acoustics, Alfred Dürr, Annunciation, cantata, cantus firmus, chorale, chorus, continuo, dance, Himmelskönig sei willkommen, Jesu Leiden Pein und Tod, John Eliot Gardiner, Konzertmeister, Leipzig, opera, organ, Pachelbel, Palace Church, Palm Sunday, Paul Stockmann, Philipp Spitta, pizzacato, recorder, Salomon Franck, Saxe-Weimar, viola, violin, Weimar
Three hundred years ago, Bach was in Weimar, serving as court organist to Johann-Ernst III of Saxe-Weimar. He had just been promoted to the role of Konzertmeister, a position that required that he lead a monthly performance of a church cantata in the Palace Church.
Alfred Dürr has determined that the first cantata by Bach performed at Weimar on 25 March 1714 was Himmelskönig, sei willkommen (BWV 182). Depicting the Palm Sunday theme of the Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, Bach’s biographer Philipp Spitta suspects that the poetry was written by the court poet Salomon Franck. The chorale movement near the end of the cantata quotes Paul Stockmann‘s Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod, originally composed in 1633.
The score of the cantata acknowledges the reverberant acoustic of the church building by directing the divided violas and the continuo to play pizzicato when accompanying a recorder and violin duo. The chorale is arranged in the manner of Pachelbel: every line is first prepared in the lower voices, and then the soprano sings the cantus firmus while the other voices elaborate upon the text. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner describes the closing chorus as “a sprightly choral dance that could have stepped straight out of a comic opera of the period.”
Although church authorities in Leipzig typically forbade the performance of cantatas during Lent, an extraordinary opportunity for Bach to reuse Himmelskönig, sei willkommen occurred shortly after his arrival in Leipzig. On 25 March 1724, the solemnity of the Marian feast of the Annunciation outranked the Palm Sunday observance.