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'Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen'...
... the beauty of this aria cannot be described with a pen. And this is true of much of Bach's music, especially when death is the theme, as in the cantatas 'Ich habe genug' and 'Vergnügte Ruh'. That death was an exceptionally inspiring subject for Bach is undeniable.
In his own life, death was omnipresent. Bach was orphaned as a small boy, he lost his first wife at an early age (she was already buried when he returned home from a trip), and no fewer than nine of his children died before the age of ten. So much suffering - it is almost impossible to imagine. It is obvious that by setting texts such as 'Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod' (BWV 82) or 'Mir ekelt mehr zu leben' (BWV 170) to music, Bach was trying to give death a place, perhaps even to reconcile himself to it. This positive approach to death is all the more striking because Lutheranism, to which Bach is so closely related in many respects, sees death precisely as the greatest enemy of all, as that which Christ had to overcome. During the Baroque period, a time without antibiotics and without proper hygiene, death was omnipresent; infant mortality was the rule rather than the exception. In a time of such powerlessness in the face of illness and suffering, was there perhaps more acceptance? For example, in his chilling "Lament," Buxtehude thanks his father for all he taught him and wishes him a gentle rest. In addition to the immense sadness that emanates from the work, a certain meditative resignation is also palpable.
Maarten Engeltjes and Andreas Wolf met in 2009 when William Christie selected them for his young talent program 'Les Jardin des Voix'. By now both are successful and much in demand as soloists and regularly encounter each other on the national and international stages. Besides their friendship, it is Bach's music that binds them. Creating a programme together around Bach is therefore the fulfillment of a great desire for them. Perhaps the choice of death as a theme is not the first thing you would expect from two young singers and an even younger ensemble. Or perhaps death has other, less severe, frightening aspects? Is not dying precisely a natural part of life and, in the case of a completed life, a noble thing - making way for a new generation to be able to marvel at the beauty of life? And isn't that precisely what Bach is trying to tell us with his unprecedentedly beautiful and comforting melodies?
Buxtehude Lament, BuxWV76
J.S. Bach Ich will den Kreuzstab, BWV 56
J.S. Bach Vergnügte Ruh, BWV 170
J.S. Bach Concerto C minus violin and oboe, BWV 1060
J.S. Bach Ich habe genug, BWV 82
J.S. Bach (Aria from) Bleibet nur in eurer Ruh, BWV 244a
J.C. Bach Es ist nun aus mit meinem Leben, BWV 156
Maarten Engeltjes countertenor
Andreas Wolf bass/baritone