Sunday, July 08, 2018

"Bist du" by Bach?



The answer is no.

In 1725 Johann Sebastian Bach included "Bist du bei mir" in the "Buchlein" he assembled for his second wife, Anna Magdalena, a singer he married in 1721. It is one of the few surviving arias from Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel's opera Diomedes.

"Bist du bei mir" is often played at weddings, though I'm not so sure how appropriate it is as a wedding piece when you look at the text . . .

Bist du bei mir, geh ich mit Freuden
zum Sterben und zu meiner Ruh.
Ach, wie vergnügt wär so mein Ende,
es drückten deine schönen Hände
mir die getreuen Augen zu!

[If you are with me, then I will go with joy
unto [my] death and to my rest.
Ah, how pleasing were my end,
if your dear hands then
shut my faithful eyes!]

The original manuscript of Diomedes is lost, but a small collection of arias by Stözel remains. You can find the whole collection on this page of the IMSLP.










The story of Diomedes is complicated. It's hard to be sure who would have sung this aria to whom if you look at the way stories about Diomedes play out in Greek mythology. But we do know that Bach must have liked the aria.

Here's a lovely recording that puts it in a plausible operatic context:



There's a Christian hymn version of the song that has a much more wedding-appropriate text:

Abide with me
Then will I fear not
The journey to that far-off land
Where sorrows cease and all is peace. (2X)

What sweet content
To have thee near me
Where I may clasp thine hand so gentle
And gaze into thy faithful eyes. (2X)

Abide with me
Then will I fear not
The journey to that far-off land
Where sorrows cease and all is peace.

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