We tend to associate Bach primarily with his sacred works. By the 1920s the Swedish theologian Nathan Söderblom regarded him as the ‘Fifth Evangelist.’ Yet from 1717 to 1723 Bach was under the patronage of a Calvinist Prince who refused to combine religion and music, and he continued to demonstrate a mercenary and worldly wise approach in his search for patrons. His time at Leipzig Collegium Musicum was also a creative period for Bach, again in a non-religious environment. It is therefore to be welcomed that the Retrospect Ensemble has presented some of Bach’s secular pieces.
‘O Holder Tag’ is one of Bach’s longest cantatas. Having taken up the post of organist in the Church of St Blasius at Mühlhausen early in his career, Bach had been caught up in a debate between Orthodox Lutherans who loved to inject song into their religion and Pietists who considered music unholy. This piece follows a similar debate, presenting arguments for and against the use of music. ‘Silence should reign for couples in love’ is met with ‘Do people really think that music leads astray And ill accords with love? No No!
‘Non sa che sia dolore’ is one of only two Italian texted works in Bach’s entire output, and could have been written at Leipzig to commemorate the departure of a colleague from the Collegium. This is a more rhythmic piece, often in the gallant style of the period.
The Retrospect Ensemble, launched on 1 May, aims to ‘take its musicians and audiences on a new journey, exploring the repertory of four centuries, embracing the practices, styles and aesthetics of former ages with renewed vigour…’ Through an excellent performance they have certainly achieved this.