Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig, BWV 26
Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig (Ah how fleeting, ah how futile), BWV 26, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig for the 24th Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 19 November 1724. It is based on the hymn by Michael Franck (de) (1652).
History and words
Bach wrote the cantata in 1724 in his second year in Leipzig for the 24th Sunday after Trinity. That year, Bach composed a cycle of chorale cantatas, begun on the first Sunday after Trinity of 1724. The prescribed readings for the Sunday were from the Epistle to the Colossians, a prayer for the Colossians (Colossians 1:9–14), and from the Gospel of Matthew, the story of Jairus' daughter (Matthew 9:18–26). The cantata is based on the hymn in 13 stanzas by Michael Franck (de) (1652) on a melody by Johann Crüger (1661), "a meditation on the transience of human life and of all earthly goods". This aspect is the only connection to the Gospel. An unknown poet kept the first and the last stanza as movements 1 and 6 of the cantata. He derived the inner movements as a sequence of alternating arias and recitatives from the inner stanzas.John Eliot Gardiner points out that "several of Bach’s late Trinity season cantatas" concentrate on "the brevity of human life and the futility of earthly hopes".
Bach first performed the cantata on 19 November 1724.
Scoring and structure
The cantata is scored for four soloists—soprano, alto, tenor and bass—a four-part choir, horn doubling the soprano in the chorale, flauto traverso, three oboes, two violins, viola, and basso continuo.
- Coro: Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig
- Aria (tenor): So schnell ein rauschend Wasser schießt
- Recitativo (alto): Die Freude wird zur Traurigkeit
- Aria (bass): An irdische Schätze das Herze zu hängen
- Recitativo (soprano): Die höchste Herrlichkeit und Pracht
- Chorale: Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig
The opening chorus is a chorale fantasia. The instruments play concertante music, to which the soprano sings the cantus firmus line by line. The lower voices act as a "self-contained group", mostly in homophony, and "declaim the individual lines of text in unison at the end of each choral passage, using a melodic formula derived from the beginning of the hymn." Bach illustrates the imagery of the text, "fleetingness and insubstantiality" in motifs such as "abrupt chords separated by pauses and ... hurrying scale figures". Gardiner comments: "Long before the first statement of Franck’s hymn (sopranos doubled by cornetto) Bach establishes the simile of man’s life to a rising mist which will soon disperse. Fleet-footed scales, crossing and recrossing, joining and dividing, create a mood of phantasmal vapour." Julian Mincham compares the instrumental music to "mist and fog, images which imply movements of wind and air" and hears the lower voices as "evincing a feeling of primeval power and solidarity".
In the first aria, the text "So schnell ein rauschend Wasser schieBt" (As quickly as rushing water) is illustrated in the flute, the violin and the voice by "fast-flowing" music., "each musician required to keep changing functions – to respond, imitate, echo or double one another – while variously contributing to the insistent onwardness of the tumbling torrent". In the last aria, an "unusual oboe trio" accompanies the soprano in "An irdische Schätze das Herze zu hängen" (to dote on earthly treasures). Gardiner comments: "He scores this Totentanz (Dance of the dead) for three oboes and continuo supporting his bass soloist in a mock bourrée", the oboes undermining in "throbbing accompaniment ... those earthly pleasures by which men are seduced", then representing "through jagged figures ... the tongues of flame which will soon reduce them to ashes, and finally in hurtling semiquaver scales of 6/4 chords ... surging waves which will tear all worldly things apart". Mincham sees a connection of the runs to those of movement 1, but "now depicting thunder flames, stormy seas and the destruction of the world. The descending scales played in unison by the three oboes have great force. The vocalist has several prominent images, notably the long melisma on the word "zerschmettert" (shatter) and the weird, descending chromatic phrase towards the end, suggestive of a world of chaos and foolishness". The closing chorale is a four-part setting.
- Les Grandes Cantates de J.S. Bach Vol. 10, Fritz Werner, Heinrich-Schütz-Chor Heilbronn, Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra, Claudia Hellmann, Helmut Krebs, Erich Wenk, Erato 1961
- Bach Cantatas Vol. 5 - Sundays after Trinity II, Karl Richter, Münchener Bach-Chor, Münchener Bach-Orchester, Ursula Buckel, Hertha Töpper, Ernst Haefliger, Theo Adam, Archiv Produktion 1966
- Bach Cantatas Vol. 5 - Sundays after Trinity II, Diethard Hellmann, Bachchor Mainz, Bachorchester Mainz, Herrat Eicker, Marie-Luise Gilles, Alexander Young, Siegmund Nimsgern, DdM-Records Mitterteich 1968
- J.S. Bach: Das Kantatenwerk - Sacred Cantatas Vol. 2, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Wiener Sängerknaben & Chorus Viennensis, Concentus Musicus Wien, soloist of the Wiener Sängerknaben, Paul Esswood, Kurt Equiluz, Siegmund Nimsgern, Teldec 1973
- Bach Made in Germany Vol. 4 - Cantatas V, Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, Thomanerchor, Gewandhausorchester, Regina Werner, Rosemarie Lang, Peter Schreier, Hermann Christian Polster, Eterna 1977
- J.S. Bach: Kantaten/Cantatas BWV 80, BWV 26, BWV 116, Karl Richter, Münchener Bach-Chor, Münchener Bach-Orchester, Edith Mathis, Trudeliese Schmidt, Peter Schreier, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Archiv Produktion 1978
- Die Bach Kantate Vol. 59, Helmuth Rilling, Gächinger Kantorei, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, Arleen Augér, Doris Soffel, Adalbert Kraus, Philippe Huttenlocher, Hänssler1980
- Bach Edition Vol. 11 - Cantatas Vol. 5, Pieter Jan Leusink, Holland Boys Choir, Netherlands Bach Collegium, Ruth Holton, Sytse Buwalda, Nico van der Meel, Bas Ramselaar, Brilliant Classics 1999
- Bach Cantatas Vol. 19: Greenwich/Romsey, John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Joanne Lunn, William Towers, Paul Agnew, Peter Harvey, Soli Deo Gloria 2000
- J.S. Bach: Complete Cantatas Vol. 14, Ton Koopman, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, Lisa Larsson, Annette Markert, Christoph Prégardien, Klaus Mertens, Antoine Marchand 2000
- J.S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 28 - Cantatas from Leipzig 1724, Masaaki Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan, Yukari Nonoshita, Robin Blaze, Makoto Sakurada, Peter Kooy, BIS 2004
- Dürr, Alfred (1971). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German) 1. Bärenreiter-Verlag. OCLC 523584.
- Wolff, Christoph (2000). "Conclusion of the second yearly cycle (1724-25) of the Leipzig church cantatas" (PDF). pp. 2, 3. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
- "Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig / Text and Translation of Chorale". bach-cantatas.com. 2009. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
- "Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig". bach-cantatas.com. 2006. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
- Hofmann, Klaus (2004). "Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig, BWV 26 / Ah how fleeting, ah how trivial" (PDF). bach-cantatas.com. p. 8. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
- Gardiner, John Eliot (2006). "Cantatas for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany / Abbey Church of St Mary and St Ethelflaeda, Romsey" (PDF). bach-cantatas.com. p. 9. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
- Mincham, Julian (2010). "Chapter 25 BWV 26 Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig". jsbachcantatas.com. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
The first source is the score.
General sources are found for the Bach cantatas. Several databases provide additional information on each single cantata:
- Cantata BWV 26 Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig history, scoring, sources for text and music, translations to various languages, discography, discussion, bach-cantatas website
- BWV 26 – "Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig" English translation, discussion, Emmanuel Music
- Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig history, scoring, Bach website (German)
- BWV 26 Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig English translation, University of Vermont
- BWV 26 Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig text, scoring, University of Alberta