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Cantata BWV 153
Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of September 13, 2009 (3rd round)

William Hoffman wrote (September 13, 2009):
BWV 153: Intro., Sources & Fugitive Notes

Midway through his first church year cantata cycle in Leipzig, during the rich festive Christmas season, Bach turned to intimate solo cantatas on only one occasion, the First Sunday of the New Year, Jan. 2, 1724. While some Bach commentators have suggested that Bach decided to give his choir a break after exacting celebratory music, Bach's practice for the Sunday observed between the feasts of New Year's Day and Epiphany was to present music of reflection with an element of the suffering side of the newborn Son of God and of his Christian followers.

Depending on when Christmas fell during the week, the Sunday observed in the church year was either the one following Christmas Day or New Year's Day. Both Sundays had different appointed readings but the same psalmic Introit and Gradual (Psalm 45, "My heart is stirring with a noble song," and Psalm 93, "The Lord is King") and the instructional Collect: "Almighty and everlasting God, direct our actions, according to Thy good pleasure, that in the Name of the beloved Son, we may be made to abound in good works . . . ."

The Sunday after New Year's was first observed by the Church of the Reformation in the early part of the 17th Century. The day's position in the church year and its proximity to Epiphany led to the selection of the only remaining Gospel of the Infancy not otherwise appointed. This Gospel, Matthew 2: 13-23, is the account of the Flight into Egypt and the so-called Martyrdom of the Innocents, slain by Herod. While the Roman Catholic Holy Innocents Day was excluded from the Lutheran church year, Luther says this Gospel reading is important because of its teaching and its comfort. The teaching involves the battle between the forces of evil against the new Kingdom of God. The comfort is that Christ, his Word, and his Church shall defeat evil and possess the battlefield.The symbolic struggle, which occupied Bach in other teachings, most notably the angelic victory at the Feast of St. Michael, here on this Sunday is portrayed not as a celebratory victory but as a reflection on passion as suffering in both lessons: the suffering of the children of Bethlehem and the ultimate passion of the Child who was initially saved, and the ensuing suffering legacy of Christians. (My source for these two paragraphs is Paul Zeller Strodach's: <The Church Year: Studies in the Introits, Collects, Epistles and Gospels> (United Lutheran Church, 1924).

The other dominant characteristic in Bach's three extant church pieces for this Sunday after New Year's is the central role of the chorale: three in four-parts for Cantata BWV 153, two in the fifth part of the Christmas Oratorio, and the duet Jesus-Soul chorale fantasias opening and closing Cantata BWV 58. In keeping with the emphasis on suffering, the chosen chorales are vested with the theme of Christian suffering and Christ's Passion. It is quite possible that the libretto for all three extant works involved not a single poet but the collaboration of the composer Bach, the preacher of the day's sermon, Christian Weiss, and possibly the poet Picander, who also may have been involved in the New Year's Day cantata performed the previous day, BWV 190. It is also quite possible that all three collaborated in the text of the St. Matthew and St. Mark Passions, as well, to achieve a more perfect well-regulated church music.

The specific chorales in Bach's three works were well-suited for the Sunday after New Year, says Günter Stiller in <JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig> (p. 237) as well as the ensuing transitional Epiphany season leading to Lent. He points out that the hymn "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid" is used in both Cantatas BWV 153 and 58, and is often listed in contemporary hymn books under the heading of "Cross, Persecution, Tribulation." "Also well suited, for the settings of the Sunday after New Year's," he says, is the Gerhardt hymn "Befiel du deine Wege."

SUNDAY AFTER NEW YEAR (NBA KB I/4, Neumann 1964)Gospel, Matthew 2: 13-15 (Flight Into Egypt), or Matthew 2:1-7 (Magi)*, Epistle, I Peter 4:12 (Christian Suffering)
Date(Cy.)BWV Title Type
1/2/24(1) BWV 153 Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind ATB Solo
1725 (no church year date, instead Sunday after Christmas, 12/31/24)
1726 (no church year date, instead Sunday after Christmas, 12/30/25)
1/5/27(2) BWV 58 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid II SB Solo1/2/29(4) deest (P10) Steh auf, mein Herz text only 1/2/35 BWV 248V Ehre sei dir Gott, gesungen* Chorus, parody

Here is the template and previous discussions of Cantata BWV 153:

SUNDAY AFTER NEW YEAR: BWV 153, Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind [ATB Solo]1/2/24 (Cycle 1); composite text, opens with chorale, has 3 (with separate melodies).
Sources: (1) score (lost, ?WFB); (2) parts set (SPK St.79, ?WFB); (3) score copy (SPK AmB 44,9), provenance:
Literature: Breit. 1761; BG XXXII (Naumann 1886); NBA KB I/4 (Neumann 1964); Whittaker I:401-7; Robertson 41-3; Young 47 f, Dürr 148-51
Text: #1, Denicke cle. (S. 1), mel. "Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein" ("Ah God, From Heaven see therein"); #2-4, 6-8,?C. Weiss, Bach; #5, Gerhardt cle."Befiehl du deine Wege" ("Commend Thy Ways") (S. 5), mel. "Herzlich tut mich verlangen" ("Heartily Do I Long"); #9, Moller cle. "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid" ("O God, How Much Sorrow") (S. 11), mel. "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht" ("O Jesus Christ, My Life's Light");
Gospel, Matthew 2: 13-15 (Flight into Egypt, ref. #7).
Forces: ATB, 4 vv, str, bc.
Movements: 3 chorales, 3 recits. (A, T, B), 3 arias (B, T, A).
Mvt. 1. Cle. (tutti), Behold, dear God, how mine enemies...are.
Mvt. 2. Rec. (A): My dearest God, ah let Thee of it take pity.
Mvt. 3. Aria (B): Near thou not, I am with thee (Is. 41:1).
Mvt. 4. Rec. (T): Thou speakest...God, for my Soul's rest.
Mvt. 5. Cle. (tutti): Commit thy way unto the Lord.
Mvt. 6. Aria (T, str): Storm...rush ye floods on me freely.
Mvt. 7. Rec. (B): Be comforted, my heart, bear thy pain.
Mvt. 8. Aria(A): Shall I my life's path under cross...lead(minuet)
Mvt. 9. Cle. (tutti): Therefore will I...the cross...bear.

Commentary of Dürr, Chafe and Little & Jenne is found in:

Dürr raises the issue of Bach giving his performers a Christmas season rest by writing BWV 153 with only an opening chorale. Chafe (from Analyzing Bach Cantatas, pp. 111-126) looks much deeper at Bach's use of three chorales and the cantata's overtly symmetrical structure.

I take the liberty of quoting Chafe's thesis at the beginning of his chapter focusing on BWV 153, "Five, Bach's Reflection on the Past: Modal Chorales in Cantata Designs"(p.101): Bach not only derives "highly individual harmonic qualities from the traditional chorale melodies but alsoof extending the tonal qualities of the melodies to the movement sequences of entire cantatas. The latter quality almost always involves his perceiving a link between the tonal characteristics of a given melody and the theological intent of its text and then elaborating that link in terms of the musico-allegorical design on the work as a whole."

A rudimentary examination of the movement layout or template shows symmetrical ordering and systematic repetition within a double three-fold or trinitarian frame work:
(1) A. Chorale, (2) B. Recitative, (3) C. Arioso;
(4) D. Recitative (5) E. Chorale, (6) F. Aria;
(7) G. Recitative, (8) H. Aria, (9) I. Chorale.

Schematically, the three plain chorales form the beginning, exact middle and end of the cantata. Each chorale is part of the three clusters of three movements. The three recitatives form the middle of the first cluster and introduce the middle and final clusters. The arioso and two arias constitute the recitative mirror of ending the first and middle clusters and being the middle of the last (third) cluster.

So, the chorales perform their traditional cantata function of diving the work in two and closing it, as well as substituting for the traditional opening chorus or tutti aria. The arias and recitatives invest the work by existing internally within it, in sequence (providing contrast of recitative-aria(oso) in the outer clusters and flanking to the central chorale.

Thus, we have a near palindrome or mirror (chiastic or cross-like) structure, displaying profound, perhaps unconscious rhetoric infusing Bach's musical design. From Rhetoric 101 Class I find the two basic elements of the rhetorical device: symmetry and repetition, to which I would respectfully and humbly add contrast and variation. This cantata establishes the pattern, the structural model, which Bach would most effectively utilize and realize in the two great Passions and Great Mass.

Those who wish to play the numerology-theology game are most welcome to designate each movement type: Perhaps chorale represents the Trinitarian Creator or theme, recitative could be redeemer or proclamation, aria as sanctifier or blessing. Possibly, instead, there is a biblical representation, based on Chafe: chorale as prayer, recitative as plea, and aria as affirmation.

I leave you to Chafe's extensive observations and scrutiny and Bach' revelatory music with one observation: Each movement speaks profoundly for itself while securing and enhancing the totality.

While my opening summary of the liturgical basis for the Sunday after New Year is based on traditional Lutheran hermeneutical teaching, Chafe presents a more extensive interpretation of the overall biblical context and meaning of Cantata BWV 153, with its unique form to fit its unique in-between time, in his initial remarks (p. 111) and BCW listing above.

I also encourage specific musical contributions based upon the various extant recordings and their interpretive approaches.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 13, 2009):
BWV 153: Bach's Calendar

William Hoffman wrote:
< Depending on when Christmas fell during the week, the Sunday observed in the church year was either the one following Christmas Day or New Year's Day. >
I know people's eyes glaze over on this calendar stuff, but to be precise:

* If Christmas falls on a Sunday, then New Year's falls on a Sunday as well, and there is neither a Sunday after Christmas nor a Sunday after New Year's.

* If Christmas falls on a Monday or Tuesday, there is a Sunday after Christmas but not a Sunday after New Year's.

* If Christmas falls on Wednesday or Thursday, there is both a Sunday after Christmas and a Sunday after New Year's.

* If Christmas falls on a Friday or Saturday, the Sunday after Christmas is displaced by the Second or Third Day of Christmas, but there is a Sunday after New Year's.

The larger point here is that Back was acutely aware of the labyrinthean workings of the church year, and the calendar dictated his working and often compositional method. It was the calendar that determined the structure of the Christmas Oratorio: in 1734, Christmas fell on a Saturday and so Bach had to adopt this sequence:

Sat, Dec 25 - First Day of Christmas - Part One
Sun, Dec 26 - Second Day of Christmas (Sunday after Christmas displaced) - Part Two
Mon, Dec 27 - Third Day of Christmas - Part Three
Sat, Jan 1 - New Year's Day - Part Four
Sun, Jan 2- Sunday after New Year's - Part Five
Thu, Jan 6 - Epiphany - Part Six

It's worth pointing out that there would be numerous years when a repeat performance of the Christmas Oratorio would be impossible because the calendar was different.

These chronological restrictions don't seem to have bothered Bach. The Sunday for which he wrote "Wachet Auf" only occurred once during his tenure in Leipzig. He probably wrote this work knowing that he would only hear it once, but that his sons could use it in later years. Another example is "Himmlskönig Sei Willkommen" which was performed on Palm Sunday only because it fell on March 25 with the concurrent feast of the Annunciation.

Eyes may be deglazed now.

Neil Halliday wrote (September 13, 2009):
William Hoffman wrote:
>I also encourage specific musical contributions based upon the various extant recordings and their interpretive approaches.<

Judging by the samples, the latest recording of BWV 153, that of Kuijken (2006) [9], is arguably the finest, taken over all nine movements (though the OVPP choir is not necessarily the most satisfying approach in the chorales).

The tempi are nicely judged; once again the recitative accompaniment is superior to the others (though the bass string sound is too prominent in comparison with the treble tones on the organ, a common problem); the bass and alto arias are delightfully melodious, and the tenor aria (Mvt. 6) is among the finest for its ability to capture the physical excitement of this remarkable movement.

BTW, Crist's description (from BCW) of this tenor aria (Mvt. 6) deserves repeating:

"After a chorale that reiterates God's promise to accompany his people through their trials, the point of greatest dramatic intensity is reached: a tenor aria (Mvt. 6) that employs the imagery of a raging storm to portray affliction, misfortune, and spiritual warfare. The tempest is represented by rapid scale figures in demi-semiquavers, dotted rhythms, and disjunct motion (including octave leaps in the continuo). The surging of the flood is brilliantly depicted by a whirling sequential figure on 'wallt' ('rush'), sung and played in unison in all five parts (bars 9 and 13). A more sedate feeling temporarily intervenes, beginning on the word 'Ruh' ('peace', bar 23), which, characteristically, is sustained through a full bar and beyond. The texture thins to a duet (bars 24-5), then a trio (bars 26-9), before returning to the full-blooded intensity of the beginning".

The clash between the E in the continuo and the F in the violas at the beginning of the third bar (F major in the upper strings sitting on E in the continuo, forte) is typical of the magnificent harmonies in the piece.

[Apart from the tenor aria (Mvt. 6): playing the piano reduction score reveals some remarkable harmonies and modulations in the 2nd and 3rd recitatives, as well as some unexpected harmonisation in the chorales].


Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 153: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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