Saturday, June 24, 2017


The So-Called Refugee Cantata

Yesterday I listened to Bach's Cantata 39, Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot.

Alfred Dürr, The Cantatas of J.S. Bach. Revised and translated by Richard D.P. Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005; rpt. 2006), p. 394:
It is sometimes maintained that Bach composed his so-called 'Refugee Cantata' in 1732 for a service to celebrate the banished Protestants of Salzburg. This is no more than an agreeable legend, however, for research has established that the work was in fact written for 23 June 1726. It is, of course, possible that at a repeat performance six years later the cantata found a new purpose which had been anticipated by neither librettist nor composer, but whether this really happened we do not know.
Mack Walker, The Salzburg Transaction: Expulsion and Redemption in Eighteenth-Century Germany (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), p. 102:
Probably the most widely distributed and reprinted contemporary account of the expulsion—also the earliest and in most respects quite accurate—was written by Christoph Sancke, pastor at the Thomaskirche at Leipzig (where J.S. Bach was musical director).39

39 Characteristic of the legendary magnetism already gathering about the Salzburg emigration is the story that J.S. Bach's cantata "Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, und die, so im Elend sind, führe ins Haus," called the "Flüchtlings-kantate," was inspired by the Salzburg expulsion and was introduced before an audience of emigrants by the Thomasschule choir at Leipzig in June 1732. This was not the case: S. Jost Casper, "Johann Sebastian Bach and die Salzburger Emigranten—eine unheilige Legende," MGSL 122 (1982), 341-70. I owe the reference to Tanya Kevorkian.
MGSL is Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Salzburger Landeskunde.

By chance yesterday I also read a newspaper article by Germany's chief promoter of refugee resettlement, Angela Merkel. The article is her answer to the question "Was ist deutsch?" and takes the form of an alphabetical list. The list is an idiosyncratic one, as such lists must be, and it contains what look to me like some evident contradictions (e.g. both Ordnung under O, and Unordnung under U). Among other items on the list are:
Whether all of these things are echt deutsch and can exist together in harmony, I couldn't say. But as for Chorgesang and Lutherbibel, here are the words of the opening chorus of Bach's cantata 39, taken from Isaiah 58.7-8:
Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot und die, so im Elend sind, führe ins Haus! So du einen nacket siehest, so kleide ihn und entzeuch dich nicht von deinem Fleisch.

Alsdenn wird dein Licht herfür brechen wie die Morgenröte, und deine Besserung wird schnell wachsen, und deine Gerechtigkeit wird für dir hergehen, und die Herrlichkeit des Herrn wird dich zu sich nehmen.
As translated in Dürr, pp. 392-393:
Break your bread with the hungry, and bring those who are in distress into your house! If you see someone naked, then clothe him, and do not avoid your own kin.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your improvement shall grow swiftly, and your righteousness shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall take you to His own home.

Fritz Eichenberg, Christ of the Breadline

P.S. Some items on Merkel's list which I wholeheartedly embrace:

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