BWV 110 "Unser Mund sei voll Lachens"
some time, it was believed that this cantata was written for the
end of the War of the Polish Succession in 1734. Studies on the
paper in the 1950s pushed back the date of origin to 1725. Scholars
today acknowledge Christmas Day 1725 as the date of the first performance
of this work. The opening movement is an obvious example of Bachs
self-borrowing, as it clearly is an adaptation of the first movement
of his own Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D major. (It is also remarkably
similar to the opening movement of Orchestral Suite No. 3, also
in D major.) Both use the same scoring of 3 trumpets, timpani, 3
oboes, strings, and continuo. Voices, of course, are added to the
cantata. At the point where the tempo changes, voices are added
in the cantata. Because of the dating of the cantata and orchestral
suites, the presence of trumpets here has caused some scholars to
believe that the suite may have existed in a previous version which
did not contain trumpets or drums and possibly was written
for strings alone.
text for the opening movement comes from Psalm 126: 2-3"Then
our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of
The Lord has done great things for us." The brilliant,
majestic setting clearly prepares us for the shouts of joy.
When the voices enter, there is a clear sense of laughter in Bachs
setting. We can see how easily Bach achieves this: each of the voices
enters in imitation with the same text, but eventually all arrive
simultaneously on a syllable with an "a" vowel. Bach writes
numerous melismas on this "ah" sound, and with the lilting
rhythm, the sound of laughter is genuinely achieved.
treats this quicker portion of the movement almost as a concerto
grosso for voices. Certain passages are marked "senza ripieni,"
indicating that the full choir drops out, and a solo group instead
carries the music forward. This is accompanied by a distinct change
in the supporting orchestration, where the texture thins, and trumpets
and drums are nowhere to be found. At almost 190 measures, this
first movement is not only unusually large, it also serves as the
focus of the entire cantata. After a strong cadence in D major at
m. 169, the voices drop out and the opening, slower, majestic instrumental
music returns as a coda to the whole movement. It is an unusually
difficult and demanding movement for the voices, where the vocal
writing is very instrumental in style.
second movement is an aria for tenor. This provides a strong contrast
in so many ways with the opening movement. Where the opening was
brilliantly scored (in terms of color), this one is more subdued,
using 2 flutes and continuo (bassoon and organ are indicated) to
accompany the tenor voice. The movement shifts to the relative minor
key of b minor. While the first movement was more joyful, the second
is more contemplative. This is obvious not only in the sound of
the music by in the text as well. There is a distinct shift from
activity (laughter, shouting, praise) to more inward ideas (thoughts
and senses). It is a demanding movement for the tenor soloist, in
large part because so much of the writing lies in the higher part
of the register. This higher register in the voice, coupled with
the lighter, higher sound of the flutes (instead of the oboes in
movement 1), and the lighter continuo sound all contribute to a
feeling of lightness, of movement upward, where the tenor asks we
direct our thoughts (heavenward).
third movement is a short accompanied recitative for bass solo,
strings, and continuo. This leads directly to another aria, composed
in the style of a trio sonata.
There are two distinct melodic lines woven together, yet functioning
independently, in the solo alto and in the oboe
damore. These are supported by the steady continuo line.
Despite the F-sharp minor tonality, this is a warm movement. The
words "aus Liebe" in the final line of the text link this
aria to another famous aria by Bach, "Aus Liebe" from
the St. Matthew Passion. In that case, two oboes damore
accompany a solo soprano, noticeably without the continuo
part. But Bach seems very much to like the oboe damore with
a solo female voice, perhaps because of the intimate, warm sound
they produce in combination. We can almost sense that Mary, Jesuss
earthly mother, might be the singer here, attempting at once to
calm her newborn son while also wondering aloud to God the Father
why the child must suffer. The triplet figures added regularly to
the oboe damore line add a lilt which assists in the calming
effect of the movement.
is an example of an aria based on da capo principles, though the
return to opening material occurs in the instrumental parts.
concerns of the Virgin Mary are set aside in the next number immediately,
with the resumption of a major tonality (A major, the relative major
of the preceding aria, and dominant to the opening movement as well
as to the succeeding one). The text is the oft-used Christmas text
sung by the multitude of heavenly hosts (Luke 2: 14): "Ehre
sei Gott in her Höhe und Friede auf erden und den Menschen
ein Wohlgefallen" (Glory to God in the highest and peace on
earth to mankind goodwill). This movement was derived from Bachs
earlier "Virga Jesse floruit," sung on feasts of the Blessed
Virgin Mary, in his Latin setting of the Magnificat (BWV 243). The
key is transposed and different soloists are used, but the music
is distinctly derived from that source (Robertson and Bomba). That
text refers to the Savior springing from Jesses stem, so there
is a logical textual connection between that text and anything used
for Christmas, where we witness the realization of the prophesies.
next movement is another aria, this time for bass. The orchestration
is expanded here to include solo trumpet, 2 oboes, strings, oboe
da caccia, and continuo. Like the first movement, this is another
call for shouts of praise. In the middle section, the text refers
specifically to andachtsvollen Saiten" (worshipful strings);
Bach follows this textual cue by dropping the winds out of the texture.
Since the aria is set in D major and with the trumpet taking the
lead in the opening passage, knowing the solo bass voice is coming,
modern listeners may find a natural link between this aria and Handels
later work, "The Trumpet Shall Sound" from Messiah,
written some 16 years later.
brightness of this movement holds despite a turn to a starker chorale
setting to close the cantata. The "Alleluia" shouts in
the final movement are tempered with the more solemn b minor key
and reduction to a simple 4-part setting. Ending on a B major chord
(the Picardy third),
however, brings a hopeful ending, and keeps the focus on the joy
which God hath wrought, rather than the inevitable suffering which
the Messiah will eventually face.