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Laus Deo

By Thomas Braatz (July 11, 2005)

Most Bach enthusiasts are aware of the opening (J.J.) and closing markings (SDG) which Bach placed at the beginning and end of his scores. Some would like to understand these simply as conventional openings and closings such as the salutations used in communications as "Dear" and "Sincerely" that operate simply as formalities with little or no meaning; while others perceive in these markings Bach's sincere, deeply-felt religious beliefs that prompt him, every time he begins to compose, to invoke greater powers who will assist him in his compositional activities and then, at the end, express his gratitude for such assistance.

On Aryeh's site, you will find (probably by doing a search for "J.J." or "SDG"), the results of my investigation into this matter covering all existing autograph scores, specifically undertaken in response to a question asking how often Bach actually did this with his scores.

Just recently I came upon another similar phrase which does not occur in any of Bach's autograph scores as far as I know: "Laus Deo" ["Praise be to God" or "God be praised."] This occurs, as some would have it,as a formality of closure, or as others see it, as a sign of gratitude for aid given by God.

This phrase, however, is not located at the end of a score, but rather at the end of an 'Organo' part which Bach copied out completely by himself (there were no copyists involved which is high unusual.)

It would appear from the details given below, that Bach marked only a 'Fine' at the conclusion of the autograph score, but then continued copying out all the other parts himself and finishing with the 'Organo' part which has "Laus Deo" instead of "Fine"
as in many of the other parts he had copied.

BWV 71 NBA KB I/32.1 "Gott ist mein König"

The 'Organo' part copied entirely by J. S. Bach has at the very end "Laus Deo"

Some other parts have simply 'Fine': "Violoncello," "Flutte 1ma" and "Flutte 2da," "Tamburi" "Tromba 1ma" and "Tromba 2da" and "Tromba 3za" "Soprano,Tenore Basso in Ripieno" "Soprano"

The autograph score has a 'Fine' with a wavy, pendulating line to the bottom of the last page On the title page, the title begins with "Jesu Juva." At the top of the page on which the actual music appears, the title begins: "J. J:"

Realizing that I may have missed additional markings of this sort because I had examined only Bach's autograph scores the first time I looked into this matter, I decided to check out all the original parts (almost all of which Bach did not copy entirely - sometimes he would copy out a part or two or finish copying one or two mvts. - most of the time he was correcting notes and adding markings to parts copied by others, and adding the figured bass to one of the continuo parts) to see if such a final phrase "Laus Deo" might occur elsewhere, particularly on a continuo part. Alas, I could locate only one similar instance in the following set of continuo parts, and this, while not containing "Laus Deo" but rather "S. D. G" instead, seems somewhat questionable according to Alfred Dürr, the primary editor of this cantata in the NBA:

In BWV 108 "Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe" NBA KB I/12 p. 37 composed/performed in 1725 we find:

3 Continuo Parts (the part numbers in parentheses are those used by the NBA)

12) Continuo (no figured bass, not transposed) Copyist 1 mvt. 1-5, J. S. Bach mvt. 6 (the chorale) [Dürr not quite certain about the final marking : 'Finis. S. D. G.' which he thinks could also possibly be by W. F. Bach(?)

13) Continuo (doublet)

14) Continuo (with figured bass, transposed)

Here are some odd bits of information gleaned from a search (acc. 7/10/05) on "Laus Deo" in the Grove Music Online [Oxford University Press, 2005]:

Michael Talbot, in his article on Vivaldi, reports as follows:

>>Outwardly Vivaldi remained pious, and even traded on his status as a priest. The religious motto 'Laus Deo' (abbreviated as L.D.) and an expanded version 'LDBMDA', usually found in monogram form and possibly standing for 'Laus Deo Beataeque Mariae Deiparae Amen', occur with great frequency at the head of his scores - strange to say, particularly those of operas.<<

The problem here is that Bach officially used "Laus Deo" in 1708 (there is no doubt about the authenticity of the composition and performance date), but his first acquaintance with Vivaldi must have occurred after this time, so that Bach's actually viewing one of Vivaldi's autograph scores would most likely have occurred after 1708.

Joseph Haydn, according to James Webster, also in the Grove Music Online, also used 'Laus Deo' at the end of his scores:

>>But he [Haydn] was also a devout Catholic: he inscribed most of his autographs 'In nomine Domini' at the head and 'Laus Deo' at the end, and composed major works in honour of the Virgin, including the Stabat mater, the Salve regina in G minor, and the Missa Cellensis and 'Great Organ Mass'. His most important instrumental work of the 1780s was arguably the Seven Last Words. He identified personally with The Creation and the religious portions of The Seasons and came to think of the former in overtly moralistic terms..<<

Friedrich Blume in the MGGI [Bärenreiter, 1986] states:

>>Haydn fängt noch in den 1780er Jahren jedes Symphonie-Manuskript mit »In Nomine Domini« an und beschließt es mit »Finis Laus Deo«.

[>>As late as the 1780s, Haydn still begins every symphony score with "In Nomine Domini" and ends the score with "Finis Laus Deo."<<]


1) Bach seems to have been more careful than Vivaldi or Haydn in applying these 'mottos' only to his sacred works. Although I have examined this matter before and have forgotten the exact results, I believe now, relying only upon my memory, that there are very few instances indeed where Bach uses these 'mottos' for purely instrumental or secular compositions.

2) Is Bach's use of these 'mottos' an intended religious confession or does it simply represent the joy that a master composer expresses regarding his own masterful accomplishment? It is truly interesting that none of his contemporaries have pointed to the problematic use of these 'mottos' in the Age of Enlightenment, in an age when rationalism was being strongly emphasized. Was, as a few commentators have stated, Bach's use of these 'mottos' ("Jesu Juva", "Soli Deo Gloria" and "Laus Deo") simply an application of an unthinking, 'ritualistic,' decorative phrase generally employed by craftsmen by habit and tradition before and after Bach's time? [Thus far, I have not been able to locate examples for this 'tradition' before Bach. Perhaps someone reading this will be able to supply the missing information.]

PS A completely unrelated matter:

I have discovered what Bach personally called his 4-pt. chorale harmonizations as they occur in his sacred works: "Choral. simplice stylo." documented in his own handwriting as the designation/title for mvt. 6 of BWV 163.


Feedback to the Article

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (July 12, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Impressive work you have done. All my understanding is that Bach did not invoke God for purely ritual matters. He was a firm believer in God, and he tried to use his craftmanship for the glory of God (and with his help).

Eric Bergerud wrote (July 13, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I certainly concur that Mr. Braatz has done some really interesting work here. I don't suppose there is any definitive explanation to Bach's position in the Enlightenment. The period has been identified in retrospect as the age of the Voltaire etc. However, it was also the era of Wesley, Jonathan Edwards and great flux indeed in German Protestant faiths. What I would really like to know is what the faculty of the University at Leipzig were talking about. Was it rationalism or the redefinition of matters like predestination and free will? As I understand it, Bach did a fair amount of socializing with students and faculty from Leipzig. I rather doubt the conversations were exclusively about mu. If we knew a little more about the intellectual climate in which Bach operated, it would be interesting.

Leonardo Been wrote (July 14, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Your question (Why 'With the help of God' and so on) is very interesting, but answering it falls well beyond the scope of this list.

Feeling a 'Connection to God' is not a discussable subject on this list, so it has appeared, but you can approach the subject maybe understandably, when looking at the Feeling of an 'Absence of God.'

(nn) 'The Feeling "When God Has Left You..."
- Introduction to 'What is Hell' ' {HRI 20031124-V3.2}
(24 November 2003 - Version 3.2 on 16 May 2005)

Approaching it from understanding a severed or lacking connection to God, you maybe get an idea, of what is meant with J.J., SDG, etc.

Again, I wish to emphasize, that the subject is well beyond the scope of this list, even though it has been (and no doubt will continue to be) brought up frequently and passionately.


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