Johann Sebastian BACH:
Cantata 198: The TRAUER ODE

for the Funeral of Queen Christiane Eberhardine of Poland/Saxony.
Performed at a special Memorial Service
held in the University Paulinerkirche, Leipzig, on October 17th, 1727.

Of all Bach's great Cantatas,
the composition and performance of this Trauerode
was probably the most significant to the composer,
the performers and the citizens of Leipzig.

Elector August the Strong - August der Starke

In 1697, Friedrich August, Elector of Saxony, assumed the Polish crown, which traditionally passed not through lineage, but on selection by the Polish nobility from eligible candidates. Extensive lobbying by the Saxon Court brought Friedrich August into the Finals, his main opponent being Louis, Prince of Conti. Stories are told of a midnight race from the Polish border to Krakov, then Polish capital. Friedrich August won and claimed the Crown. Louis, so it is said, consoled himself by making off with a substantial part of the Polish Crown Jewels.

In addition to the election competition there remained another challenge: the requirement that any king of Poland must be of Catholic faith. Despite the Elector's, and Saxony's solid Lutheran Protestant background, this was no problem for the opportunist Friedrich August who readily acceded, formally adopting Catholicism in Vienna on June 1st, 1697 despite a storm of protest from the strongly Protestant Saxon populace. Feelings were only slightly calmed by a formal announcement on July 27th that Protestantism in Saxony would in no way be jeopardized, as indeed it would not be. In fact the city of Dresden would be enriched by the juxtaposition of religious buildings of both faiths, often unofficially competing for prominence.

The way was now clear to assume the Crown, and on September 15th 1697 in Krakov, August I, Elector of Saxony, was crowned King August II of Poland. His wife, however, (Princess) Markgräfin Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Kulmbach whom he had married in 1693, positively refused to renounce her Protestant faith. She went into self-exile in Pretzsch Castle on the Elbe where she remained until her death on September 5th, 1727. Her husband meanwhile favored a long string of mistresses with his sexual prowess, siring only one legitimate heir, but 267 illegitimate offspring, earning him the title of August the Strong (der Starke) and a further measure of popular disregard.

Pretzch Castle on the Elbe
While her Residence at Pretzsch was made ready, the Queen stayed at Torgau, another town on the Elbe River. The architect employed to prepare her Pretzsch Residence was Pöppelmann, who was responsible for the design of many of Dresden's fine new buildings. He also supervised the up-grading of Pretzsch church to cathedral status. So although officially in exile, the Queen nonetheless maintained her royal status, and remained Queen in name. It was in Pretzsch that she brought up her son, who would become Elector August II, or August III as King of Poland. Though under the Queen her son grew up in the Lutheran Protestant faith, after her death his father was to send him to Italy where he adopted Catholicism voluntarily.

The death of Christiane Eberhardine was deeply mourned in strongly-Lutheran Saxony, and it was felt in Leipzig that some special memorial was required.

Hans von Kirchbach, a nobleman student at the University of Leipzig, proposed a memorial service in the Paulinerkirche (University Church) during which he would deliver a valedictory address. Von Kirchbach commissioned a sometime librettist of Bach's, Johann Christoph Gottsched, to write verses for a Mourning Ode, and Bach to set these verses to music.

The scoring of this work is extraordinary. A large and expressive grouping of instruments is used, including the usual complement of violins, violas, two flutes, two oboes and the usual continuo bass and harpsichord, together with a pair of those sweetly sorrowful instruments the oboes d'amore, two violas da gamba and two lutes. This pairing of so many highly contrasted and richly colored instruments is remarkable for Bach's time and must have occasioned considerable amazement and satisfaction, quite aside from the gratifying musical sound. The multiplicity of instruments also indicates the readiness, if not insistence, on the part of every capable musician in the city, to participate. According to the program, the Ode was "set by Herr Bach in the Italian style." Herr Bach conducted the performance from a clavicembalo, among the musicians in the gallery. The ceremony took place on October 17th, 1727. A great catafalque bearing the Queen's emblems stood in the center of the crowded church, and the service began with the ringing of all the bells of the city. The event was reported in Christoph Ernst Sicul's Das thränende Leipzig:

"In solemn procession, while the bells were rung, the Town Officials and the Rector and Professors of the University entered St. Paul's, where many others were present, namely, princely and other persons of rank, as well as not only Saxon but also foreign Ministers, Court and other Chevaliers, along with many ladies. When everyone had taken his place, there had been a prelude by the organ, and the Ode of Mourning written by Magister Johann Christoph Gottsched, member of the Collegium Marianum, had been distributed among those present by the Beadles, there was shortly after heard the Music of Mourning, which this time Capellmeister Johann Sebastian Bach had composed in the Italian style, with Clave di Cembalo, which Mr. Bach himself played, also organ, violas di gamba, lutes, violins, recorders, transverse flutes, &c., half being heard before and half after the oration of praise and mourning."

Bach's opening movement fittingly reflects the scene, with a tremendous and solemn chorus of great majesty for the entire choral and instrumental ensemble. The following recitative and aria use the color of the higher strings and the soprano voice for the expression of a noble grief. Then comes a remarkable example of pictorial expression, the tolling of the bells for the Queen. The ringing ceases by degrees, the final sound of the bass acting as cadence figure. An aria and recitative tell how bravely their Queen confronted death. A fugal chorus pays tribute to the Queen, here given the title of Glaubenspflegerin – Protector of the Faith. This concludes the First Part. At this point, Von Kirchbach delivered his Obituary Address.

With the opening of the Second Part the pangs of death are conquered and the text is focused on the joy of the life hereafter. The Tenor aria, (8) sees the Queen now received in the "Sapphired Halls". The bass recitative extols her praises, with reference to the great rivers of Saxony and Poland, the Weichsel (Vistula), Dniester, the Elbe and Muth, as well as the Residence at Pretzsch on the Elbe to which the Queen had retired and nearby Torgau, where she spent time while Pretzsch was prepared. Notable is the absence of any reference to Dresden! In the peaceful, yet triumphant Final Chorus, her loyal citizens assure their Queen that she will live forever in their hearts.

Queen Eberhardine, wife of Elector August the Strong
1. Opening Chorus Music Sample
Laß, Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl Aus Salems Sterngewölben schießen. Und sieh, mit wieviel Tränengüssen Umringen wir dein Ehrenmal! Give one backward glance, O Princess, from Salem's starry Heaven, and see the wealth of tears we shed at thy Memorial.

2. Soprano Recitative
Dein Sachsen, dein bestürztes Meißen Erstarrt bei deiner Königsgruft; Das Auge tränt, die Zunge ruft: Mein Schmerz kann unbeschreiblich heißen! Hier klagt August und Prinz und Land, Der Adel ächzt, der Bürger trauert, Wie hat dich nicht das Volk bedauert, Sobald es deinen Fall empfand! Thy Saxony, thy disturbed Meissen, stand numb beside thy royal tomb; The eye doth weep, the tongue cries out: My pain must be without description! Here mourn August and Prince and State, the nobles moan, the citizens sorrow, how much thy folk lamented thee as soon as thy passing was known!

3. Soprano Aria
Verstummt! verstummt, ihr holden Saiten! Kein Ton vermag der Länder Not Bei ihrer teuren Mutter Tod, O Schmerzenswort! recht anzudeuten. Be mute, be mute, ye lovely strings! No sound could give meet expression to the peoples' grief at their dear cherished mother's death… O painful word!

4. Alto Recitative
Der Glocken bebendes Getön Soll unsrer trüben Seelen Schrecken Durch ihr geschwungnes Erze wecken Und uns durch Mark und Adern gehn. O, könnte nur dies bange Klingen, Davon das Ohr uns täglich gellt, Der ganzen Europäerwelt Ein Zeugnis unsres Jammers bringen! The tolling of the trembling bells shall awaken our lamenting souls' great terror through their rebounding bronze and pierce us to our very core. Oh, would that now this anxious peeling, which on our ears each day doth shrill, might render witness of our grief to all the European world!

5. Alto Aria
Wie starb die Heldin so vergnügt! Wie mutig hat ihr Geist gerungen, Da sie des Todes Arm bezwungen, Noch eh er ihre Brust besiegt. How died our Lady so content! How valiantly her spirit struggled, conquering the arm of death ere it finally subdued her breast.

6. Tenor Recitative
Ihr Leben ließ die Kunst zu sterben In unverrückter Übung sehn; Unmöglich konnt es denn geschehn, Sich vor dem Tode zu entfärben. Ach selig! wessen großer Geist Sich über die Natur erhebet, Vor Gruft und Särgen nicht erbebet, Wenn ihn sein Schöpfer scheiden heißt. In her living she exemplified the art of dying with steadfast skill; Impossible that she grow pallid before her death. Ah, blessed! Whose noble soul doth raise itself above our nature, trembling not before crypt and coffin when our Maker calls us to take our leave.

7. Chorus Music Sample
An dir, du Fürbild Großer Frauen, An dir, erhabne Königin, An dir, du Glaubenspflegerin, War dieser Großmut Bild zu schauen. In thee, thou model of great women, in thee, illustrious Royal Queen, in thee, thou keeper of the faith, the form of kindness was to witness.

8. Tenor Aria
Der Ewigkeit saphirnes Haus Zieht, Fürstin, deine heitern Blicke Vor unsrer Niedrigkeit zurücke Und tilgt der Erden Denkbild aus. Ein starker Glanz von hundert Sonnen, Der unsern Tag zur Mitternacht Und unsre Sonne finster macht, Hat dein verklärtes Haupt umsponnen. Eternity's sapphired halls, O Princess, now draw these serene glances from our own low estate, and blot out earth's corrupted form. The brilliant light of a hundred suns make a halo round thy head, so blinding us that it turns our day to mid of night, and our own sun to darkness.

9. Bass Recitative – Arioso - Recitative
Was Wunder ists? Du bist es wert, Du Fürbild aller Königinnen! Du mußtest allen Schmuck gewinnen, Der deine Scheitel itzt verklärt. Nun trägst du vor des Lammes Throne Anstatt des Purpurs Eitelkeit Ein perlenreines Unschuldskleid Und spottest der Verlaßnen Krone. Soweit der volle Weichselstrand, Der Niester und die Warthe fließet, Soweit sich Elb' und Muld' ergießet, Erhebt dich beides, Stadt und Land. Dein Torgau geht im Trauerkleide, Dein Pretsch wird kraftlos, starr und matt; Denn da es dich verloren hat, Verliert es seiner Augen Weide. What wonder is this? This thou hast earned, thou model of all queens forever! For thou wast meant to win the glory which hath transfigured now thy head. Before the lamb's own throne thou wearest instead of purple's vanity a pearl-white robe of purity and scornest now the forsaken crown. Our City and our State extol thee, as far thy brimming rivers, the Vistula, the Dniester and the Warth, the Elb and the Muld are flowing. Thy Torgau walketh now in mourning, and Pretzsch, thy Residence, is weary, pale and weak, for with thy loss it loses all it vision's rapture.

10. Closing Chorus Music Sample
Doch, Königin! du stirbest nicht, Man weiß, was man an dir besessen; Die Nachwelt wird dich nicht vergessen, Bis dieser Weltbau einst zerbricht. Ihr Dichter, schreibt! wir wollens lesen: Sie ist der Tugend Eigentum, Der Untertanen Lust und Ruhm, Der Königinnen Preis gewesen. No, Royal Queen! Thou shalt not die; We see in thee our great possession; Posterity shall not forget thee, till all this universe shall fall. Ye poets, write! For we would read it: She hath been virtue's property, her loyal subjects' joy and fame, of Royal Queens the crown and glory.

Note: When August I of Saxony became King of Poland, he was crowned August II, as there had already been an August I in Poland. The confusion continues when his son, August II of Saxony also becomes August III of Poland!

The music samples are performed by
the Vienna Kammerchor and State Opera Orchestra,
conducted by Hermann Scherchen.
Available from the Baroque Music Club.

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