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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Cantata BWV 106
Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Actus Tragicus)
Discussions - Part 8

Continue from Part 7

Discussion in the Week of February 28, 2016 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (February 29, 2016):
Cantata BWV 106: Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit' Intro.

In the old style, Bach’s 1707 Mühlhausen funeral Cantata 106, “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit” (God's time is the very best time), is through composed with each movement following the preceding without pause or break. The eight short, distinct movements in four segments include choruses, arias, and ariosi with no recitatives or da-capo arias. The orchestration is old and severe, relying on pairs of recorders and contrasting violas da gamba, signifying death.

Cantata 106 has a general symmetrical shape with opening middle and final choruses and interspersed with arias ariosi-arias. It is performed without pause except for the repeat closing of the alto arioso phrase, Ja, komm, Herr Jesu, komm” (Yes, come, lord Jesus. come!, Revelation 22:20) in Movement 2d, following the central chorus fugue repeat and ending, “Es ist der alte Bund: / Mensch, du mußt sterben!” (It is the old covenant: / Man, you must die!, Ecclesiasticus 14:17), with a full bar fermata before the alto-tenor arioso Soul-Jesus duet, another distinct feature, as well as the use of three death-related chorales.1

Like Bach’s other early vocal concerti dealing with death (BWV 4, 131, and 150), Cantata 106 text relies on pre-existing biblical works and chorale stanzas (see Francis Browne’s “Notes on the test” below). Bach’s settings of the words are particularly effective for this 22-year-old composer. The biblical texts are Acts 17:28 (Mvt. 2a); Psalm 90:12 (Mvt. 2b); Isaiah 38:1, repeated in Luke 23:42 (Mvt. 2c); and Luke 23:43 (Mvt. 3b).

All three chorale texts used in Cantata 106 have a relationship to death. The chorale texts quoted are the alto canto (Mvt. 3b), “Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin” (With peace and joy I travel there, Purification Feast), Martin Luther’s 1524 setting of Simeon’s canticle, Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29), and the closing prelude and fugue chorus (Mvt. 4), the concluding seventh strophe, “Glori, Lob, Ehr' und Herrlichkeit” (Glory, praise, honour and majesty) of Adam Reusner’s 1533 chorale “In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr” (In you I have placed my hope, Lord; based on Psalm 31, “In you Lord have I taken refuge,” “Christian Life and Conduct”). The instrumental chorale melody is Johann Leon’s 1582/1589 “Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt” (I have left all that concerns me up to God, “Of Death and Dying”) in the soprano arioso (2d).

A concise summary of the work and its distinctive traits is found in David Schulenberg’s essay in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach,2 “The subtle and poignant treatment of the text and many ingenious compositional features of the music have made this perhaps the most admired of Bach [early] compositions,” he says (Ibid.: 197). The earliest surviving manuscript (with the title “Actus tragicus”) with unidentified copyist is “Leipzig 1768” and is thought to derive from a copy of local publisher Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf (1719-94) who printed some Bach secular celebratory cantata texts in the 1730s. In 1761, Breitkopf began publishing annual catalog listings of Bach works that could be copied for a fee.

Early Cantata Characteristics

Cantata 106 is often compared with two similar, early (c. 1707) sacred cantatas: memorial Cantata BWV 131, “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir” (Out of the depths I cry, Lord, to you), based on penitential, Psalm 130 (De profundis), and Easter chorale Cantata BWV 4, “Christ lag in Todesbanden” (Christ lay in death's bonds), based on Martin Luther’s 1524 seven-stanza hymn. Cantatas 4 and 131 uses string instruments in the main, have chorale arrangements, and have distinct movements. Another early work, BWV 150, “Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich” (For you, Lord, is my longing, Psalm 25:1) possibly even pre-dating Cantata 4 to Arnstadt (1703-07) seems to be for a penitential service. It also has similar movements, including an opening sinfonia, is based on Psalms, but has no chorales.

Although it is the oldest in style and form with the sparsest accompaniment, the overall work and various Cantata 106 movements are miniatures of musical form that Bach would develop and exploit throughout his vocal compositions. The common musical language that Bach exploits throughout his vocal compositions, his initial use of the Soul-Jesus dialogue in the paired alto bass ariosi (3a and b) quoting two of Christ’s seven last words on the Cross, and the use of chorale text and melody with original music foreshadows Bach chorale adaptation most effectively utilized in the second cycle of chorale cantatas.

‘Common Musical Language’

Of particular distinction is the “common musical language” of Cantatas 106 and 131, as analyzed in Richard D. P. Jones’ The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Vol. 1, 1695-1717.3 During his early years Bach emphasized “short phrases and frequent cadencing , it reliance on stock figures and on certain mannerisms” such as the “anticipatory note figure, the echo effects, and diminuendo endings.” Using psalms and chorales as texts, both BWV 106 and 131 “are symmetrical in overall structure, alternating choruses and solos (or duets), and grouping them around a central axis.

In particular, Jones singles out the chorus-writing in both, especially the prelude and fugue. The last chorus of Cantata 131, “Israel hoffe auf den Herrn” (Israel, hope in the Lord), and the opening sonatina and chorus “exhibit a mosaic form” already found in Cantata 150. The central fugues of the two are based on simil;ar themes, derived from earlier movements. Both cantatas feature chorale-arias in which the long-note cantus firmus in one voice is offset by the florid solo in the other,” in Cantata 106, soprano arioso (2d),“Ja, komm, Herr Jesu, komm” with chorale melody “Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt” (I have left all that concerns me up to God).

The next two movements (3a and 3b), alto and bass arioso are “Bach first ‘great ‘Dialogue between Jesus [vox Christi] and the Faithful Soul’,” suggests Jones (Ibid.: 106). They are Gospel quotations from the Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross (Luke 23:42-43): alto (Soul), “In deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist; (Into your hands I commit my spirit), and bass (Jesus), “Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein” (Today you will be with me in paradise), with the alto joining the bass to sing in duet the canto, Luther’s Simeon canticle Nunc dimittis, “Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin” (With peace and joy I travel there). “The alto and bass lines throughout are moving and passionate, fully equal to the demands of Bach’s conception,” says Jones.

The choral prelude and fugue and the chorale aria show the profound influence of Bach’s early keyboard compositions, especially chorale preludes, says Jones (Ibid.: 128f). “Bach united the chorale with the aria not only in his early organ music but in certain movements from the early cantatas:” BWV 131/2, 4; 106/7; 71/2; and BWV 4/4, 6. Bach’s remarkable flair for vivid text illustration in musical terms is evident even in the early cantatas, particularly the two finest,” BWV 106 and 4. “We already sense a powerful mind at work behind the notes in the motivic unity of the early cantatas, and in the sheer rigor and solidity of the contrapuntal writing in some of the organ chorales . . . and in the chorale-based Cantata 4,” concludes Jones (Ibid.: 131).

Cantata 106: Best Early Composition

Funeral Cantata 106 not only deals with one of Bach’s favorite topics, death, but is his best early vocal composition, says Julian Mincham’s Cantata 106 Commentary introduction, http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-79-bwv-106-s.htm. <<There can be little doubt that this is the best known and most admired of Bach's earliest canta. Alfred Dürr (pp 758-765)4 devotes an unprecedented six pages to its description and analysis, a clear indication of the significance he attaches to it. His summation is direct and insightful: 'it could be argued that in later years Bach's art became a great deal more mature, but it hardly grew more profound' (p 759). It is strongly recommended that students read his notes on this work.

It is one of those art works that stands at the crossroads of time, seeming to look both forward and backwards. In the latter instance it is highly sectional, with little in the way of the extended, developed movements of the later years, it is lightly orchestrated, begins with a short introductory sinfonia and it draws principally upon chorales and biblical references with the minimum of added text. On the other hand, it is created from structural elements which operate across and unite movements, the writing is highly idiomatic and the musical architecture derives principally from the essence of the text.

It is a work of such depth and intensity that one can scarcely avoid speculating that the deceased for whose internment it was composed, had some personal connection with the twenty-two year old composer. Or perhaps it simply struck a chord that reminded him of the death of his own parents, scarcely more than a dozen years previously. But whatever the personal impact the occasion might have had on him, there is no disputing the depth and profundity which the emerging composer managed to elicit from the minimal lines of conventional text.

The segmented nature of this work makes it seem more complex than it really is. It falls into four basic movements thus: sinfonia, chorus (with solos), aria (becoming a duet) and closing chorale. The longest and most complex of the two hybrid movements is the second (chorus with solos, incipit, “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit”).>>

Cantata 106 Movements (through-composed), Scoring, Incipits, Key, Meter.5

(I)1. Sonatina (Flauto I/II, Viola da gamba I/II, Continuo): voice-over duet; g minor; 4/4.
(II)2a. Chorus three-part (Adagio 4/4, Allegro ¾, Adagio 4/4 [SATB; Flauto I/II, Viola da gamba I/II, Continuo): Adagio 4/4, “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit” (God's time is the very best time); Allegro ¾, “In ihm leben, weben und sind wir, solange er will” (In him we live, move and are, so long as he wills, Acts 17:28); Adagio 4/4, “In ihm sterben wir zur rechten Zeit, wenn er will” (In him we die at the right time, when he wills); E-flat Major to c minor.
(III)2b. Arioso chaconne form [Tenor; Flauto I/II, Viola da gamba I/II, Continuo]: “Ach, Herr, lehre uns bedenken” (Ah Lord, teach us to think (Psalm 90:12); “daß wir sterben müssen, / auf daß wir klug warden” (that we must die /so that we become wise); c minor to d minor; 4/4.
(IV)2c. Aria with ostinato [Bass; Flauto I/II, Viola da gamba I/II, Continuo]: “Bestelle dein Haus; (Isaiah 38:1) “Put your house in order, Isaiah 38:1); “denn du wirst sterben / und nicht lebendig bleiben” (for you will die and not remain living); c minor to f minor; 3/8.
(V)2d. Chorus fugue [ATB; Flauto I/II, Viola da gamba I/II, Continuo]: “Es ist der alte Bund: / Mensch, du mußt sterben!” (It is the old covenant: / Man, you must die!, Ecclesiasticus 14:17); Soprano (arioso): Ja, komm, Herr Jesu, komm” (Yes, come, lord Jesus. come!, Revelation 22:20), melody “Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt” (I have left all that concerns me up to God); Chorus fugue, same text, new music); soprano arioso, Ja, komm, Herr Jesu, komm”; f minor; 4/4.
(VI)3a. Aria [Alto; Viola da gamba I/II, Continuo]: In deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist; / du hast mich erlöset, Herr, du getreuer Gott” (Into your hands I commit my spirit; / you have redeemed me, Lord, you faithful God, Psalm 31:6, Luke 23:42); B-flat Major; 4/4.
(VII)3b. Arioso [Bass; Viola da gamba I/II, Continuo] and Chorale [Alto;]: “Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein” (Today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43); Alto canto, “Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin / In Gottes Willen, / Getrost ist mir mein Herz und Sinn, / Sanft und stille. / Wie Gott mir verheißen hat: / Der Tod ist mein Schlaf geworden.” With peace and joy I travel there / in God's will, / my heart and mind are confident, /peaceful and calm. /As God has promised me: death has become my sleep.); A-Flat Major to c minor; 4/4.
(VIII)4. Prelude and fugue chorale chorus [SATB; Flauto I/II, Viola da gamba I/II, Continuo] “Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit (Glory, praise, honour and majesty); Fugue: “Durch Jesum Christum, Amen” (through Jesus Christ. Amen.); E-flat Major; 4/4.

<<Notes on the text (Francis Browne)

The text is an anonymous compilation of Bible verses and chorale strophes. Clearly the work was intended for a funeral. Bach’s Erfuhrt uncle Tobias Lämmerhirt , who died on 10 August 1707, is one of several persons with whom the work has been connected but all such identifications remain speculative. The title ‘Actus tragicus’ comes from the earliest manuscript, which was written by an unidentified copyist and dated Leipzig 1768.

The quotation from Acts in the opening chorus is taken from Paul’s speech before the Council of the Areopagus. Psalm 90, used in 2b arioso tenor, is a meditation on God’s power and man’s weakness and mortality. In the bass aria 2c the message that the prophet Isaiah brought to King Hezekiah about his imminent death is applied to all humanity. The second chorus 2d juxtaposes a verse from the deuterocanonical book Ecclesiasticus with the penultimate verse of the New Testament. The alto aria 3a quotes a verse from Psalm 35 which, according to Luke, Jesus used as his last words as he was dying on the cross. In 3b the bass arioso also uses some of Christ’s words on the cross : his assurance of salvation to the repentant thief who was crucified with him. This movement also uses Martin Luther’s chorale “Mit Fried und Freud” (1524) a paraphrase of the prayer traditionally known as Nunc dimittis, the words of Simeon in Luke 2:29. The concluding chorus uses the seventh strophe of Adam Reusner’s 1533 chorale “In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr” (In you I have placed my hope, Lord).

It is worth noting that another chorale is used in 2d. The melody of “Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt” (Johann Leon 1582/1589) is used in the instrumental accompaniment. Dürr points out how the text of this cantata in a number of places echoes the themes of the 18 strophes of this chorale. (Bach: Die Kantaten: 837).

Francis Browne Texts and translations of the chorales, see: “Mit Fried und Freud,” by Martin Luther (Mvt. 3), BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale011-Eng3.htm; “In dich hab' ich gehoffet,” Herr, by Adam Reusner (Mvt. 4), BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale010-Eng3.htm; and “Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt,” by Johann Leon (Mvt. 6), BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale009-Eng3.htm; “Mit Fried und Freud” (With peace and joy,” Nunc dimittis,) text and melody information, BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Mit-Fried-und-Freud.htm.>>

Bach's Preoccupation with Death

With all of its autobiographical overtones, Bach’s preoccupation with death in his early cantatas may be due more to outside circumstances and opportunities for vocal composition as well as a life-long interest. Bach’s musical pursuits, beginning with cantatas that may reflect mini-passion scenas and theological connections and musical practices, are particularly evident and demonstrated in Cantata 106, as John Eliot Gardiner considers in his recent Bach musical biography, BACH: Music in the Castle of Heaven.6

“Many of his later works, including the two great Passion settings, deal with the same subject [death] as a dichotomy between a world of tribulation and the hope of redemption – quote standard in the religion of the day. But none does so more poignanor serenely than the Actus tragicus. This extraordinary music, composed at a tender young age, is never saccharine, self-indulgent or morbid; on the contrary, though deeply serious, it is consoling and full of optimism.” Bach “manages to create miracles,” from the opening sonatina, “twenty of the most hear-rending bars in all of his works,” the twenty minutes flow “seamlessly through several switches of mood and metre.”

“As often in the best music, there is a brilliant use of silence,” particularly the soprano aria at the work’s core, “Yes, come, Lord Jesus!” in which “all the other voices and instruments drop out one by one, leaving her unsupported voice to trail away in a fragile arabesque,” says Gardiner.

Below its surface is the complexity, particularly, the use of composite texts interlacing biblical quotations and familiar Lutheran chorales, attributed to the theologian Johann Gottfried Olearius. “Through the text’s particular disposition and arrangement, we are presented with a clear juxtaposition of Old Testament Law and New Testament Gospel,” Gardiner notes (Ibid.: 150). Through the work’s symmetrical musical structure, “we can trace in music the journey of the believer progressing via Old Testament Scripture (with its bald statements about the inevitability of death) downwards to his lowest ebb and then, through prayer, upwards again to a more spiritual future.”

The deliberate and far-ranging tonal progress “is perhaps intended to prod the listener into reflecting on the successive stages of Christ’s own life, through birth, crucifixion, death, and resurrection,” says Gardiner (Ibid.: 151). Above all Bach’s “music never stops praying,” Gardiner concludes in his study of Cantata 106.

Cantata 106 Original Text Source

The original source of the Cantata 106 biblical-chorale text is Leon’s 180-stanza chorale, “Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt,” cited variously by three scholars with different stanzas listed, Alfred Dürr, Ryuichi Higuchi, and Martin Petzoldt.

Initially, Alfred Dürr examined the source. “Dürr points out how the text of this cantata in a number of places echoes the themes of the 18 strophes of this chorale, Johann Leon’s 1582/89 ‘Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt’ (Bach: Die Kantaten: 837, Cantatas: 763, stanzas 2, 8, 10, and 16),” writes Francis Browne in Notes on the text” (see below). German text of 12 stanzas and Browne’s English translation is found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale009-Eng3.htm. Information on Leon and the text and melody are given by Braatz (January 11, 2005, BCML Discussion Parts 3, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV106-D3.htm): “Text by Johann Leon c. 1530-1597 who was born and died in Ohrdruf. This author was a Thuringian and served as a pastor in Ohrdruf. The melody was originally a secular folksong documented 1500 with the original title: "Es ist auf Erd kein schwerer Leidn"; then as a contrafact religious song/chorale "Ich weiß mir ein Röslein hübsch und fein" (which is an allegorical reference to the Gospel - not a pretty young girl as one might otherwise expect) as such it was contained in a hymnal by Johann Rau, Frankfurt am Main, 1589. Precisely when the melody became associated with Leon's text is not known, but probably this occurred at the very end of the 16th century.”

Olearius Prayer Book Source

Scholar Ryuichi Higuchi in 1990 found an Olearius prayer book source. Origin of the Text for BWV 106 Thomas Braatz (January 18, 2005), BCML Discussion Part 4, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV106-D4.htm. From the NBA KB I/34 (Ryuichi Higuchi, 1990; PhD, University of Tokyo) p. 18, 26: [Mvts. and text numbered as follows]: 2a Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit; 2b In ihm leben, weben und sind wir; 2c Bestelle dein Haus; denn du wirst sterben und nicht lebendig bleiben; 2d Es ist der alte Bund, du mußt sterben!
3a In deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist; du hast mich erlöset, Herr, du getreuer Gott; 3b Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin (1st verse)
|4 Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit; In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr (7th verse)

A prayer book has been found that uses the same sequence of quotations (from 2c to 3b). This book was prepared by Johann Olearius (born 1611 in Halle, died 1684 in Weißenfels) who also is the librettist for a number of famous German chorales still in the present-day hymnal such as "Wunderbarer Gnadenthron," "Gelobet sei der Herr," "Herr, öffne mir die Herzenstür," "Gottlob, der Sonntag kommt herbei," "Herr Jesu Christ, dein teures Blut," and "Wohlauf, mein Herz, zu Gott."

The prayer book is in the 3rd edition which appeared in print in Leipzig, 1668. Its title is: "Christliche Bet-Schule auff unterschiedliche Zeit, Personen, Verrichtungen, Creutz, Noth, und Zufälle im Leben und Sterben wie auch insonderheit auff die ordentlichen Sonntags- und Fest-Evangelia gerichtet.von Johanne Oleario."

["A Christian Handbook/Method/Instruction directed toward learning how to pray at different times, for other people, when personally burdened by chores, heavily-weighing obligations/duties, general difficulties and accidents as occurring during life as well as while dying, but, in particular being related to the Sunday and Holiday Gospel readings for the liturgical year."]. The pertinent chapter is entitled: "Der III. Titul. Tägliche Seuffzer und Gebet um ein seliges Ende" ["Chapter III title: Daily Sighs and Prayer(s) for a Blessed End (death)'}.

Finally, verse 17 is offered in a 1996 article of Martin Petzoldt7 as cited in Jones’ The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Vol. 1, 1695-1717, Ibid.: 106): “O Jesu Christ, Gottes Sohn (O Jesus Christ, God’s Son); Der für uns hast gnug getan, (You who have done enough for us,) Aus schleuß much in die Wunden dein (Ah, enclose me in your wounds;); Du bist allein (You alone are); Der einge Trost und Helfer mein. (My only comfort and helper).” Says Jones: Thus, “the underlying train of thought would run: The Old Covenant, in which death is the wages of sin, is now replaced by the New Covenant, with its message of redemption through Jesus Christ.” When Petzoldt’s Bach Kommantar, Vol. 3, Miscellaneous Cantatas, Passions, & Oratorios, finally is published, more details will be found on Cantata 106.

FOOTNOTES

1Cantata 106 BCW Details and revised and updated Discography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV106.htm; Score Vocal & Piano [2.00 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV106-V&P.pdf; Score BGA [2.69 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV106-BGA.pdf. References: BGA: XXIII (Cantatas 101-110, Wilhelm Rust, 1876), NBA KB I/34 (Various cantatas, Ryuichi Higuchi, 1990; Bach Compendium BC B 18, Zwang K 2.
2 OCC: JSB, ed. Boyd, Malcolm (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 197f).
3 Jones, The Creative Development of JSB, Vol. 1, 1695-1717, “Music to Delight the Spirit “ (Oxford University Press: New York, 2007: 103).|
4 Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
5German text and Francis Browne English translation and Note on the Text, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV106-Eng3.htm.
6 Gardiner, John Eliot. BACH: Music in the Castle of Heaven (New York: Alfred A, Knopf: 2013: 146ff).

7 Petzoldt, “Hat Got Zeit, hat der Mensch Ewigkeit” Zur Kantate BWV 106 von J. S. Bach’, Musik und Kirche, 66 (1966), pp. 212-20 (esp. 217-218).

William Hoffman wrote (February 29, 2016):
Cantata BWV 106: Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit': Chorales

One of Bach’s first use of chorales in his vocal music appears to be in his Cantata BWV 106, “Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit,” for a memorial service in Mühlhausen in summer 1707. Bach uses three chorales in varied settings: “Ich hab mein’ Sach’ Gott heimgestellt,” “In dich hab' ich gehoffet, Herr,” and “Mit Fried und Freud.” They show a remarkable gift for using chorales and lay the groundwork for invention and transformation of this essential ingredient in his well-regulated church music. The chorale cantata, BWV 4, “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” may date a little earlier as his Mühlhausen probe piece.

Ich hab mein’ Sach’ Gott heimgestellt
|
First in Cantata 106 is J. Leon’s hymn, “Ich hab mein’ Sach’ Gott heimgestellt” (I have left all that concerns me up to God, 1589, Francis Browne BCW) for “death and resurrection” (Freylinghausen Pietist songbook, 1741). It appears as a recorder melody in the cantata’s second movement closing, a remarkable original chorus with two other elements. The section begins with a stile antico fugal setting of Ecclesiastes, 14:18, “It is the old decree,” for the three lower voices, interspersed twice with a stile moderno soprano arioso from Revelation 22:20, “Yes, come Lord Jesus,” with the plain chorale melody or canto in the initial instrumental accompaniment.

Bach has one four-part harmonized nine-bar setting, BWV 351 (Breitkopf 19), opening in G Minor and closing in G Major. The shift from minor to major reflects the 16-verse hymn’s theme tracing the soul’s conversion from misery to hope and praise (Peter Williams’ <The Organ Music of JSB>). Bach’s mature setting contains numerous accidentals, a running bass, and a cadential embellishment in the tenor. Recordings are available in the complete Bach editions of Teldec Vol. 7 and Hänssler Vol. 85.

The canto also appears in the organ chorale preludes, BWV 707, 708, and 1113 (Neumeister). Williams considers two, BWV 707 and 1113, display authentic characteristics of possibly early Bach works, composed before Mühlhausen. He cites elements of a “gifted learner” in BWV 707, with its closing four-part chorale setting in the manner of an organ motet. He points out the church organ fantasia setting of the Neumeister version with its harmonized sung lines alternating with interludes reflecting the chorale’s phrases. Recordings of BWV 707 and 708 from the Kirnberger Collection Vol. 3 are found in the Art & Music complete CD collection of Bach’s organ music. A recording of BWV 1113 is found in the Christopher Herrick Hyperion CD of the complete Neumeister Chorales.

A four-part chorale setting of the 12th verse of Leon’s hymn is found at the death of Jesus in the apochryphal St. Luke Passion, BWV 246, possibly by J. M. Molter and performed by Bach in 1730 or 1735. The movement begins and ends with a sinfonia for wind band. It is a chorale harmonization similar to the extended wind setting of Bach’s funeral chorale motet, BWV 118, “O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, composed in the mid-1730s and repeated at least once.

Question. What was the purpose of Bach’s brief chorale setting of “Ich hab mein’ Sach’ Gott heimgestellt,” BWV 351. In all likelihood, it was composed as part of a memorial service in Leipzig, which could have included an extant Bach funeral cantata or motet. In his famous 1730 letter to his childhood friend Erdmann, Bach complained that he wanted more opportunity to get commissions for music for weddings and funerals. It also is documented that Bach probably composed wedding music on a regular basis, beginning in 1729. It is quite possible that Bach did chorale settings on request from participating families, such as the wedding chorales, BWV 250-252. The existence of BWV 351 confirms Bach’s calling for a well-regulated church music involving the central element of the chorale, music and text.

Simeon's Canticle

The second chorale usage in Cantata BWV 106 is Martin Luther’s 1524 setting of Simeon’s prayer, “Mit Fried und Freud,” the Nunc dimmitis (With Peace and Joy). It appears as an alto canto in the midst of the bass continuo arioso, “Today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise,” in Movement 3b of Cantata BWV 106. This is Bach’s only extant setting of this one of the Seven Last Words of Christ From the Cross, found only in Luke 23:43. The young Bach skillfully weaves the canticle chorale melody and first verse into the summa Passion phrase, accompanied by the antique instrumental ensemble of pairs of recorders and gambas.

Luther’s four-verse alliterative prayer of thanksgiving and reconciliation with death was used primarily for the Feast of the Purification and the end of Epiphany. Bach set the chorale fully in the Purification chorale cantata BWV 125, the closing chorale of Purification cantata BWV 83, and the opening complex chorale chorus of Cantata 95 for the 16th Sunday After Trinity. Bach also harmonized it in the plain chorale, BWV 382, and in the Orgelbüchlein, No. 19, for Purification, BWV 616. The four-part chorale, Breitkopf 249, is probably from a lost or recycled cantata for Purification, possible BWV 158 in its Weimar version, or a version of Cantata BWV 161 or 157, the three cantatas adapted for Purification, “on account of their appropriate textual content” (Dürr Cantatas 666). The setting BWV 382 and 616, are paired in the Hänssler Bach Edition , Vol. 82, chorale settings for lesser festivals such as the Marian feasts.

Psalm 31 Chorale Setting

The third chorale used in Cantata BWV 106 is Reusner’s hymn “In dich hab' ich gehoffet, Herr” (In you I have placed my hope, Lord, Browne trans.; based on Psalm 31) for “spiritual struggle and victory” (Freylinghausen, 1741). Bach closes the cantata with the full ensemble singing the seventh strophe of Reusner’s hymn, beginning “Glorie, Lob, Herr und Herrlichkeit,” a doxology in four-part homophonic form, with the Calvisius 1581 chorale melody in the soprano and recorders, ending with a fugal “Amen.”

The chorale’s opening alludes to the Te Deum (Lord, in thee have I trusted). The next six verses are a prayer and the doxology. Bach harmonized the chorale in Passion-related settings: SMP BWV 244/38, verse 6, betrayal by false witness, and the same verse in the SMkP, BWV 247/5, betrayal by Judas, as well as the late Trinity Cantata BWV 53/6, closing chorale, first stanza. Bach used the Calvisius melody in the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248/46, as he also did with another Passion chorale melody, “Herzlich tut, mich verlangen,” to close the work.

The original melody, set to the text in 1536, was “Christ ist erstanden,” which Bach used only in the Orgelbüchlein setting, BWV 640, Ob No. 98, for the Trinity season theme of “Christian Life and Conduct.” Russell Stinson in his 1996 monograph of the incomplete Orgelbüchlein (Ob), believes that Bach produced the church-year chorale settings almost entirely in Weimar, beginning in 1708 with Advent and producing BWV 640 between 1712 and 1714. Bach also planned to do a chorale prelude set to the Calvisius melody, since it is listed in Bach’s Ob Ms. as No. 97 but without any music. Stinson cites Robert Marshall that the Ob “was Bach’s first systematic attempt toward a ‘well-regulated church music,’ the goal that he set for himself in 1708 upon resigning his position as organist in Mühlhausen.

A chorale prelude with variations setting of the Calvisius melody exists as BWV 712, from the Kirnberger Collection Vol. 3. Williams suggests that this setting may be related to the Great 18 Leipzig Chorales, actually conceived and originally composed in Weimar concurrent with the Ob, then revised and assembled by Bach in the late 1740s. Williamsbelieves that while there is no evidence that the Great 18 as such were conceived in Weimar, he says (p.337), “their difference from Ob settings makes them complimentary to it."

Peter Smaill wrote (February 29, 2016):
[To William Hoffman, regarding the Chorales] A few years ago and by chance I became very interested in this chorale, "Ich Hab' mein Sach' Gott heimgestellt. "

It is indeed a common funeral chorale and often paired with " Christus Der ist mein leben": both take pride of place, twinned, on

the copper coffin of Heinrich Posthumous Reuss, the Gera nobleman for whom Schutz wrote his Musikalisches Exequien, and whose verses follow exactly the layout of the coffin inscriptions.

In Bach's case the interest is that the Neumeister setting BWV 1113, complete with echo effects, is extended by a three bar cadential sequence to constitute exactly 41 bars; and the apocryphal St Luke Passion, by using this chorale with echo effects and an unusual da capo, also computes to 41 bars. This is in numerology terms " J S Bach " ( 9 +18+2+1+3+8).

The early cantata, plausibly the earliest, BWV 150 also has a movement with 41 bars and the mss. ( by Penzel, a copy of 1755) actually heads the aria "Cedern muessen....." with the inscription 41. This was missed by Arthur Hirsch in his compendium of possible referential numbers.

As regards BWV 106, he noticed that the soprano and bass sing 41 notes in the opening chorus BWV 106/2.

BWV 150 we now know is name- referential (the acrostic of the text of the later movements reads in its reconstructed original orthography " Doktor Konrad Meckbach", a Muhlhausen councillor.) But in all these 41 bar cases it is not by the context clear why Bach should refer to himself.

For those who are not attracted to the quest for numerological meaning may I offer up the observation that the plague of flies and lice chorus ( no.6 ) in Handel's " Israel in Egypt" also has .......41 bars!

Not likely this was a calculated insult by Handel in 1739.......

Linda Gingrich wrote (February 29, 2016):
How wonderful!

I'm sure there are other examples of apparently significant numbers in works by other composers, but it's the consistency with which Bach seems to have done this that is so fascinating.

Although this isn't related to numbers, some years ago I looked at the tonal relationships across the movements in Vivaldi's Gloria in D and identified a more or less steady tonal descent down to the 8th movement, "Lamb of God, have mercy on us" (Domine Deus, Agnus Dei) section--in D minor--followed by a rapid tonal ascent back up to D for the joyful final two movements. I wonder if perhaps he was creating a musical gesture of humility, a kind of "bowing of the head" in penitence, and then lifting back up toward the heavens. It strikes me as a rather Bachian thing to do. Perhaps one of the reasons why Bach was drawn to Vivaldi?

William Hoffman wrote (March 1, 2016):
[To Peter Smaill] Thank you for the summary of this chorale and the numerology. In the NLGB it is No. 339, "Death & Dying," between "HJC, wahr Mench und Gott" and "O Welt ich muss dich lassen." "Christus der ist mein Leben is No. 369, same category.

Francis Browne's translation of 12 verses is found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale009-Eng3.htm., also listed on line at Kirchenlied (Eternity Song, Romans 14:8), http://www.christliche-gedichte.de/?pg=11037. Browne's source is Thomas Braatz ? NLGB. There are 18 verses with No. 17 found in the Petzoldt article (this week's BCML Discussion). All 18 are found at Choral Wiki, Heinrich Schuetz SWV 305 (SSATB), Spitta edition, http://www2.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Ich_hab_mein_Sach_Gott_heimgestellt,_SWV_305_(Heinrich_Schütz)

Duerr cites phrases from 2, 8, 10, and all of 16. His No. 8 is No. 7 in BCW, 10 not listed, and 16 is 12.

ABS Bach Perspective 10, "Bach and the Organ is due in May but I suspect ABA Biannual Conference April 7-10 will have it.

Robin A. Leaver's "Bach’s Choral-Buch? The Significance of a Manuscript in the Sibley Library," lists "Ich had' mein Sach'" with the CM (Zahn 1679) alternate "Ich weiss ein Bluemlein huebsch und fein" in the same category.

I am working on Easter song "Erstanden ist der hilig Christ, which also has a variety of stanzas and settings and may be preReformation from the Bohemian Bretheren.

Luke Dahn wrote (March 1, 2016):
Coincidentally, yesterday in my chorales course, we looked at Brahms's chorale setting of "Mit Fried und Freud" at the end his op.74 no.1 motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen. Brahms's setting is very much a nod to Bach's chorale style, though some features certainly emerge as typically Brahmsian (e.g. cadence of phrase 2, bass pedal tone in phrase 4) and less Bachian. The following link has a document containing four settings of Mit Fried und Freud side by side: the hymn as it appears in the Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch, Bach's BWV 83.5 setting from 1724, Bach's BWV 125.6 setting from 1725, and Brahms's setting. (Bach's third setting, BWV 382, is absent.)
http://www.lukedahn.net/Bach/MitFriedUndFreud_NLGB_Bach_Brahms.pdf

In our class, we spent some time exploring ways of harmonizing the rather tonally-ambiguous fourth phrase of the chorale tune, the beginning of which implies D minor or F major and the ending of which could imply C major, A minor or F major. The fact is that all three of these ending tonalities are represented in this document -- the NLGB and Brahms settings cadence to C major, BWV 83.5 cadences to F major, and BWV 125.6 cadences to A minor.

Here's a recording of the Brahms setting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nEXANsyLIg

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 1, 2016):
Luke Dahn wrote:
< Coincidentally, yesterday in my chorales course, we looked at Brahms's chorale setting of "Mit Fried und Freud" at the end his op.74 no.1 motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen. >
I was in London once on a cold, rainy Wednesday in February and decided to go hear Ev
ensong in Westminster Abbey. Thirty of us intrepid souls were treated to a first-class performance of the Brahms by the choir of men and boys. Weekday fare!

 

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Last update: ýMarch 17, 2016 ý10:15:55