Skip to page content

Few facts have come down to us about the circumstances under which Bach’s Wedding Cantata was conceived or performed. Bach scholar Joshua Rifkin has proposed that the Wedding Cantata dates from the composer’s time at the ducal court of Weimar between 1708 and 1713 for a number of reasons – the method of notation Bach used, literary scholarship attributing the text to the composer’s Weimar collaborator Salomo Franck, and many musical similarities between the cantata and Bach’s other Weimar works. Bach (1685-1750) probably composed the Wedding Cantata for friends, people close to him in rank and age, since the text contains no references to a noble patron and lacks the elaborate allegory that characterizes many of the composer’s works for aristocratic celebrations.

The pictorialism of Franck’s text seems to have inspired Bach. From the very opening pages, the music brings the poetry vividly to life, as the tenderness and warmth of the oboe and the soprano seemingly banish the wintry cold of the strings. The galloping continuo line in the second aria depicts Phoebus and his swift steeds, while the third aria relies on a solo violin to portray Cupid sneaking around.

The next aria is completely delightful, with its tripping oboe solo and spirited melody, the perfect picture of high spirits and lapping waves. The cantata closes with a gavotte, a French dance originally from the 17th century – the ideal way to end (or begin) a wedding celebration.

- John Mangum is a Ph.D. candidate in history at UCLA studying 18th-century German opera.

Text for Wedding Cantata (translated from the German)

1. Air

Be gone, melancholy shadows,

frost and winds, go to rest!

     Flora’s delight

     would grant our breast

     none but happy fortune

     for she brings flowers.

2. Recitative

The world becomes new again,

in the mountains and the valleys

the graces redouble their beauty,

the day is free from cold.

3. Air

Phoebus races with swift steeds

through the newborn world.

     Yea, since it pleases him

     he wants to be a lover.

4. Recitative

Therefore, Cupid also seeks his pleasure

when purple in the meadows laughs,

when Flora’s splendor

is gloriously arrayed

and when in her kingdom,

just like lovely flowers,

hearts, too, passionately triumph.

5. Air

When spring’s breezes blow

and waft through colorful fields,

Cupid steals forth

to search for his treasure

which, everyone knows, is this,

that one heart kisses another.

6. Recitative

And this is good fortune,

that by the exalted favor of destiny

two souls attain a single treasure

shining with abundant happiness and blessings.

7. Air

To practice love

to embrace in high spirits

is better than Flora’s fleeting delight.

     Here the waves swell

     Here the triumphant palms

     laugh and watch lips and breast.

8. Recitative

So shall the bond

of chaste love,

beloved pair,

be free from the

inconstancy of change!

Neither sudden downturn

nor thunderclap

shall disturb the lovers’ pursuits!

9. Gavotte

See in contentment

a thousand bright and beneficent days

so that in the near future

your love will blossom!