Johann Sebastian Bach was better known as a virtuoso
organist than as a composer in his day. His sacred
music, organ and choral works, and other instrumental
music had an enthusiasm and seeming freedom that
concealed immense rigor. Bach's use of counterpoint was
brilliant and innovative, and the immense complexities
of his compositional style -- which often included
religious and numerological symbols that seem to fit
perfectly together in a profound puzzle of special
codes -- still amaze musicians today. Many consider him
the greatest composer of all time.
Cantata 214 "Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!"
("Sound, you drums! Ring out, you trumpets!") is
subtitled "Dramma per musica," and was written for the
birthday of the Electress of Saxon, who was also Queen
of Poland, and was performed on December 8, 1733. It
calls for one of the largest performing forces of any
Bach cantata: Soprano, alto, tenor and bass solos, full
chorus, and a large orchestra for the time. The author
of the text is unknown.
The four singers portray the allegorical figures of
Bellona, Pallas, Irene, and Fama. The opening chorus is
accompanied by the full orchestra, which naturally
enough includes drums and trumpets to add to the call
of "Long Live the Queen!" The Queen is extolled as the
protectress of the Muses in her lands; the voices of
youths pledge to stand ready with their weapons as part
of the splendid display.
Similar praise continues. A final recitative proclaims
that her fame shall spread to all lands, and the final
chorus bids the trees to bloom in her honor, and wishes
her long live. In other words, this cantata, splendid
though it is musically, is an extended bit of sucking
up, but that was life in the eighteenth century. Later,
Bach put much of the music of this cantata to more
exalted use as part of his "Christmas Oratorio."
"Blast die wohlgegriffnen Flöten" ("Blow the firmly
held flutes") is the third Aria of the Cantata BWV 214
and, although originally written for Flutes (2),
Soprano and Continuo, I created this arrangement for
Flute Quartet (Flutes (3) & Alto Flute).