Pressed for time at the end of a busy Whit weekend during his first year in Leipzig (1724), Bach composed Erwünschtes Freudenlicht, BWV 184, based on an earlier secular cantata for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen’s birthday in 1721. The courtly tone is present throughout the cantata. The duet, aria and final chorus form a sequence of dances: minuet, polonaise and gavotte.

The anonymous librettist bears upon the Gospel reading for the day, proclaiming Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the rightful owner of his flock. A suitable pastoral atmosphere permeates the entire work. The long opening accompanied recitative for tenor has paired flutes playing a charming triplet rhythm in thirds over the simple basso continuo. The strings join the two flutes for the soprano/alto duet cast as a pastoral minuet (that was possibly danced to when first given in secular form in Cöthen). The two voices seamlessly flit around in thirds and sixths imploring us to "scorn the temptation of the flattering earth" ("Verachtet das Locken der schmeichlenden Erde") as heard in scurrying scales of the flutes. The extended tenor recitative, after drawing a parallel with the hero of Judah (King David) and the effective way he deals with the enemy, culminates in an arioso pairing of voice and continuo to portray the ‘perfect joy of heaven’ ("vollkommne Himmelsfreude") that is available even to sinners. In the ensuing aria, a polonaise with violin obbligato, the tenor develops the idea of Jesus as bringer of the ‘golden age.’ The chorale "Herr, ich hoff je" gives us a brief reminder that this is in fact a sacred cantata. The end of the cantata betrays its secular, courtly origin, with a bucolic gavotte as a soprano/bass duet expanded to include the chorus. In 1733, Bach used this same movement in a further parody form, in the homage cantata Laßt uns sorgen, laßtt uns weichen, BWV 213.

©Ryan Turner

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