Cantata BWV 156Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe!
Discussions - Part 4
Continue from Part 3
Discussions on the Week of January 29, 2017 (4th round)
William Hoffman wrote (February 4, 2017):
Cantata 156, “Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe”: Intro.
Bach’s Cantata 156, “Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe” (I Stand With One Foot in the Grave) is an intimate solo musical sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany which in 1729 observed his return to personal, direct, deeply-felt expression in one of his last works for the regular church year, set to a text of Picander. As with the other three cantatas (BWV 73, 111, 72) for this usually last Sunday after Epiphany its basic Quietist theme is “thy will be done” from the Lord’s Prayer, while in Cantata 156 there is the Pietist first-person singular perspective and the multi-faceted expression of proximity to death. In the manner of his third cycle, Cantata 156 with its beauty and austerity incorporates a brief opening sinfonia, simply marked “Arioso,” from an instrumental concerto movement, two simple Death Song chorales, two proclamatory recitatives, and two poignant arias. The first aria is a poignant tenor-soprano dialogue with a striking, parallel poetic expression of theological acceptance of both death and the will of God while the second (no. 4) is a lilting alto aria in gavotte dance style, “Herr, was du willt, soll mir gefallen” (Lord, what you will must content me.1
Most notable is the opening incipit, “I stand with one foot in the grave,” which is based on the Latin Lenten antiphon, Media vita in morte sumus (In the midst of life we are in death). Martin Luther expanded it to a three-verse chorale on death with refrain, “Mitten wir im Leben sind / Mit dem Tod umfangen” (We in the midst of life / are surrounded with death), which was an anthem for the ravages of war and plague that impacted Germany during the baroque period, and is still sung in Lutheran Churches today. Cantata 156 engenders various associations with other music that speaks simultaneously of life and death (see below, LIFE-DEATH INCIPIT Commentary). The actual incipit, “Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe,” originated as a Pietist song of Benjamin Schmolck (1672-1737, noted Silesian hymn-writer and librettist for two cantata cycles of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel which Bach presented in the mid 1730s.
In the soprano-tenor dialogue (no. 2), the soprano sings the melody to the first stanza of the 1628 chorale of Johann Hermann Schein, Bach Leipzig cantor predecessor, “Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt” (Deal with me, God, according to your kindness). The five-stanza, six-line (ABCBDD) hymn was composed for the funeral of Margarita Werner, wife of a Leipzig Town Councilor (for details, see below, Cantata 156 Chorales). Bach also set this chorale in his St. Mark Passion and to another text in the St. John Passion (see below, “Cantata 156 Chorales Settings.” Kaspar Bienemann’s 1582 chorale, “Herr, wie du willt, so schicks mit mir / Im Leben und im Sterben” (Lord, deal with me as you will), is a three-stanza, seven line (ABABCCD) BAR Form found in Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) of 1682 as No. 349, “Death and Dying.” It is set to the 1525 Wolfgang Dachstein melody, “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” (From deep affliction I cry out to you), based on Martin Luther’s 1524 setting of Psalm 130, De profundis NLGB No. 270, Psalm settings).
Cantata 156 was introduced on 23 January 1729 at the early main service of the Nikolaikirche after the sermon (not extant) by Superintendent Salomon Deyling on the Gospel, Matthew 8:1-13, Jesus healing the leper and the man with palsy following the Sermon on the Mount, says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 3, Advent to trinityfest.2 The gospel and Epistle, Romans 12:17-21 Overcome evil with good, are found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Read/Epiphany3.htm. (German text of Luther’s translation published in 1545 and the English in the Authorised (King James) Version 1611). Introit Psalm for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany in Bach’s time was Psalm 13, Usquequo, Domine oblisvisceris (How long wilt thou forget me> (To the chief Musician, a Psalm of David), says Petzoldt (Ibid.: 461), which he calls “Gebet in Traurigkeit und Herzenangst (Prayer of mourning and heartfelt angst). For the full text of Psalm 13, see http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Psalms-Chapter-13/.
Intimate Quality With Solo Voices
The intimate quality of Cantata 156, reinforced in the solo voices, may be Bach’s artistic choice or the economy of authority, suggests Julian Mincham in his introductory Commentary (http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-40-bwv-156/). <<This is the fourth and final extant cantata for this day; brief contextual comments on the other works may be found in chapter 13 of this volume. It is the only one of the four not to contain a large-scale chorus, maintaining just the closing four-part chorale. All four voices are used in the arias and recitatives and it is assumed that these singers declaimed the chorale one voice to a line, without the need to call upon others. One oboe, strings and continuo make up the rather sparse instrumental forces so, with a call upon fewer than a dozen musicians, this work has very much the feel of a chamber cantata. Whether this was an artistic choice by the composer or one of economy thrust upon him by tight-fisted authorities remains a matter of conjecture.
Reliance upon the Lord′s good counsel is still a recurring theme and the piece has a quality of serenity despite its preoccupation with death and indisposition. The mood is firmly established by the opening sinfonia, a sumptuous melody for oboe, lightly accompanied by off-beat string chords. It has been suggested that the pizzicato quavers suitably suggest the tolling of funeral bells (Wolff, Koopman′s complete cantata recordings, booklet 20, p 23) although clearly this is fortuitous, the movement having been composed some years before the rest of the cantata. Nevertheless, Bach may have chosen to recall it here for that very reason.
Cantata 156 Movements
Cantata 156 movements, scoring, texts, key, meter (Picander text and Francis Browne English translation, BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV156-Eng3.htm):
1. Sinfonia (arioso) [Oboe, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo] source, lost instrumental concerto; later BWV 1056, Keyboard Concerto in F Major, BWV 1056); F Major to C Major; 4/4.
2. Aria [Tenor] with Chorale trope [Soprano], opening & closing ritornelli (12 mm each); [Violino I/II e Viola all' unisono, Continuo]: Aria, “Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, / Bald fällt der kranke Leib hinein,” (I stand with one foot in the grave, / my sick body will soon fall in); Chorale, Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt, / Hilf mir in meinen Leiden (Deal with me, God, according to your kindness, help me in my suffering); Aria, “Komm, lieber Gott, wenn dirs gefällt” (come, dear God, when it pleases you); Chorale, Was ich dich bitt, versag mir nicht. (what I ask you for do not deny me.); Aria, “Ich habe schon mein Haus bestellt,” (I have already put my house in order); Chorale, Wenn sich mein Seel soll scheiden, So nimm sie, Herr, in deine Händ. (When my soul must depart, / then take it ,Lord, in your hand.); Aria, “Nur lass mein Ende selig sein!” (only grant that my end is blessed!); Chorale, “Ist alles gut, wenn gut das End.” (All is good, if the end is good.); F Major; 3/4
3. Recitative secco, arioso [Bass; Continuo]: “Mein Angst und Not, Mein Leben und mein Tod / Steht, liebsteGott, in deinen Händen; / So wirst du auch auf mich / Dein gnädig Auge wenden. / Willst du mich meiner Sünden wegen / Ins Krankenbette legen, / Mein Gott, so bitt ich dich, / Laß deine Güte größer sein als die Gerechtigkeit; / Doch hast du mich darzu versehn, / Dass mich mein Leiden soll verzehren, / Ich bin bereit, / Dein Wille soll an mir geschehn, / Verschone nicht und fahre fort, / Laß meine Not nicht lange währen” (My anxiety and distress, / my life and my death, are, dearest God, in your hands; / therefore you will upon me also / turn your gracious eye. / If you will because of my sins / place me on my sick-bed, / my God , then I beg you, / let your kindness be greater than your justice; / but if you have ordained /that my sufferings will destroy me, / I am ready, / let your will be done to me, / do not spare me , carry on, / grant that my distress may not last long”;
Arioso, “Je länger hier, je später dort” (the longer I stay here [on earth], the later I shall be there [in heaven]; d minor; 4/4.
4. Aria free da-capo with ritornelli [Alto; Oboe, Violino, Continuo]: A. Herr, was du willt, soll mir gefallen, / Weil doch dein Rat am besten gilt.” (Lord, what you will must content me / since what you plan is for the best.); B. In der Freude, / In dem Leide, / Im Sterben, in Bitten und Flehn / Laß mir allemal geschehn, Herr, wie du willt.” (In joy, / in sorrow, / in dying, in prayer and supplication / grant always that what happens to me may be / Lord as you will.); B-Flat Major; 4/4 gavotte style.
5. Recitative secco [Bass, Continuo}: “Und willst du, dass ich nicht soll kranken, / So werd ich dir von Herzen danken; / Doch aber gib mir auch dabei, / Dass auch in meinem frischen Leibe / Die Seele sonder Krankheit sei Und allezeit gesund verbleibe. / Nimm sie durch Geist und Wort in acht, / Denn dieses ist mein Heil, / Und wenn mir Leib und Seel verschmacht, / So bist du, Gott, mein Trost und meines Herzens Teil!” (And if that is your will, that I shall not be ill, / then I shall thank you from my heart, / but then with this grant to me / that in my vigorous body also / my soul may be free from illness / and always remain healthy. / Take care of it through word and spirit, / for this is my salvation / and if my body and soul languish / then you are, God, my consolation and my heart's portion.); g minor to a minor; 4/4.
6. Chorale BAR Form [SATB; Oboe e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: A. Stollen “Herr, wie du willt, so schicks mit mir / Im Leben und im Sterben” (Lord, deal with me as you will, / in living and dying); A’, “Allein zu dir steht mein Begier, / Herr, lass mich nicht verderben!” (only towards you is my longing, / Lord do not let me perish); B. Abgesang, “Erhalt mich nur in deiner Huld, / Sonst wie du willt, gib mir Geduld, / Dein Will, der ist der beste.” (Preserve me in your grace, / otherwise as you will, give me patience, / your will, that is best.); C Major; 4/4.
Cantata 156 Chorales
“Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt” (Deal with me, God, according to your kindness). The text is noteworthy for its use of subjective “I”. See text and Francis Browne English translation, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale119-Eng3.htm. Bach predecessor Schein (1586-1630, BCW Short Biography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Schein.htm) and Ludwig Helmbold (Von Gott will ich nicht lassen) are considered to be precursors to a new form of expression in chorale texts which Paul Gerhardt brought to full fruition a few decades later in such [Piteist] texts as “Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen” and “Auf, auf, mein Herz, mit Freuden.” Bach also set the well-known melody to the plain chorale, BWV 377 in D Major in the St. Mark Passion, No. 44 (15), at the Garden of Gethsemane (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdRKepU_iGU).
Although not in the NLGB, Bach had first set the melody (Zahn 2383) by 1710 as a chorale prelude for organ in the Neumeister Collection, previously listed as the beginning "Fugue in G major," BWV 957 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-IfXBrmiU4). Subsequently, about 1714, Bach listed the chorale title for his Orgelbüchlein collection of chorale preludes, as No. 138 under the omne tempore heading "Death and Dying," but did not provide a new setting. Bach set the melody to the presumed Christian Heinrich Postel text, “Durch dein Gefängnis, Gottes Sohn” (Through your imprisonment, Son of God), in his St. John Passion, BWV 245/22, a plain chorale during Christ’s Trial before Pilate (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDcyvLgiCXs). The ?Postel setting originated in the Hamburg Postel St. John Passion (1705) and attributed to Handel as a soprano aria (no. 23). Bach also set the Schein melody to the Johann Christoph Rube 1692 Pietist Song, “Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott / Recht kindlich kann verlassen!” (Happy is the man, who to his God can abandon himself just like a child!), as Chorale Cantata BWV 139 for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity 1724. For more information on the Schein melody and associated texts, see BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Machs-mit-mir.htm.
“Machs mit mir, Gott” is found in the current Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnbook (Augsburg Fortress: Minneapolis MN, 2006), as No. 799, “Commitment, Discipleship,” with the title, “Come Follow Me, the Savior Spake.” An almost identical setting is found in the current Lutheran Service Book (LCMS, Concordia: St. Louis MO, 2006), as No. 688, “Sanctification.” The melody information is: Meter, 126.96.36.199.8.8; Incipit, 13455 43256 71766 5; Key,D Major; Source, Gotha Cational, 1715. The melody was first published in the collection of music, Das ander Theil des andern newen Operis Geistlicher Deutscher Lieder (1605), by Bartholomäus Gesius and adapted by Schein (see detailed biography, chorale information, and settings in English, http://www.hymnary.org/person/Schein_JH.
“Herr, wie du willt, so schicks mit mir” (Lord, deal with me as you will), melody (Zahn 4438) was first published in 1525 in the Strassburg Ordnung des Herren Nachtinal, and also, with a slight alteration, in the Strassburg Teutsch Kirchēampt mit lobgsengen, un gotlichen psalmen in the same year, says Charles S. Terry in Bach’s Chorales, Vol. 2, Cantatas and Motets.3 It was set in both to Dachstein’s melody, “Aus tiefer Noth,” (BCW information, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Aus-tiefer-Not.htm), but is generally associated with Bienemann’s hymn in the hymn books. Bienemann’s hymn has a later (1648) melody of its own, which is less familiar. Bach’s plain chorale setting of the first stanza is found in Cantata 156 and opening Cantata 73 as an extended chorus chorale fantasia for the same Epiphany Sunday in 1724. Bienemann’s text “directly alludes to the day’s Gospel (Matthew 8:2)” observes Günther Stiller in Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig (Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, 1985: 138).
The chorale text was first published in Bienemann’s Betbuchlein (Little Prayer Book, Leipzig, 1574), text and Francis Browne English translation, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale084-Eng3.htm, Bienemann BCW Short Biography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Bienemann.htm. Bach also set this text and Luther melody to the plain chorale, BWV 339, in A Major. Cantata 73/1 text is set to the anonymous 1529 melody “Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt” (If the Lord God does not stay with us, Psalm 124); Joseph Klug Song Book, Wittenberg). There is one setting in English of the Bienemann-Dachstein hymn, “Lord JesusChrist, Life-Giving Bread” based on the text, “Du Lebensbrod, Herr Jesu Christ,” of Johann Rist, in the current Lutheran Service Book (Ibid.), No. 625, for “The Lord’s Supper” (Holy Communion; details, http://www.hymnary.org/person/Rist_Johann.
Hofmann Notes: Picander Background
Background on the Leipzig poet and Bach collaborator Picander is provided in Bach scholar Klaus Hofmann’s 2010 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki complete cantata recordings on BIS.4 << The special factor that links the four cantatas [BWV 156, 159, 171, 188] on this recording is the provenance of their texts. These come from a series of cantata texts for the whole church year, four editions of which were published in Leipzig in 1728–29 with the title ‘Cantaten Auf die Sonn- und Fest-Tage durch das gantze Jahr, verfertiget durch Picandern’ (‘Cantatas for the Sundays and Feast Days through the Whole Year, written by Picander’). The pseudonym Picander belonged to the poet Christian Friedrich Henrici (1700–64) who, after studies in Wittenberg, settled in Leipzig in 1720 and was henceforth active primarily as a writer of occasional poetry. His collaboration with Bach began in 1725, and was soon to result in a work of major importance: the St Matthew Passion. Picander had extensive knowledge of theology as well as a thorough grounding in music; as a poet he exhibited an exceptional linguistic and formal talent, which made him an ideal partner for Bach. This was especially evident when it came to making so-called ‘parodies’ of existing musical works – in other words, reworking their texts to make them appropriate for a new set of circumstances. This had to be done in such a way that the new text could be combined as seamlessly as possible with the existing music to form an artistically convincing entity.
Picander’s cycle of texts is offset against the church year, beginning on Midsummer’s Day, 14th June 1728, and ending with the fourth Sunday after Trinity in 1729. In the preface to Midsummer’s Day 1728 Picander mentions a plan to have the texts set to music by Bach, for performance in the two main Leipzig churches. Unfortunately Bach’s settings have been preserved for only nine of these texts, and even some of these cantatas have survived only in fragmentary form. Over the past fifty years the small number of these settings has given rise to sometimes heated debate among Bach scholars as to whether Bach ever wrote the music for all the church year’s texts, or whether he composed just a few pieces. Much – indeed everything, apart from the paucity of surviving works – supports the idea that he did compose a complete set, even though this means that some fifty Bach cantatas have thus been lost without trace. Admittedly the discussion of Bach’s ‘Picander year’ is by no means at an end. For the past decade the idea has been circulating that it might in fact have been a ‘parody year’, in which Bach consciously turned to existing music in some cases. A copy of the 1728–29 Leipzig texts, recently discovered in the Russian National Library in St Petersburg, gives rise to hope that – even in the 21st century – newly unearthed sources may help us to resolve not only this matter but also other open questions regarding our knowledge of Bach.
The point of departure for this cantata – for the third Sunday after Epiphany, 23rd January 1729 – is the Gospel passage for that day, Matthew 8:1–13. This tells how Jesus healed a leper and a man with palsy. The ideas that Picander links to this story concern sickness and death, and submission to God’s will. Bach prefaced the cantata with an instrumental movement, a brief Adagio for solo oboe, strings and basso continuo; the music’s expressive cantilenas create a meditative atmosphere in accordance with the work’s conceptual basis. Apparently this movement, which was reused in modified form a decade later in Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056, originated in an oboe concerto that is now lost.
With great skill, the first aria interweaves the newly written lines of the tenor with the first strophe of a dirge by Johann Hermann Schein (1628) in the soprano – in such a way that the two texts illuminate each other on a line-by-line basis. With its constantly descending lines, however, Bach’s music directs the listener’s thoughts towards the grave.
The lively alto aria [no. 4] exudes solemn joy. The text is a vow: ‘Herr, was du willt, soll mir gefallen’ (‘Lord, whatever you wish will please me’). The first four words are based on those spoken by the leper in the Gospel text [Matthew 8:2b]: he says to Jesus: ‘Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’. Bach has combined these first four words with a striking sequence of four notes to produce a musical motif that permeates the instrumental parts as well; here this is conceived as a complement to the text, and is to be under stood as an omnipresent Christian life motto. At the end of the aria’s middle section there is a textual variant of the motto: ‘Herr, wie du willt’ (‘Lord, as you desire’); these are also the first words of the concluding chorale.
>> © Klaus Hofmann 2010
Arioso: Concerto Origin
Cantata 156, BCML Discussion Part 1, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV156-D.htm. Thomas Braatz wrote (November 17, 2005): <<BWV 156/1 and BWV 1056/2 stem from an original source which is lost. Ulrich Siegele wrote his dissertation on this subject (Stuttgart, 1957), among other things, and had a book published in Stuttgart in 1975, "Kompositionsweise und Bearbeitungstechnik in der Instrumentalmusik Johann Sebastian Bachs" in which this subject was treated on p. 129ff. Joshua Rifkin dealt with this subject in the Bach Jahrbuch (1978, pp. 140-147) in his article: "Ein langsamer Konzertsatz Johann Sebastian Bachs." Another much more recent source of greater interest is Martin Geck's report published as part of a symposium [Bachs Orchesterwerke: Bericht über das 1. Dortmunder Bach-Symposion 1996]: "Zur Werkgeschichte von Bachs Cembalokonzert BWV 1056" [Witten, 1997] pp. 256-282.
In the Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1056), as the NBA KB VII/4 [Werner Breig, 2001] explains on pp. 150 and 156, Bach, it would appear, kept transposing and revising this concerto mvt. through a number of different stages. One of these stages, either a score or only parts, is missing so that a complete picture of the transmission of this mvt or concerto is not possible. On p. 150-151, the NBA KB prints a version of the right hand (BWV 1056/2) comparing the before and after versions by Bach as he kept adding further embellishments. (The final version has even more embellishments than the earlier version.)
BWV 156 was first performed on January 3, 1729. For a long time it was thought that BWV 1056 was originally in the form of a violin concerto in G minor. This is no longer believed to be the case. Both BWV 156/1 (Mvt. 1) and BWV 1056/2 come from yet an earlier form that has been lost. The NBA offers a reconstruction of the Violin Concerto in G minor by Wilfried Fischer, but the middle mvt. is not a reconstruction, but rather is provided only so that there might be a middle mvt. for any public performance of this work. Rifkin suspected that BWV 1056/2 was originally the middle mvt. of an oboe concerto in D minor, the outer mvts. of which Bach used again in BWV 35 and which eventually served him as the basis for the Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1059.
In BWV 156 there is an oboe solo with string accompaniment. The oboe solo has less embellishmthan the later BWV 1056/2 and also ends differently in the dominant as preparation to the next movement in the same key and not creating a bridge to a parallel key as in BWV 1056. The two final measure of BWV 156 sinfonia (Mvt. 1) are expanded to 3 measures in BWV 1056/2 to accomplish this goal.
Opening Soprano-Tenor Duet
The form of the opening soprano-tenor duet with strings is an aria with chorale trope, similar to chorale arias in Weimar cantatas but here “has an expressive irregularity characteristic of Bach’s later chorale works,” observes David Schulenberg in his Cantata 156 essay in Oxford Composer Compansions: J. S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd (Oxford University Press, 1999: 236). The cantus firums sung by the soprano is the same as in Cycle III Cantats BWV 49/6, 58/5, and 158/2, while the male voice in Cantata 156 is the tenor instead of the bass. Instead of a Jesus-Soul dialogue, the free madrigalian aria amplifies and embroiders the chorale trope, so that “the two singers are at one throughout,” observes Richard D. P. Jones in The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750. “Music to Delight the Spirit” (Oxford University Press: New York, 2013: 196f). The duet “is one of Bach’s many profound treatments of departure from this world, with its irony that the tenor “stands” while the music portrays his sinking into the grave,” Jones notes. This dialectic also is observes in Alfred Dürr’s Cantatas of J. S. Bach (Oxford University Press: New York, 2005: 213), with the tenor’s held f 1 on “steh” (stand) while the music sinks downward (catabasis) and the melody sinks at he word “grabe” (grave).
LIFE-DEATH INCIPIT Commentary
Life Amidst Death Paradox
This “Death-Wish” Cantata, like BWV 82, “Ich habe genug” (I have enough), solo for bass or soprano for the Purification Feast in 1727, suggests beyond its incipit, “I stand with one foot in the grave,” the paradox that "wherein some of the most life-denying texts led to some of his most life-affirming music," says Uri Golomb in his Cantata 156 BCML Discussion Part 2 Introduction, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV156-D2.htm (31 May 2008). << In a previous discussion [of Cantata 156, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV156-D.htm], Aryeh quoted Crouch's comment: "This cantata probably gets the prize for the most outlandish title from our modern point of view!" And this was even before "One foot in the grave" became the title of a BBC sit-com... It joins a number of works that could be termed "Death-wish cantatas" -- another prominent example is “Ich habe genug,” BWV 82. Not that the speakers in these cantatas are actually seeking death -- but they welcome it, and the texts speak of (or at least hint at) the futility of earthly life, positing against it the promise of salvation in the afterlife. It too reflects the paradox I noted with reference to Cantata BWV 82, "wherein some of the most life-denying texts led to some of his most life-affirming music" (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/BWV82-Golomb.htm).
As far as I recall, however, nowhere is the death reference so blatantly displayed in the work's opening line (and hence in its title). For many modern listeners, the title is bound to raise a mixture of guffaws and discomfort. Seeing the full text only partly alleviates the problem: the main message -- of surrendering completely to God's will -- will also sit uncomfortably for Bach's many non-believing admirers (myself included).
The music itself, however, is beautifully lyrical -- without being in any way in contradiction to the text. The cantata opens with a Sinfonia (Mvt. 1) which also appears as the slow movement (Largo) of the keyboard concerto BWV 1056, which in turn also exists in a violin arrangement (among others) purporting to reconstruct a lost original concerto. In the cantata, the solo part is taken by an oboe. It is one of Bach's most beautiful song-like, apparently-simple melodies. The tenor arioso (Mvt. 2) that follows (sung, in Koopman's version , by the alto -- the notes do not tell us why) has a similarly understated lyricism. There is nothing here of the morbid associations we might have with the phrase "one foot in the grave" (and certainly no similarity to the cantankerous Victor Melldrew, for those who know the BBC series...). Yet the music beautifully captures the relevant emotion of serene, almost stoic acceptance (it reminds of some passages in Monteverdi's “The Coronation of Poppea” where Seneca calmly accepts his own impending death: there are no thematic resemblances, but the general character is sometimes quite similar). Aryeh, in his personal note in a previous discussion, heard in it the song of "the dying man [who] has been left with no power or will to really sing". I hear it somewhat differently: the weariness and lack of strength is there, as is the word-painting of the descent into the grave (as Crouch observed) -- but there is also a sense of serenity, even hope, the latter strengthened by the chorale. Obviously, the hope is brighter and more apparent in the subsequent alto aria (Mvt. 4); but it's already suggested, in my view, in the two opening movements.>>
Death Experience Inspires Music
Bach and his own experience of death in his family “often inspires him to some of his most profound and moving music, as well as the experiences of other composers such as Henry Purcell and the Late-Romantics, Wagner, Mahler, and Richard Strauss, responds Francis Browne in the same BCML discussion. <<Forget Victor Meldrew (if you know who he is) or any comical associations evoked by the opening lines of this cantata. It would be a pity to miss music of such subdued, restrained beauty because of what seems an absurd text. With the early death of his parents, his first wife and many of his numerous children Bach was of course well acquainted with death in his own experience and the theme often inspires him to some of his most profound and moving music. But the texts when set sometimes read strangely to our eyes today. In the attempt to give memorable expression to the commonplace idea of the inevitability of death and to inculcate the Christian response Bach's librettists often strike unconvincingly melodramatic poses and adopt what seems a glib, superficial cheerfulness - all expressed in strained, unconvincing language.
[That there can be strained convincing language about death in German poetry I have been convinced by my recent discovery of Andreas Gryphius' sombre and powerful Gedancken/ Vber den Kirchhoff vnd Ruhestädte der Verstorbenen http://www.zeno.org/Literatur/M/Gryphius,+Andreas/Gedichte/Vermischte+Gedichte/Gedancken
It makes most interesting background reading for Bach's cantatas about death. Would Bach have known this poet and this poem?]
Beyond infelicities of style many people in the secular culture of today may have little sympathy with the positive, hopeful attitude to death promoted by such texts. Dylan Thomas ' words -- “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light” -- perhaps express a common response to our mortality today, and Paul Valery's lapidary stanza in “Le Cimitiere Marin” summarises the reaction of many to the Christian message: Maigre immortalité noire et dorée, / Consolatrice affreusement laurée, / Qui de la mort fais un sein maternel, / Le beau mensonge et la pieuse ruse! / Qui ne connaît, et qui ne les refuse, / Ce crâne vide et ce rire éternel!” "A fine lie and a pious trick" - not the most receptive attitude for cantatas like BWV 156 and yet the seeming gap between Bach and his modern audience is more apparent than real.
In his stimulating introduction Uri sees the problem: "the main message -- of surrendering completely to God's will -- will also sit uncomfortably for Bach's many non-believing admirers (myself included)." and goes some way to suggesting a solution: "The itself, however, is beautifully lyrical -- without being in any way in contradiction to the text." Whatever the inadequacies of language Bach's music throughout this cantata -the expressive writing for oboe in the sinfonia (Mvt. 1), the interweaving of chorale and aria in the second movement where each text comments on and illuminates the other, the finely judged alto aria (Mvt. 4) -neither too fainthearted to be convincing, nor yet bumptiously cheerful - and the moving simplicity of the closing chorale - express a mature and courageous attitude to death which compels respect and while you listen commands imaginative assent , no matter what may be your beliefs at other times.
Uri makes a valuable comparison with Monteverdi's music for Seneca's death - as an Englishman I would also put in a word for Purcell's “Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary” - but perhaps comparison with later composers may help us to appreciate what is valuable in BWV 156. This and other 'death' cantatas of Bach have come to impress me far more than the efforts of other composers which I once found moving and in a way still enjoy: the swirling feverous emotions of Wagner's “Liebestod,” the death- haunted symphonies of Mahler
(which are also life -affirming), the contrived happy ending of Strauss “Tod und Verklarung,” even Verdi's dramatisation of death - all of these, despite their considerable merits, seem to miss something that is expressed in Bach's music.>>
Cantata 156 Structure, Text
The movement structure and text in Bach’s treatment in Cantata 156 is explored in Julian Mincham’s BCML response (Ibid.): <<As in so many of the cantatas, this one is likely to offer more if it is looked at as a holistic structure? rather than a collection of different movements strung together.? It is, for example notable, that of the 6 movements, and despite the nature of the text, four are set in major modes; only the 2 bass recits are in the minor. Furthermore the keystone movement, the alto aria (Mvt. 4) with oboe obbligato is easily the most joyous of the entire 6. These points in themselves (I suggest)? may well say something about Bach's optimistic view of religion and the passing? from mortal to? afterlife.
The chorale is interestingly structured with its apposition of 2 and 3 bar phrases (2, 4 and 7 are three bars long the rest two) In this case the words fit the tune better than in some other cases, the extended phrases giving point to such key words as “Sterben” and “verderben” (to do with death and perishing) almost like the drawn-out last breaths of the dying person.
But it is the second movement (Mvt. 2) which draws attention to itself as being almost like no other in the cannon. On the surface a simple chorale accompanied by strings and tenor (alto?) but from the beginning it is proves to be a movement of great depth? Bach combines violins and violas at the unison (here and elsewhere) when he seeks a darkish doleful sound and the opening idea seems, as is so often the case, to have been derived directly from textual images; the long held string note (standing by the grave?) the descending bass quavers (the body slumping? the lowering into the grave?) and the persistent downward direction of the sequences (from bar 5). Note also the minor-mode harmonies at cadence points, first heard just before the entry of the first voice. I think that Bach deliberately uses the contrasts of major and minor in this way as a metaphor of the compexities of feelings which human have about the process of death. Maybe felt differently in the Cantata BWV 18, but I bet they still had them!
I well recall my first hearing this movement and wondering what the time signature was. It's impossible to tell from the opening bars, the abstruse rhythm ? having the effect of timelessness at this moment of death. One bears in mind that Bach's congregations would be hearing these works for the first time (even if the cycles were repeated every 4/5 years, the interval in between would render them seeming to be heard for the first time on each occasion) and Bach must have had a clear idea of what he expected his audiences to derive from these works on one hearing. The association with a popular British sitcom has already been noted. Another (this time Shakespearian) may be found in the last words of the 2nd movement chorale--all's well that ends well!>>
Lutheran Resignation, Divine Will Acceptance
Extreme resignation and faithful acceptance of the divine found in Lutherans is emphasized in Cantata 156, observes Peter Smaill in his BCML response. << Two thoughts: 1) Theologically the Cantata is not only a reflection on death, but from a standpoint close to that of the Quietists, a seventeenth century sect led variously and in different phases by Mmes Guyon and Bourignon. The key sentiment is of extreme resignation and a denial that the believer can act in any way to frame his or her salvation. It is a far cry from raging at the night, and as often in Lutheranism, abandonment to, and faithful acceptance of, the divine will is the uppermost concept. This Luther derives at least in part from ideas in general circulation and especially promoted by the medieval mystic Johannes Tauler, whose sermons both he and Bach in their time possessed. Tauler, who stresses the "return to God", was suspected of being an early sort of Quietist, but scholars consider this a misinterpretation of his subtle writings.
2) The origin of the phrase which forms the incipit in BWV 156/2 (Mvt. 2) is quite ancient and not it seems Germanic: "The phrase "One foot in the grave" is attributed to the 1647 play The Little French Lawyer (act 1, scene 1) written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Ancient Greek historian/biographer Plutarch (circa 45-125 A.D.) stated in his work “On the Training of Children” the sentiment "An old doting fool, with one foot already in the grave".>>
Links to Schütz's "Musikalische Exequien”
A comparison with Heinrich Schütz's "Musikalische Exequien,” is shown in Thérèse Hanquet commentary response. << The title of this cantata reminds me of Heinrich Schütz's "Musikalische Exequien", a work I find very impressive and beautiful. It was written for the funeral of a lord who was named Posthumus (a predestinate name...), who died in 1635. A part is a motet based on Simeon's canticle, and one movement titled "Selig sind die Toten" ("Happy are the dead") was meant to be sung by three solisten standing in the grave where Posthumus was about to be buried [also the opening chorus in Brahms’ “German Requiem” using vernacular texts instead of the Latin Requiem Mass. Cantata 156 duet closes with these lines: Aria, “Nur lass mein Ende selig sein!” (only grant that my end is blessed!); Chorale, “Ist alles gut, wenn gut das End.” (All is good, if the end is good)].
But if death was present in Bach's life, what should we say about Schütz? The liner notes of my recording (Herreweghe) indicate that 8 years before his birth, one third of the inhabitants of his city were taken away by the plague. When he was 4, in one single day 133 women were burnt as sorceresses in a convent near his town. He lived through the whole Thirty Years' War which ruined many German regions (some lost half their population). Additionnally, Schütz lost in the space of a few years his parents, his young wife, his only brother and his two little daughters. You can indeed feel some melancholy in most of his works, but there are also joyous works, such as the “Weihnachts-Historie” (Christmas Story), generally considered as his master piece and which he wrote at the age of 79.>>
Media vita in morte sumus
Media vita in morte sumus (In the midst of life, we are in death), is a Latin antiphon popular in the Renaissance and Baroque but dating to the Middle Ages. The chorus, beginning “Holy and Righteous God,” is based on the Tirsagion of the Greek Liturgy, dating to the fifth century. The full text is: “Media vita in morte sumus / quem quaerimus adjutorem / nisi te, Domine, / qui pro peccatis nostris / juste irasceris? Sancte Deus, / sancte fortis, / sancte et misericors Salvator: / amarae morti ne tradas nos.” (In the midst of life we arein death / of whom may we seek for succour, / but of thee, O Lord, / who for our sins / art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, / O Lord most mighty, / O holy and most merciful Saviour, / deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_vita_in_morte_sumus).
The Latin phrase was translated into the vernacular early and has continued to circulate especially widely in German and English, in literature and in song. Media vita appears in Hartmann von Aue's Middle High German narrative poem “Der arme Heinrich” (V.93f.). In 1524, Martin Luther translated it as “Mitten wir in Leben sind” and consequently it is now in the Evangelischen Gesangbuch hymnbook as number 518, or 654 in the Gotteslob hymnbook. Luther’s three-stanza, seven-line with six-line refrain chorus and Kyrieleison! Litany of the Latin antiphon is found in the NLGB as No. 344, “Death & Dying” (Zahn melody 8502).
The full German text is found at http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/Lieder/mittenwi.html; the English translation: In the midst of earthly life / Snares of death surround us; / Who shall help us in the strife / Lest the Foe confound us? / Thou only, Lord, Thou only. / We mourn that we have greatly erred, / That our sins Thy wrath have stirred. Refrain Chorus: Holy and righteous God! / Holy and mighty God!/ Holy and all-merciful Savior! / Eternal Lord God! Save us lest we perish / In the bitter pangs of death. Have mercy, O Lord! 2. In the midst of death's dark vale / Powers of hell o'ertake us. / Who will help when they assail, / Who secure will make us? / Thou only, Lord, Thou only. / Thy heart is moved with tenderness, / Pities us in our distress. / Chorus. 3. In the midst of utter woe / All our sins oppress us, / Where shall we for refuge go, / Where for grace to bless us? / To Thee, Lord Jesus, only. / Thy precious blood was shed to win / Full atonement for our sin. / Chorus.
Luther’s expansion embraces key concepts. A cry for help in mortal danger, it is “an assurance of grace and a confession of God’s goodness,” says Luther’s Works: Vol. 53, Liturgy and Hymns (Fortress: Philadelphia PA: 1965: 274ff). The two additional stanzas, on the basis of 1 Cor. 15:56, become a petition for forgiveness of sins.” The Phrygian melody, derived from its Medieval form, was altered in the direction of a folk song and the first two lines are reminiscent of the folk ballad of Tannhuser. The melody is related to the music with the same words in the Improperia for good Friday. Johann Walther in 1524 adapted the 13th century gradual.
The Latin phrase was translated by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmern which became part of the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer. Anglican bishop Miles Coverdale wrote a poetic rendering of Luther's chorale, beginning "In the myddest of our lyvynge." Catherine Winkworth made another English version, beginning "In the midst of life, behold." The current Lutheran Service Book (Ibid.) has all three verses, “In the Vary Midst of Life,” No. 755, “Hope and Comfort.”
“Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe”
The incipit, “Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe,” originated in a Benjamin Schmolck pietist song thatnis found in the Breslauer Gesangbuch 1773, No. 1026, observes Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary (Ibid.: 494). It is also found on line at http://www.hymnary.org/text/ich_steh_mit_einem_fuss_im_grabe, No. 471, set to the melody, “Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt,” as a three-stanza death prayer. Schmoltz’s biography is found at http://www.hymnary.org/person/Schmolck_Benjamin.
In Bach, observes Petzoldt, the expression initially is found in the closing line, “Ich steh schon mit einem Fuß / Bei dem lieben Gott im Himmel.” (I stand already with one foot / next to my dear God in heaven.) of the bass aria, “Gute Nacht, du Weltgetümmel!” (Goodnight, world's turmoil!) from chorus Cantata 27, “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?” (Who knows how near my end is to me?) for the 16th Sunday after Trinity 1726 in the third cycle. The expression reflects the closing refrain in all three stanzas of Schmolck’s song, “Gedencke, dab du sterben mußt” (Remember that you must die), and is similar to the song in the Anna Magdalena Little Music Book, No. 41, BWV 509 (c.1733-34), “Gedenke doch, mein Geist, zurücke / Ans Grab und an den Glockenschlag” (Remember, my spirit, step back from the grave and at the bell tolling), as well as the Kaspar Bienemann chorale that closes Cantata 156, found in the Dresdener Gesangbuch 1725/36 (No. 444).
Provenance: Score Lost, Parts Set Copy
While the original score of Cantata 156 is lost, possibly through Friedemann Bach, a copy of the parts set from the second half of the 18th century exists, as related in Thomas Braatz’s BCW article, Cantata 156 “Provenance,” http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV156-Ref.htm (Based on NBA KB I/6 pp. 83-100; June 1, 2008). <<The autograph score was lost early on. It is not known whether it still existed at the time of Bach’s death nor who might have inherited it. Likewise, there is no trace of the original set of parts which must have been created from the autograph score for the first performance of this cantata on January 23, 1729. There is no record of any repeat performance of this cantata during the remaining years of Bach’s tenure in Leipzig.
The first appearance of a set of parts very likely copied from an original source was listed in the music library inventory of the St. Thomas School executed in 1823 by the Thomaskantor at that time: Christian Theodor Weinlig (1780-1842). It is clear, however, that this set was not part of the original sets of parts that Anna Magdalena Bach had donated to the school in 1750. The watermark of the paper used for these parts point to the paper manufacturer Friedrich Georg Cahl whose shop was located in Freiberg/Saxony and where such paper was produced from 1684-1761. Since paper from this workshop was never used by Bach or any of his copyists, it becomes necessary to establish a connection by means of circumstantial evidence. The most likely connection would be through Johann Friedrich Doles (1715-1797) who became the Thomaskantor in 1755 and was known to have a large collection of music manuscripts. His points of contact with Bach occurred from 1739-1744 when he attended the University of Leipzig and studied under Bach after which he assumed a position as cantor in Freiburg where the paper for the parts was manufactured. These parts were copied [before 1761] by an unknown copyist who at times made some very careless mistakes. It is from this set of parts that other 19th-century scores of this cantata were compiled. This set of parts is now found in the Bach-Archiv Leipzig [since 1952] (it had been temporarily stored in the Stadtarchiv Leipzig). Autograph Parts Copy (Digital Facsimile), https://www.bach-digital.de/receive/BachDigitalSource_source_00003202.
There are 10 parts: the single continuo part is transposed without figured bass. Three parts have no watermark: Canto, Tenore, Viola. The Alto and Bass seem to have been added later. The other parts are Hautbois, Violino 1 & 2, Violono. Re: Mvt. 2. This vocal part is entered both into the alto and bass parts. The alto part: Despite the fact that an alto clef is entered first, the fact is that the notes are entered as if it were a tenor clef. The bass part: Although a bass clef is used, the notes must be read a 3rd lower than they appear.
As an explanation it must assumed that a rather inexperienced copyist was copying from an original souhaving a tenor clef and transposed the notes upwards rather than downwards. Some notes were transposed by a 2nd which might occur when one is transposing from a tenor clef. Since the use of unison voices throughout an entire movement would be unparalleled in Bach’s oeuvre, it is necessary to depend upon other indications contained in the prime source: the Doles(?) copy of the parts. Facts that speak in favor of a tenor voice: 1) the vocal range is from c to a’; which would be unusually high for a bass voice and too low for an alto; 2 the vocal range is comparable to other tenor parts that Bach composed around this time.>>
1 Cantata 156, BCW Details & Discography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV156.htm. Score Vocal & Piano, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV156-V&P.pdf; Score BGA, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV156-BGA.pdf. References: BGA: XXXII (Cantatas 151-160, Ernst Naumann 1886), NBA KB I/6 (Epiphany 3, Ulrich Leisinger 1996), Bach Compendium BC A 38, Zwang K 175.
2 Petzoldt, Martin. Bach Kommentar: Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs; Vol. 2, Die Geistlichen Kantaten vom 1. Advent bis zum Trinitatisfest; Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007: 494).
3 Terry, Bach’s Chorals. Part I: 2 The Hymns and Hymn Melodies of the Cantatas and Motetts (Cambridge University Press, 1915-1921); 3 vols. Vol. 2. February 2, 2017, http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2056, scroll down to Cantata CLVI.
4Hofmann notes, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Suzuki-C49c[BIS-SACD1891].pdf; BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Suzuki-Rec3.htm#C49.
William Hoffman wrote (February 6, 2017):
Cantata 156: Luther Chorale “Mitten wir im Leben sind"
Bach’s Cantata 156, “Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe” (I Stand With One Foot in the Grave), set to a Picander texts with three death-related chorales, two sung and one implied, is driven by basic Lutheran theology and the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The implied chorale is the theme of Cantata 156. It ius based on the Latin Lenten antiphon, Media vita in morte sumus (In the midst of life we are in death) which Martin Luther expanded to a three-verse chorale on death with refrain, “Mitten wir im Leben sind / Mit dem Tod umfangen” (We in the midst of life / are surrounded with death).
Bach set Luther’s Death chorale, “Mitten wir im Leben sind” (We in the midst of life) as a free-standing plain chorale, BWV 383, possibly at the same time that he composed Cantata 156 in 1729, for use in the same service. Bach probably knew his cousin Johann Gottfried Walther’s organ chorale prelude setting, LV 106, and knew Luther’s chorale since he listed it as No. 129 in his Orgelbüchlein planned collection, although not set (see, The Orgelbüchlein Project: Completing Bach’s plan, http://www.orgelbuechlein.co.uk/the-missing-chorales/, scroll down to: “129 Mitten wir . . . Weissenfels (1714) Songbook. A two-part setting of canto and figured bass in found in the “Sebastian Bach’s Choral-Buch,” pages 23d-37 (Zahn 8502) possibly by a Bach student as early as c1740.
Bach’s setting, BWV 383 (BC F 145) in E Major Phrygian, is in traditional BAR Form with the opening two lines of Abgesang repeated musically, followed by the extended Stollen of nine lines with refrain ending in “Kyireleison” (recording, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gR8wQqA-OA; music, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yA-pZyc_PfY). Following the Latin antiphon setting, Bach adheres to Luther’s text setting in irregular form of line-length, meter, and rhyme scheme. The Abgesang ends with the refrain using the same text of lines 8-10 but a new text for the closing 11th line: “Heiliger Herre Gott, / Heiliger starken Gott, / Heiliger barmherziger Heiland, du ewiger Gott” (Holy and righteous God! / Holy and mighty God! / Holy and all-merciful Savior! Eternal Lord God!). Bach’s musical model was the Johann Hermann Schein setting in Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch of 1682, No. 344, “Death & Dying.” The original source is Johann Walther’s 1524 Geistliches Gesangbüchlein, http://imslp.org/wiki/File:PMLP440449-WalterJoh_Mitten_wir_im_leben.pdf.
The text is: 1. “Mitten wir im Leben sind / Mit dem Tod umfangen. / Wen suchen wir, der Hilfe tu, / Daß wir Gnad erlangen? / Daß bist du, Herr, alleine. / Uns reuet unser Missetat, / Die dich, Herr, erzürnet hat. / Refrain . . . Laß uns nicht versinken in des bittern Todes Not. / Kyrieleison.” (1. In the very midst of life / Snares of death surround us; / Who shall help us in the strife / Lest the foe confound us? / Thou only, Lord, Thou only! / We mourn that we have greatly erred, / That our sins Thy wrath have stirred. Refrain . . . Save us lest we perish In the bitter pangs of death. / Have mercy, O Lord!). 2. “Mitten in dem Tod ansicht / Uns der Höllen Rachen. Wer will uns aus solcher Not / Frei und ledig machen? / Das tust du, Herr, alleine. / Es jammert dein Barmherzigkeit / Unser Klag und großes Leid.” Refrain . . . Laß uns nicht verzagen vor der tiefen Höllen Glut. / Kyrieleison.” (2. In the midst of death's dark vale / Pow'rs of hell o'ertake us. / Who will help when they assail, / Who secure will make us? / Thou only, Lord, Thou only! / Thy heart is moved with tenderness, / Pities us in our distress. Refrain . . . Save us from the terror / Of the fiery pit of hell. / Have mercy, O Lord!.). 3. “Mitten in der Höllen Angst / Unser Sünd uns treiben. / Wo solln wir denn fliehen hin, / Da wir mögen bleiben? / Zu dir, Herr, alleine. / Vergossen ist dein teures Blut, / Das gnug für die Sünde tut. Refrain . . . Laß uns nicht entfallen von des rechten Glaubens Trost. / Kyrieleison.” Erfurter Enchiridien, 1524 (3. In the midst of utter woe / All our sins oppress us, / Where shall we for refuge go, / Where for grace to bless us? / To Thee, Lord Jesus, only! Thy precious blood was shed to win / Full atonement for our sin. Refrain . . . Lord, preserve and keep us / In the peace that faith can give. / Have mercy, O Lord! Source: Lutheran Service Book #755).
Luther’s expansion embraces key concepts. A cry for help in mortal danger, it is an assurance of grace and a confession of God’s goodness.” The two additional stanzas become a petition for forgiveness of sins. Near the ending, Luther emphasizes his Theology of the Cross concept in which sacrificial blood brings full atonement.
As Bach worked towards the completion of his third cantata cycle, he simultaneously composed the St. Matthew Passion with its emphasis on the Theology of the Cross and it influenced these and the few later cantatas he selectively composed to Picander texts. For the 16th Sunday after Trinity in 1726, he returned to the motto of Cantata 156 and, possibly with Picander’s help, selectively used texts of other librettists and chorale poets to compose Cantata 27, “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?” (Who knows how near my end is to me?). Both Cantatas 156 and 27 express this central theme and both end in keys different from those in which they began,” observes Eric Chafe in Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991: 132). Cantata 156 begins in F Major but ends in its dominant, C Major. The tonal descent ends witthe second, moving to a minor for the closing chorale, higher than the beginning of the cantata.
Theologically, Cantata 156 “deals with spiritual sickness by recalling the story of Hezekiah’s receiving the announcement of death from Isaiah, the reference that underlies the bass solo,” “Bestelle dein Haus” (Put your house in order, Isaiah 38:1), in Bach’s memorial Actus Tragicus Cantata 106, “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit” (God's time is the very best time), observes Chafe (Ibid.: 167), which also has Bach’s first settings of chorale duets. In Cantata 156, against “ the chorale cantus firmus, Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt, / Hilf mir in meinen Leiden (Deal with me, God, according to your kindness), “the tenor solo expresses readiness to die,” says Chafe, with similar sentiments familiar from other Death cantatas, with some recurring throughout in various forms. The third line of the aria, “Ich habe schon mein Haus bestellt,” (I have already put my house in order), is supported with the chorale line,“Wenn sich mein Seel soll scheiden” (When my soul must depart).
Cantata 156 was one of Bach’s nine complete works in the published Picander 1728-29 so-called “fourth cycle” of selective pieces for special occasions although Bach used his published poetry as early as 1723 (BWV ?25, ?138, and 148). He also may have relied on Picander to assist with chorale cantata poetic paraphrases in the second cycle and hybrid texts like Cantata 27 in the third cycle. Recent scholarship shows that some of Picander’s texts published in his 1728-29 cycle may have been written in the 1726 third cycle, along with BWV 157 for a funeral on February 6 and adapted as a purification cantata in 1727, Cantata 146 for Jubilate Sunday after Easter, and the Michaelfest Cantata 19 later in 1726.
To Come: Tenor-Bass Purificationfest Solo Cantata 157, “Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn!” (I am not letting you go, unless you bless me first!, Genesis 32:25).