Ich Habe Genug: Instruments of Time and Truth
Review: Instruments of Time and Truth Summer Concert Series, from 8 July - 12 August 2021. Tickets available here. Free tickets available for people aged 8-25, call the box office on 01865 305 305.r
Last night, Oxford’s early music ensemble, Instruments of Time and Truth, performed its second concert in its series of live, and in real life, performances. It’s no secret that I love the musicianship of Time and Truth and last night’s concert was true to form.
Sometimes, in a concert, I will listen with detailed attention. Sometimes, I let the music wash over me. Last night, I let myself just sit and luxuriate in the beautiful sound.
Just before the concert.
For this performance, seven musicians from the wider Time and Truth orchestra came together to play two of Bach’s cantatas, a sacred piece, number 82a, titled Ich Habe Genug and number 209, a secular piece, titled Non sa che sia dolore – He does not know what sorrow is.
After the concert.
Both of these cantatas were perfect choices for our covid weary Oxford community. The first cantata, “He does not know what sorrow is”, is somewhat of a mystery. One of only two cantatas that Bach wrote in Italian, it is written as a farewell, possibly to a soldier about to depart for a new posting.
Harriet Burns. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke
Soprano, Harriet Burns’ pure, bell-like voice soared to the very roof of the cathedral. It was quite emotional to hear live singing, for the first time in a very, very long time. Jonathan Slade, on the Baroque flute, brought a sweetness and warmth to the music, filling the cathedral with delicate, woody notes.
Jonathan Slade, in rehearsal for another concert. From Slade's website.
The second cantata, Ich Habe Genug, is usually translated as “I am content” but the literal translation is something like “I have enough” and, if the mood takes you, can take on the meaning, “I have had enough” or even “I am fed up”. Here in Oxford, now a hot spot for the delta variant, we are fed up and it was strangely comforting to have this beautiful cantata, about welcoming death, sung as an expression of how frazzled our community has become.
Time and Truth musicians, including Jonathan Slade, at a recording session.Photo used with the permission of IT&T.
I don’t think it’s completely fanciful to think of this piece as an expression of being utterly fed up. Six months before he wrote the first version of this piece, Bach had endured yet another death in the family, this time his son. For Bach, this piece was personal – he’d had enough – both of death, and of weekly cantata writing.
After the concert, walking through the quad to go home.
In modern times, this piece has been used as a cry for the release from suffering. It was one of the last public performances given by American mezzo-soprano, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who was dying of breast cancer, having watched her sister die of the same disease. According to reports of those concerts, Hunt Lieberson performed Ich Habe Genug without a trace of the sacred – in a staged version – where she terminated her life support at the very end of the piece.
Thankfully, Time and Truth performed this piece, as written, and allowed the audience to choose how to interpret the libretto.
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson taking a bow after her staged performance of Ich Habe Genug.*
The concert finished with an uplifting surprise, an excerpt from Bach’s Coffee Cantata, his comic love letter to coffee. When Harriet Burns sang, desperately in full operatic mode, “Coffee muss ich haben” (I must have coffee), I had deep empathy – I often sing the same – though without the purity of tone. It was a fun way to end the concert and lift the mood from the serious and sacred Ich Habe Genug.
Cafe Zimmerman, the Leipzig coffee house that hosted performances of many of Bach's secular cantatas, including the Coffee Cantata. Picture is part of an engraving by Johann George Schreiber.
These concerts, held in the magnificent Christchurch Cathedral, are a gift to Oxford’s community, when live music, performed in real life, is so scarce. It is such a privilege and a treat to go to the Cathedral and listen. The congregations in Leipzig, during Bach’s lifetime, would have been jealous – members often annoyed church elders by arriving just before Bach’s music, and leaving discretely soon after. In this series, we are authentic in being able to do the same; though hopefully without annoying church leaders.
If you enjoyed this review, you can read my review of Instrument of Time and Truth's first concert in this 2021 summer season here.
If you are planning to go to one or all of this concert series – I recommend that you book tickets now. Last night, a number of disappointed people were turned away, not being able to buy last minute tickets at the door.
*I couldn't track down the copyright owner of this photo and, therefore, couldn't provide a credit/ask permission. If you are the copyright owner of this photo, please contact me.
Unless otherwise stated, all photos ©️ Catherine Flutsch.