BWV 206 Schleicht, spielende Wellen, und murmelt gelinde!

Birthday (7 October) and Nameday (3 August) of Augustus III,
Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.

Poet unknown.

Perhaps 7 October 1736 and 3 August 1740 or 1742, Leipzig.

BG 20, 2; NBA I/36.

A Drama in Music

Vistula (B), Elbe (T), Danube (A), Pleisse (S)(1)

1. Chorus (S, A, T, B) The Four Rivers

Glide, glittering waters, and murmur so gently!
No, rush on now quickly,
That shoreline and cliffside may frequent resound!

    The pleasure which now these our waters is stirring,
    Which of every ripple a torrent is making,
    Breaks through the embankments
    Where it is by wonder and modesty bound.

2. Recit. (B) Vistula

O happy transformation!
My stream, which lately / always / hath Cocytus(2) copied,
As it with lifeless corpses
And with dismembered bodies slowly glided,
Won't be now to Alpheus(3) second,
Which over all blest Arcady did pour his moisture.
Now rust's consuming tooth
Doth those abandoned weapons eat
Which lately heaven's cruel will / Which e'er by quarrel's maddened rage /
Upon my nations'/ people's / necks were sharpened.
Who brings to me, though, this good fortune?
His loyal subjects' joy,
His land's divine protector(4),
Before whose scepter I bend lowly,
Whose favor doth alone o'er me keep watch,
Hath all this work accomplished.
Thus sing whoever doth my water drink:

3. Aria (B) Vistula

Close the Janus-temple's portals(5)
As our hearts we open wide.

    Since to thee our faith we promised,
    Moved alone, Lord, by thy kindness
    Our repentant hearts / These our filial hearts / and spirits
    With obedience turn to thee.

4. Recit. and Arioso (T) Elbe

Well done, O happy Vistula!
Thy thought deserveth praise,
If thy good faith now but / e’er / with mine own hopes agree,
And will my love recall,
Nor, as it were, me of my king deprive.
A loan is not a gift:
Thou didst our kindliest August from me request,
Whose gracious bearing
Reveals a lofty father’s image;
Him have I lent to thee,
To honor and admire him thou art called,
But not from my embrace and arms to tear him.
This oath I give,
O Lord! By thine own Father’s ashes,
By thine own vict’ry’s glorious triumph:
Much sooner shall my waters be
E’en with the wealthy Ganges mixing
And of their sources lose all knowledge,
And sooner Malabar(6)
Shall on my banks be fishing.
Than that I for all time
Should, O most dear Augustus, lose thee.(7)

5. Aria (T) Elbe

Every billow of my waters
Cries the golden word “August!”
See, ye Tritons, merry children,
How with never known delight
This my kingdom’s floods are swelling,
As in the reverberation
Of this name the charming music
Hundredfold is made to echo.

6. Recit. (A) Danube

I must as well in thy great pleasure share,
Old father, source of many rivers! Remember
That I a mighty claim have also to thy glorious hero.
Thy savior I see not
Which thee thy Solomon hath born
With envious regard,
For Charles's hand,(8)
As heaven's rarest blessing,
O'er us the scepter wields.
But who, indeed, is unaware
That once the roots of all thy joy,
Which to thy fairest Trajan(9) here
Is by the grace of noble Josephine
Alone revealed,
Upon my banks first budded?

7. Aria (A) Danube

Shoot of Habsburg's tree so lofty,
Thy great virtue's radiant beacon
Know and honor, praise my banks.

    Thou art sprung from laurel branches,
    Therefore must thy marriage bond
    Be to fruitful laurels likened.(10)

8. Recit. (S) Pleisse

Give leave,
Ye mossy heads of mighty rivers,
If now a nymph doth join your fray
And your discussion trouble.
This contest is most just;
The cause is great and worthy that inspires it.
Now indeed desire
My thought inspires
And to my nymphs brings happy pleasure;
This we upon our champion’s advent have discovered,
Who doth deserve
That all his loyal subjects heartfelt spirits,
For hecatombs would be too slight,
Him here as an oblation offer.
But hear what now my mouth makes bold
To lay before you:
Thou,(11) to whose stream both Inn and Lech give increase,
Thou shalt with us this royal pair pay honor,
But unto us the deed itself relinquish.
Ye other two shall both behave as loving brothers
And, if ye this your double sun's own ruling radiance
For any time, each in his turn, be wanting,(12)
May ye forbear with hope and patience.

9. Aria (S) Pleisse

Hark now! The gentle flutes in choir
Make glad the breast and please the ear.
The undivided union's power
Creates this lovely harmony
And even greater works of wonder;
This mark and with their tune agree.

10. Recit. (B, T, A, S) Vistula, Elbe, Danube, Pleisse

I must, I will to this assent.

I'll take the parting bitterly,
But still my King's command / still thy shores' success / doth govern my decision.

I too am ready, your request,
As best I'm able, to accomplish.


May unity crown your consent. But lo,
Wherefore is it that all along your shorelines
So many altars now are raised?
Wherefore the dancing of the Naiads?
Ah! If I'm right,
We'll see today / I'll see soon how / the long expected light
In joyful radiance glowing, / Through its bright beams will touch me,/
Which doth our joy, / From which August, /
Most generous August, / The earth's sweet charm and joy, /
The world and us now lendeth. / His precious name deriveth. /
Ai! Now proceed!
While us occasion and the hour
Their hands extend,
Do join with me now once again:

11. Chorus (S, A, T, B) The Four Rivers

May heavenly guidance with unending favor
Protect thy life ever, most brilliant August!

    As long as mere drops are in these very moments
    Within these our moss-laden channels discovered,
    Surrounded forever be thy lofty spirit
    With pleasure and joy!

1. The four rivers represent regions associated with Augustus III: the Vistula Poland, the Elbe Saxony, the Danube Austria, and the Pleisse Leipzig. The Pleisse is one of three small rivers upon which Leipzig is situated, the other two being the Parthe and the Elster. The little Pleisse will arbitrate the claims of the three great rivers to Augustus.
2. One of the rivers of the Underworld in classical myth.
3. A river of the Peloponnesus
4. Cf. BWV 205a/10 where Athena (Pallas) considers Augustus the patron and 205/12 where she asserts that he is an earth-god.
5. The doors of Rome's temple of Janus were closed only during peacetime (cf. Vergil, Aeneid 1).
6. A region in western India.
7. For a similar adynaton (an unrealizable poetic assertion), cf. BWV 205/13.
8. Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI (1685-1740).
9. Marcus Ulpius Traianus (A.D. 98-117), his father Nerva (96-98), Hadrian (117-138), Antoninus Pius (138-161), and Marcus Aurelius (161-180) reigned as the so-called "Good Emperors" of Rome.
10. In August 1719 Augustus had married Maria Josepha, daughter of the Holy Roman (Hapsburg) Emperor Joseph I (1678-1711).
11. The Danube.
12. A reference to the divided cares of Augustus as King of Poland and Elector of Saxony.

© Copyright Z. Philip Ambrose

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