In 1729, Bach took up the musical directorship of a
series of concerts in Leipzig known as the Collegium
Musicum, a generic term employed in Germany for
(generally) semiprofessional and often informal
concerts normally founded on student music making. Two
such organizations existed in Leipzig in Bach's day,
the one he became involved with having been founded by
Telemann in 1702. Such concerts generally involved the
performance of instrumental works (Bach's keyboard
concertos were intended for performance at the
Collegium Musicum) and small-scale secular vocal works.
For the occasional special concert, larger works were
sometimes given; it is into this category that Bach's
secular Cantata No. 201, ("Haste, haste, you whirling
winds" or "The Dispute between Phoebus and Pan") falls.
It was composed in the same year that Bach took up the
directorship, a time when he would obviously want
something new for the Collegium. The text, an
adaptation of an episode in Ovid's Metamorphosis, is by
Picander, the pseudonym of the poet Christian Friedrich
Bach enjoyed a fruitful period of collaboration with
Picander around this time, the partnership producing
not only the St. Matthew and St. Mark Passions but also
both sacred and secular cantatas. The designation of
the work as a dramma per musica is revealing, since
that was a rubric frequently applied to operas during
the eighteenth century. Indeed, in common with a number
of Bach's other secular cantatas, "Phoebus and Pan"
might be regarded as a miniature opera, the closest the
composer came to a genre he otherwise never explored.
The plot, probably rich in contemporary allusions,
involves a thinly veiled satire on poor music making
and singing. Phoebus and Pan each anger the other with
claims of vocal superiority. Their quarrel is
interrupted by Momus (soprano), who pokes fun at Pan.
Eventually Mercurius (alto) suggests a singing contest,
which is opened with a beautiful aria for Phoebus. Pan,
in contrast, makes a fool of himself thanks to Bach's
employment of stock clichés and popular, low style that
alludes to the simple galant music gaining popularity
at the time. The two judges who have seconded the
contestants (Tmolus for Phoebus, Midas for Pan) both
find in favor of their principals. Midas' obviously
absurd decision earns him a pair of asses' ears (and a
wonderful bray in the accompaniment!) to join his
champion's fools' cap. The work opens and closes with
large da capo choruses. Sharply characterized and
wittily inventive, "Phoebus and Pan" reveals a side of
Bach too little familiar to those who know him only by
his instrumental and sacred vocal works.
Although the closing chorus (Labt das Herz, ihr holden
Saiten) was originally written for orchestra, I created
this arrangement for Winds (2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, English
Horn & French Horn).