Here are the comments of William Hekkers for the concert of 23 May 2010
Cantata BWV 172 – Motet Walliser – Cantata BWV 59

        On March 2nd 1714, Bach was promoted Konzertmeister at the court of the Duke of Weimar.  His new job required that he compose a cantata every month.  “Erschallet, ihr Lieder”, first heard on May 20th, is the third in this series.  Written for Whit Sunday, it has the air of a secular work, so much so that musicologists have speculated that it might be adapted from a lost cantata originally destined for the Duke’s birthday celebration.  Following the usual Weimar format, it comprises a chorus, a lone recitative, three arias and a final chorale.  The brilliant instrumentation with three trumpets, timpani, flute, oboe and strings includes a divided viola part like other cantatas of this period.  Unsurprisingly, the theme is the coming of the Holy Spirit, but the source of inspiration for the libretto—by the Weimar court librarian Salomon Franck—is clearly the day’s gospel reading (John XIV, 23-31) and not the Acts of the Apostles (Acts II, 1-13).
        With almost military fanfares in the trumpets, the opening chorus invites “voices and strings” to unite in these “happy times” wherein “God will prepare souls to become temples” to welcome the Holy Spirit.  This festive introduction is in da capo form:  two tutti sections (A and A’) frame the central part (B), a two-part motet in which the trumpets do not appear and whose rigourously contrapuntal writing contrasts with the outer sections’ more homophonic texture, forming a sort of musical tryptych. 
Characteristically in these Weimar works, the Biblical citation specifying the theme is placed in the body of the cantata.  In Leipzig, Bach would put the scriptural verse at the head of the cantata, in the opening chorus.  Here, the Bible verse is from the day’s gospel (John XIV, 23):  Jesus promises that those who love him and obey his teaching will live with the Father and be loved in turn.  Note in particular the recitative’s conclusion in arioso (another typically Weimarian practice) with its long vocalises on “halten” and the joyous anapests with which the continuo sets them off.  All this is to signify that it is for the believer’s joy that God makes His dwelling in him.  Naturally, it is the bass Vox Christi who declaims these words.  In the baroque, trumpets are symbolic of Majesty, that of kings and also of God.  The first aria calls on them imperiously:  the believers’ prayer is addressed in effect to the plenitude of the Glorious Trinity.
Next, what a contrast!  The strings alone accompany the tenor aria in which the librettist sings of the Spirit’s refreshing breeze in Paradise (Genesis II, 8 and 1 Kings XIX, 12).  From this gentle and flexible music emerges only the imperative cry “Auf, auf” inviting the believer to arise, confident in the consoler’s coming.
The tradition of dialogue between the soul and Jesus—between soul and Holy Spirit—flourished in France and Germany from the 17th century onwards.  Our third aria is an example, with an amorous conversation between the soprano (Anima) and the alto (Spiritus Sanctus).  Here the polyphony is in four parts:  the two singers are supported by arpeggios in the continuo, while the oboe intones in ornamented style the melody of the chorale “Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott”.  The last Weimarian characteristic of the cantata is the final chorale, harmonised in four voices doubled by the instruments, to which is added a fifth voice in the first violins, enriching the polyphony of this fourth verse of the famous hymn “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” by Philipp Nicolaï.
Alfred Dürr has the last word:  “…the many reprises of this cantata at Leipzig (at least four) attest to how much Bach must have liked this work”.  (Alfred Dürr, Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach, p. 396)
*      *      *      *      *

We will remain a little longer with Philipp Nikolaï’s hymn as our programme continues with a work using its text and melody, by a composer appearing for the first time at the Minimes, Christoph Thomas Walliser (1568-1648).  This Alsacian musician and theorist at first led a life of voyages and studies, in Switzerland, Germany, Hungary and Italy.  In 1599 he returned to his native Strasbourg to stay, occupying until his death important places as musician and Kapellmeister at the University and the Cathedral.  His religious works consist essentially of motets on German texts.
Walliser’s six-voice motet on “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” treats only the first verse.  Here is its structural plan. 
Lines 1-3 are harmonised homophonically in six voices, with contrapuntal treatment of the cantus firmus in 3, 5 and 6 voices.  Note the remarkable alternation between tutti (harmonisation) and concertino (counterpoint).  The basic rhythm is binary.  Lines 4-6 feature a similar alternation between tutti and concertino, but the basic rhythm is ternary.  Finally, lines 7-10 are dominated by homophonic writing, with a preponderance of tutti.  Binary and ternary rhythms alternate.
The three-part plan corresponds to the original chorale’s Barform structure:  lines 1-3 and 4-6 are the Stollen, lines 7-10 the Abgesang.  [Translator’s note:  the Barform is an ancient AAB form dating back to Greek odes and often associated with the Meistersingers.]  This ably-composed music is a pleasure to discover.

*      *      *      *      *

We usually imagine that Bach’s Leipzig cantatas were all performed at St Thomas.  In reality, a fussy ruling—which Bach found irritating and whose transgression earned him several reprimands—specified precisely where the morning cantata and the evening vespers had to be sung, according to a system of alternation between the city’s principal churches.
On Whit Sunday 1724, Cantata BWV 59 was performed in the small church at Leipzig University.  This probably explains its small proportions:  two soloists, two trumpets (and not three as usual on important holidays), timpani, bassoon, strings and continuo.  Perhaps its not being destined for a parish church also explains its unusual form; the traditional Bible verse that usually opens Leipzig cantatas is here given to the two soloists, not the entire chorus.
This phrase from Scripture is drawn from the day’s gospel:  “Whoever loves will obey my teaching, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John XIV, 23)  The verse is intoned five times in entirety, the first four times in canonic imitations between the soprano and the bass, and the fifth time in parallel sixths.  We can attempt a symbolic explanation:  the four canonic intonations represent the steps of the Father and Son toward the believing soul; the fifth symbolises both the perfect accord between the two divine persons and their entry into the heart of each believer.
The accompanied recitative for soprano (2) is of great harmonic richness:  each phrase emphasizes some aspect of the sung text.  An arioso joyfully concludes this page consecrated to the marvels of God’s love of man, this creature of dust, vain but capable of love for his God, rendered in the music by cheerful vocalises.
Not the expected aria follows this soprano recitative, but a chorale (3):  the first strophe of the hymn Luther composed in 1524, a free adaptation of the fine Latin sequence “Veni, Sancte Spiritus”.
The bass aria (4) again confirms the cantata’s unusual structure.  Instead of the usual da capo form, it alternates the two text sections with presentations of the instrumental ritornello in the violins.  In these sections the singer juxtaposes earthly and celestial happiness, first with simple, accessible music, later richer and more complex, thus emphasizing what the text implies:  the latter surpasses the former.
Thus comes to a close in Bach’s version this unusual cantata.  As it has no closing chorale, we have chosen to add one—“Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern”, in Bach’s harmonisation for Cantata BWV 1—in order to maintain the traditional final participation of singers in the audience.