Notes on the Kuhnau – Bach Concert 9th November

Johann Kuhnau (6 April 1660 – 5 June 1722 )

Kuhnau was Bach’s direct predecessor at Leipzig. A recording of the Kuhnau Magnificat can be heard on YouTube.

After Kuhnau’s death, the City Council were on the lookout for his replacement. The person they really wanted was Georg Telemann, a well-known and highly respected composer at the time. His employers in Hamburg however upped his salary when they realised he was about to be poached.

Their second choice was Johann Graupner. He was known as a fine man with good musical sensibilities, but Graupner’s boss also didn’t want to let him go.

“Since we cannot get the best, then we will have to settle for average,” concluded councilman Abraham Christoph Plaz.

How people can get things so very, very wrong! Their eventual choice for the “average” musician was J.S. Bach (who was at the time orchestra director at the small court in Cothen), now regarded as, without doubt, one of the greatest musicians to have ever walked this earth.

Bach was appointed by the City Council. Each year there was an inauguration of a new council and as part of this there was a festive church service at the Nikolaikirche. The Cantata No.29 (Wir Danken Dir, Gott) was written for this service in 1731. The brilliant Sinfonia is a re-working of the Prelude from the solo violin Partita No. 3. Re-working of music was a very common feature of the Baroque period as so much music was written for one specific event and therefore would probably only ever get one performance! No more is the re-working of material a main feature in one of Bach’s greatest works, the Mass in B minor. Much of the piece is in fact regurgitated material from earlier works, put together as a summation of everything Bach could do. And so in the 2nd movement of this Cantata, Bach came up with a rather wonderful piece of music which he used not once, but twice as the basis for the music of the Gratias agimus tibi and Dona nobis pacem (final movement) of his Mass in B minor. Cantate Nr 29 can be heard on YouTube.