About Minimes Cantat

It all began in 1981...

The initiative for what became the ensemble ‘La Chapelle des Minimes’ originated in October 1981 with Swana Hardy, a Brussels-based English amateur musician and specialist in German theological literature, after her participation in Helmut Rilling’s Stuttgart summer cantata workshops.  In the Minimes ‘workshops’ the choice of cantatas follows the liturgical calendar as in Bach’s time; the public joins in singing the final chorale.

Over the years, the Minimes Sundays have become a monthly Brussels event where a faithful audience of 500 or so Belgians and foreigners, including many families with children, attend the free admission concerts.  

Why Bach ?

We all know Bach, but his cantatas are less known

Most music-lovers, amateur or professional, are familiar with Bach mainly through the famous instrumental works like the six Brandenburg concerti, the solo violin and violoncello suites, the vast repertoire for keyboard, or the monumental choral works like the great Passions, the Magnificat and the B-minor Mass.

The nearly two hundred church cantatas – apart from a half-dozen or so – are mostly unknown to the general public.  But they constitute a towering artistic achievement, arguably unequalled in any other art form.

Bach conveyed a transcendent message through the cantatas which gave them an extraordinary quality

Bach considered his own cantatas to be ‘incomparably harder and more intricate’ than those of other composers, and they provided highly sophisticated musical exegeses to his well-educated audiences of connoisseurs as a complement to the often lengthy and complex sermons offered by the professional preachers of his time. 

His cantata texts were drawn from theological literature dating back to Martin Luther; Bach’s task was to enhance and enrich their message and reinforce their significance.  The superlative resulting works are testimony to his transcendent inspiration.  Their extraordinary quality has always been what drew us to them.

Making music in a warm and friendly atmosphere

The choir and most of the strings in the orchestra are all fine amateur musicians, reinforced by a loyal core of professionals in key positions.  Vocal soloists are either young professionals or ‘regulars’ who have performed with the group for many years.  Conductors rotate among four experienced professionals – Julius Stenzel, Jacques Vanherenthals, Thierry Fiévet and Philippe Gérard – plus occasional guests.  It all takes place in an especially warm spirit of friendship and shared appreciation.

The printed programme includes a musicological discussion of the work in four languages (FR, NL, DE, EN), the cantata libretto text and the score of the closing chorale. 

From the Minimes church to the St-Jacques church

Until March 2018 the concerts took place in the Minimes church, in the Marolles quarter of Brussels; the ensemble has since been offered a place at the St-Jacques church on the Place Royale.

We have performed all 200 church cantatas and much more

In its forty years, the Chapelle des Minimes has performed all 200 of the surviving church cantatas in the BWV catalogue; the six motets; the four Lutheran Masses and the B-minor Mass; the St John Passion (the St Matthew is scheduled for March 2023); all six cantatas of the Christmas Oratorio; the Easter Oratorio; plus concertos for one, two and three violins, several of the keyboard and all the Brandenburg concertos, an orchestral suite, and Bach’s transcription of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, “Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden”.

In addition to the extensive Bach repertoire above, the ensemble has also performed more than forty motets or cantatas by Bach’s uncles, cousins and sons (Johann, Johann Michael, Johann Christoph, Johann Ludwig, Heinrich, Wilhelm Friedemann, etc.) and works by other composers more or less close to the Cantor, such as Buxtehude, Zelenka, Heinrich Schütz, Johann Schelle and Georg Böhm.  Plus numerous works by other composers, including Telemann, Pergolesi, Kuhnau and Georg Melchior Hoffmann, which Bach himself performed in Leipzig and were formerly placed in the catalogue of his works.

It all adds up to nearly 400 different compositions over 40 seasons.

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