by modern-day scholars.

Similarly, historians believe that Bach set the passion play in five versions (based on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), yet only the St. Matthew and St. John Passions have survived. Both feature a mix of biblical texts, arias, chorales and choruses based on new liturgical poetry. But while the two passions deal with the same events, they are very different works, reflecting both the biblical text and the fact that Bach wrote the St. John Passion first, in 1724. 

On this Easter, we are thankful for the some 1,100 works of Bach that have survived the centuries and which have supplied us with more than 10 nearly days of truly remarkable music. Last year, choral director and WQXR host Kent Tritle and producer Aaron Cohen gave us some basics about the St. John and St. Matthew Passions with a set of “Passion Pointers.” Listen to them below.

Pointer One: The many types of music to listen for

Pointer Two: Knowing the difference between the St. John and St. Matthew Passions

Pointer Three: The significance of the St. John Passion's many chorales

Pointer Four: The way Bach uses male and female voices

Pointer Five: The history of the St. John Passion's creation

FREE Download [EXPIRED]: Freiburg Baroque Orchestra plays the Concerto for Three Violins BWV 1064R - Allegro

Some New York area listeners may be familiar with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra from its appearances at the Mostly Mozart Festival in recent years. The group's latest recording features the three Violin Concertos  paired with an enjoyable concerto for three violins, reconstructed from the surviving version for three harpsichords, BWV 1064 (available at

Programming Highlights for Sunday (all times approximate)

6am Cantata BWV 201, "Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde"

7am Chorales and a chorale preludes for Easter plus the Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D, BWV 1069

8am Glenn Gould plays the Goldberg Variations

9am  Chorale preludes from the "Neumeister Collection" discovered in 1985, plus the Easter Cantata BWV 4, "Christ lag in Todesbanden

10am   Murray Perahia with a partita, plus the reconstructed Cantata BWV 216,

11am   A chorale prelude and chorales for Easter, plus BWV 1050a, an earlier version of Brandenburg Concerto No. 5

12pm   The Easter Oratorio, BWV 249

1pm    Cantata BWV 31, "Der Himmel lacht! die Erde jubilieret" - written for Easter

2pm    Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1059  (Or is that BWV 105.9?!)

3pm    Chorale preludes and chorales for Easter, plus Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G, BWV 1048

4pm    The strophic aria discovered in 2005, Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn' ihn, BWV 1127

5pm    Cantata BWV 6, "Bleib bei uns" written for Easter Monday and chorale preludes from the "Neumeister Collection," discovered in 1985

6pm    "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," from Cantata BWV 147 and the Trio Sonata from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

7pm    The organ fantasia discovered in 2008, Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt, BWV 1128 (the highest BWV number now in the catalog)

8pm    Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042

9pm    Brandenburg No. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047 and the chorale prelude that may have been Bach's last work

10pm   Mass in B Minor, BWV 232


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Comments [20]

Sally Z from Glen Cove, NY

The Bach 360 series was a most wonderful idea, carried out so beautifully. The music was inspiring and the educational materials and comments so well integrated. I never thought it would work as well as you made it. Thank you so much for this remarkable month of listening and learning.

Apr. 06 2013 02:00 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha,NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Frankly, as a romantischer Wagnerian heldentenor with a three octave range which even on my acuti, highest pitches, remains masculine, even heroic, I am not obsessed by the timbre of thre voice so much as the musicianship and beauty of the toine quality. BACH has been transposed to many formats, including the MOOG and other electronic representations. BACH's music is universal and appreciated by the most unlikely panorama of chamber music enthusiasts, punk rock singers and their fans and everyone in between in terms of style or format appreciation. WAGNER's DIE MEISTERSINGER owes much in its composition to WAGNER's amazement at the contrapuntal schematic of BACH's music. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare" and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My websites where one may download, free, my singing of 37 out of the 100 selections that I have sung in four solo concerts at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall by going to Recorded Selections on;, and
Roles that are represented in my singing to be heard on my websites are: Tristan, Goetterdaemmerung Siegfried, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Siegmund, Walther von Stolzing, Florestan, Federico, Eleazar. and Judas Maccabaeus.

Apr. 02 2013 02:00 PM
Paul Joseph

Bach 360 should be an annual festival. Also good to have other composer mini-festivals.

Concentrated blocks of one composer or style give the listeners the opportunity to a experience the music on a much deeper level, which will stay with them always throughout all their musical experiences. It takes time for our ears, thought process and physiology to adapt to any style, especially ones that are removed from us by hundreds of years.

Continuity is important if the music is going to become part of us. Without continuity, the pleasure we experience remains superficial. Most programming for radio and concerts emphasizes variety, so by the time we're starting to adapt to a given style, we're on to the next one - resonating with our fragmented inner processes which are a product of our compartmentalized culture.

Classical Music has a unique ability to resonate at the depth of self (where wholeness can be found), and this resonance is what becomes its relevance in the 21st century - and always.

Apr. 01 2013 10:51 PM
Chris T.

Harriet McCarter comment is very ironic, in that she seems incapable of applying the lesson she mentions AT ALL in this context.
Peter Feldman takes it to the silliest heights of all: it is the reaction of a petulant child.
Dissatisfied, ok fine.
But the judgement by WQXR to do this is completely in comport with that of the most eminent composers, musicians, conductors, so highly supported.
A Feldman opion hardly matters. At least be a grown up, state: I don't like this because I don't like the music, and move on.
You will not be missed.

Oh, for every one of the "...many classical music lovers who find it heavy, depressing and anything but uplifting..." who can only laugh at that and feel sorry for those that do.
Like Pablo Casals for example...

Apr. 01 2013 10:02 AM

As a contributor, and holder of a graduate degree in classical music (from NYC's Manhattan School of Music), I was delighted by Bach 360, in ways I wasn't expecting. With, perhaps predictable, vocalist tunnel vision, I had envisioned an abundance of the punishing, and sometimes thankless, music of his Passions' Evangelists. I would, as other commenters here, be interested in hearing similar/related treatment of other composers, but was a bit disturbed, last night, to hear of requests for repeats of Bach 360 – some even suggesting that it become an annual event. One of the joys of classical music, and of WQXR, is the variety and diversity of available material, sources and interpreters. Please keep up the great work, in creating new and enlightening ways to present, engage and, yes, entertain, with your programming, but please don't simply repeat such extensive and narrowly-focused events.

Apr. 01 2013 09:44 AM

Absolutely loved Bach 360 and hope for the same treatment of other composers!
Trying to find a recording of a cantata played yesterday morning early, Sun April 31 (Easter): BWV 201, "Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde". Any leads most appreciated.

Apr. 01 2013 09:13 AM
Harriet McCarter from New Jersey

One of the things that I enjoy most about WQXR is the eclectic selection of music. I have learned to appreciate many composers that I would otherwise have not listened to and I now listen all day, every day - and I support WQXR because of that. I don't enjoy everything, and I doubt that anyone does, but the variety is so deep and varied that I suck it up and appreciate the other 99% that much more. Your decision to play Bach for 10 days was an arrogant, complete turnoff and so unfair to supporters who should not have to wait it out for that amount of time in order to hear anything else. I understand that there are passionate Bach fans who will cringe at the mention that Bach is anything but wonderful. However there are many classical music lovers who find it heavy, depressing and anything but uplifting. I will deal with Bach, or anything else, in the mix of good classical music - but my radio was turned off for 10 days and that was especially irritating during the holiday. I hope that you will consider, for many good reasons, the possibility of never doing this again or risk losing supporters that you need and that make the best of WQXR possible for so many classical music lovers.

Apr. 01 2013 08:58 AM
Peter Feldman from New York City

More Bach in the mornings? You are completely out of your mind. I definitively will not listen WQXR anymore much less give any contributions.

Apr. 01 2013 07:52 AM
Ellen Delo from West Orange, NJ

I would love to see the Bach 360 as an annual event. The more I heard, the more I wanted to hear.

Apr. 01 2013 12:49 AM

I have enjoyed Bach 360. Good job WQXR.

Mar. 31 2013 10:29 PM
Barry from Manhattan

A WQXR listener since the mid-80s, I especially appreciate the festival as a return to the hearty programming I have appreciated over years.

Unfortunately, I have largely fallen away as a listener over the past year or so, with the programming reminiscent of WNCN in its final days, when only the popular movements of concertos or sonatas was played.

That being said, this festival is a great undertaking and is very much appreciated. Except for the insults hurled at organists the world over by persisting on playing organ works in orchestral transcription. While my schedule does not allow me to fully enjoy this amazing festival, and I am hopeful that some organ works have been properly presented, I am saddened that I have heard little evidence of that.

Mar. 31 2013 09:44 PM
Pheebee from NY

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Bach 360 has been absolutely wonderful. I cannot begin to tell you how much I've enjoyed it. Please, keep more Bach in your daily programming (and an occasional marathon wouldn't be bad, either).

Mar. 31 2013 09:35 PM
Roger from Manhattan

Although I missed the first half of Bach 360 while out of the country, it's been a wonderful and moving experience (and we've increased our contribution by 67%--good timing with the annual renewal!). I hope that in the future WQXR won't forget the cantatas, so rarely heard on the station until now. Thanks for playing BWV 1127, new to me (and not part of my "complete" Bach set on CD). And thanks for all the commentary from Christoph Wolff.

Mar. 31 2013 04:48 PM
Wendy from Manhattan from Manhattan

I feel like I have been absolutely swimming in Bach these last few weeks. what with sitting at my computer with the wonderful speakers my kids got me and going to , so far 2 of the Philharmonic's Bach concerts(a third later this week) and the St. Matthew Passion last Thursday, it has been absolutely glorious! Thanks you WQXR and please do it again next year!

I have learned, in a visceral way, that Bach wrote an enormous number of Cantatas. I guess one could call it his day job. How cou ld one man write so much perfect music that moves one with its sound and structure which comes through so clearly particularly in the instrumental works. My biggest disappointment was that you played the Art of the Fugue on the night of the first Seder. Perhaps you can reshedule it soon.

Mar. 31 2013 01:02 PM
Morrill Cole

I have been blessed by my access to Bach Festivals and,as the Harvard station called them, the Bach Orgies.They ran from Dec 15 to New Year.But the idea grew. Columbia's FM station--I think WKCR-followed with its year end festival from Dec.15 to New Year. My wife of 47 tears passed away on December 15,2000.While driving home from Sloane Kettering,a new widower,I went to WKCR and found the beginning of their year end Festival.Needless to say, my radio was on 24 hours a day with Bach for company and solace. A week after Dec.15 I wandered into Sam Goody (remember?) and found a suit case--in it Bach's Complete works in 12 boxes--The Bach 2000 publication--Das Alte Werk--Teldek did it--Many performers-the Cantatas primarily Concentus Musicus Wien conducted by Nikolaus Harnncourt--a revelation--I plunk3ed down my Amex Card and it contributed mightily to my healing with that almost miraculous acquisition. I have had the joy of being able to listen to whatever Bach I am feeling for at the moment--I download the discs onto my ITunes and that lets me download to my IPOD so I am blessed with Bach whenever and wherever the desire drives me--which is often.
So why, then my joy with your festival? I think it has to do with the sharing and the beautiful expressions of love for the music which your announcers expressed and it made me feel as if I was part of a blessed group of Bach lovers which made listening to the music more feeling and somehow poignant. And I learned new things. You misidentified a secular Cantata as BWV 216--it shook me with its drama and beauty and magnificent baroque trumpet work. I went looking and couldn't find 216,but my book on the Cantatas discussed the secular Cantata BWV 215 which, in addition to its hugely dramatic music was notable for the tragedy of the trumpet maestro dying the day after the first performance for the somewhat minor functionary for whose appointment Bach had written the piece to celebrate and maybe to garner continued favor in the court.Absolutely one of the most exciting of all--and a new piece in my life. It never fails to amaze me what earth shaking music he wrote, often for small mundane events--he was incapable of writing mundane music--You gave me an exciting two weeks--I am grateful--I will send a check to join Wqxr and will hope for many more such exciting events--Thank you--Morrill Cole

Mar. 31 2013 12:03 PM
Clarence from Manhattan

Bach 360 has been a listening pleasure. As an avid March Madness basketball fan, I found myself muting the TV, so I would not miss any of the beautiful music. I am a member of WQXR.

Mar. 31 2013 11:58 AM
Frank from UWS

I agree with the other commenters here. I don't know if this was a ratings success or not but it surely demonstrated that WQXR can lead its audience to the unknown and surprising and not just play the "hits."

Maybe as the next step, WQXR can share some lesser-known works inspired by Bach? Things like Mendelssohn oratorios, Bruckner motets, Stravinsky's neo-classical pieces or Busoni fugues -- all music we seldom hear on the station. Or, how about venture back into some Monteverdi, Palestrina or Gesualdo once in a while? There are a lot more discoveries to be had.

Mar. 31 2013 11:41 AM
Olivia from Manhattan

Agree with the comments below...WQXR, I listen to you nearly every waking hour of my day, but it is true that you sometimes have a tendency not to play works which may be considered more obscure (or at least, less popular/easily accessible), by Bach and other composers. Bach 360 has been so wonderful on many levels, but especially for the chance to hear these lesser known works. Please continue to challenge us, your audience, by broadening your playlist.

Mar. 31 2013 10:42 AM
Rosanna from NYC

Ditto to Barbara's comment! WQXR has especially neglected Bach's cantatas for decades. (sigh) Back in the 1980s we could at least hear one cantata every Sunday morning presented by the inimitable Robert J. Lurtsema on WGBH Boston, which was then carried by WNYC-FM. SO-- MANY, MANY KUDOS & THANKS FOR PROGRAMMING BACH 360, and please don't return his choral works to the back burner! They definitely belong in prime time!!!!!!!!!

Mar. 31 2013 01:52 AM
Barbara from Manhattan

To the music programming director and management decision makers:
Doesn't the overwhelming popularity of Bach 360 tell you loud and clear you don't normally include enough Bach in your usual scheduling?
One legacy of this special event should be that you respond to what many people want, which is much, much more Bach on a routine basis.

Mar. 30 2013 08:34 PM

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