William Hoffman wrote (September 17, 2016):
Trinity 16 Cantata 27, “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?”
Bach’s fourth and final work for the iconic 16th Sunday after Trinity Cantata BWV 27, “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?” (Who knows how near my end is to me?), is a unique blend of hybrid form in the opening chorale aria and a composite text with a plethora of sources. Focusing on the day’s Gospel, the parable-miracle of Jesus’ raising of the dead son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), it appears to begin as chorale cantata but not with a polyphonic chorale fantasia setting, instead with a four-part plain chorale interspersed with a recitative for soprano, alto, and tenor, in the manner of an operatic scena. This interpolated (troped) chorale setting often is found in the second cycle of chorale cantatas. Also unlike a chorale cantata, BWV 27 closes with a different plain chorale, Johann Georg Albinus' 1649 "Welt, ade! Ich bin deine müde" (World farewell, I am tired of you), to the popular Georg Neumark 1640 melody, "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten" (We only the loving God lets govern). Despite its appearances, Cantata 27 is a solo cantata similar to the other solo works in late Trinity Time 1726, without chorus, but with a keyboard solo, here an obbligato in the central alto free da-capo four voice aria (no. 3) with oboe da caccia.1
Between the two flanking, elegiac chorales with solo horn canto is a symmetrical opera scena of two alternating recitatives and arias, with connotations of dramatic textual and musical elements. The straightforward tenor proclaiming recitative (no. 2), “Mein Leben hat kein ander Ziel, / Als daß ich möge selig sterben” (My life has no other goal / than that I may die a blessed death) ends with a Shakespeare-like proverb: “Denn Ende gut, macht alles gut!” (for a good end makes everything turn out well). This allegorical theme continues in the succeeding alto aria (no. 3), . “Willkommen! will ich sagen, / Wenn der Tod ans Bette tritt.” ("Welcome!" I want to say / when death steps up to my bed) with keyboard obbligato, anticipating heavenly joy. The pastorale soprano recitative with strings (no. 4), “Ach, wer doch schon im Himmel wär (Ah, to be in heaven already!), establishes the longing for heaven in the manner of the singer representing Bride or Soul, with popular pietistic images. The bass Vox Christi, representing the Bridegroom in symbolic dialogue, responds with familiar pietistic sentiments.
Cantata 27 was premiered on October 6, 1726, at the early main service of the St. Thomas Church before the sermon (not extant) on the Gospel by Pastor Christian Weise Sr. (1671-1736), says Martin Petzoldt in BACH Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Sundays.2 There was a possible reperformance about 1737. Keyboard obbligato parts for harpsichord and organ are found in the alto aria (no. 3) and are discussed in Masaaki Suzuki’s “Production Notes” (see below). “For a later performance, probably in about 1737, Bach substituted an organ for the obbligato harpsichord,” says Nicholas Anderson’s Cantata 27 essay in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach.3
The opening chorale with elaborate ritornelli is “troped by recitative insertions, a clear reference back to Cycle 1 (Cantatas 138, 95, 190, and 73),” observes Richard D. P Jones in The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750.4 “An extremely oppressive, imitative duet for two oboes over a motivic string accompaniment in the opening ritornello establishes a mood of great depth and seriousness, highly appropriate for a text that considers the end of our earthly existence.” In doctrinal and theological terms, the cantata with its multiplicity of images and references to death leading to the hereafter can be considered an eschatological statement of the “last things.”
Cantata 27 Chorales
Cantata 27 opens with a plain chorale chorus setting of the first verse of a 1695 12-stanza contemporary funeral hymn of Princess Ämilie Juliane von Schwarzburg-Rudolstdadt, using the associated, popular Georg Neumark 1640 melody, "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten" (We only the loving God lets govern), NLGB No. 303, "Cross, Persecution and Tribulation." The 12-stanza, six-line text and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale044-Eng3.htm. Later, Bach used the final Stanza 12, "Ich leb indess in dir vergnüget" (I live meanwhile in Thee contented), set to the Neumark melody, as a plain chorale closing solo soprano Cantata BWV 84, "Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke" (I am happy in good fortune) for Septuagesima Sunday, Feb. 9, 1727, using a published Picander text.
The Neumark hymn is found under the omnes tempore heading, "Cross, Persecution, and Tribulation" as No. 303 in Bach's Leipzig hymnbook, the Das neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB).5 It was assigned to the 5th Sunday after Trinity in the Leipzig, Dresden, and Weißenfels hymnals in Bach's time, says Günther Stiller in JSB & Liturgical Life in Leipzig.6 Today it is known as "If you but trust in God to guide you," No. 769 under "Trust and Guidance" in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnbook. Extensive information on the text, melody, and Bach’s uses, see BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Wer-nur-den-lieben-Gott.htm.
The Cantata 27 closing chorale uses the Albinus 1649 text, "Welt, ade! Ich bin deine müde" (World farewell, I am tired of you), set to the Johann Rosenmüller melody and five-voice harmonization (SSATB), where it served as part of the funeral service for Johann Elisabeth Teller, Leipzig.7 In the printed version of the latter, the title is “Valet und Trostlied eine Sterbenden” [“A Farewell and Song of Comfort for a person who is dying.”]It was published in Das Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) of 1682 that Bach took directly from the "Death and Dying" section of the NLGB (No. 372), with added tutti, colle-parte instrumentation. It also is listed as BWV Anh. 170. It was published for the first time in Johann Quirsfeld's Geistliche Harffen-Klang, Leipzig, 1679),8 with the title, “Valet und Trostlied eine Sterbenden” (A Farewell and Song of Comfort for a person who is dying). The Rosenmüller biography is found at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Rosenmuller.htm. The chorale is related to the Albinius or Rosenmüller “Alle Menschen müßen sterben” (Everybody must die), set to the Johann Rist 1641 melody “Jesu, der du meine Seele” (Jesus, it is by you that my soul), and listed in the NLGB as No. 383, “Death and Dying.” The seven stanza, eight line text and Francis Browne English translation is found at BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale132-Eng3.htm. The connection between Albinius and Rosenmüller and its importance to Bach is discussed at BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Jesu-der-du-meine-Seele.htm, “Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works,” Chorale Text 2: Alle Menschen müssen sterben.
Trinity 16 Cantatas BWV 27, 161, 95 & 8
For the 16th Sunday after Trinity in the first cycle of 1723, Bach in his opening choruses was experimenting with the use of chorale texts and interpretive free verse in mixed compositional styles. Instead of reperforming Weimar Cantata 161, “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” (Come thou, sweet hour of death), Bach composed chorus Cantata 95, “Christus, der ist mein Leben” (Christ is my life). Cantata 95 has a moopening, complex chorale chorus with a second plain chorale setting, “Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin” (With peace and joy I go on my way), based on Martin Luther’s setting of Nunc Dimittis, Simeon’s prayer in Luke 2:29-32), and a troping recitative interpolation. In the1724 Trinity 16 chorale Cantata 8, “Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?” (Dearest God, when shall I die?), for the Feast of the Purification in 1725, Bach used another recitative interpolation (trope) with soprano, alto, and tenor commentary in between used the lines of the opening chorale chorus, written by an anonymous librettist, possible Picander. In the first cycle Picander may have been involved in Cantata 95 and possibly, subsequently in the third cycle Cantata 27 in 1726, which has a hybrid text. Bach finally revived Cantata 161 in 1725 (more details on Bach’s use of mixed texts is found below in “Notes on the Text.”).
A comparison of Bach’s four cantatas for the 16th Sunday after Trinity is found in Julian Mincham’s Commentary Introduction to Cantata 27, BCW http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-26-bwv-27.htm. The Neumark hymn, "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten," which opens Cantata 27 was one of Bach’s favorites and Mincham discusses its uses in his other cantatas. <<Turning to Bach′s four extant cantatas for the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, the first, C 161, originated from Weimar in 1716 (Dürr, p 544). It is a work of extraordinary depth, passion and imagination, demonstrating Bach′s early use of the genre. C 95 (cycle 1) begins with a chorus of great originality containing (bars 73/89) a passage in which the time signature constantly fluctuates between triple to common time. C 8 (cycle 2) commences with a chorale fantasia which poignantly enquires, to the sounds of the passing of time----when, Lord, shall I die? A similar theme is expounded in C 27.
Thus all four cantatas written for this day are built upon the theme of death and our earthly and spiritual attitudes towards this momentous event. C 161 (vol 1, chapter 69) concerns itself with the sweetness of Death as a release from a life of burden. C 95 (vol 1, chapter 19) places more emphasis upon the falseness of this evil world and the relief of leaving it so as to join with Christ. C 8 (vol 2, chapter 16) deals with the natural fear of demise that inhabits the human psyche, allied with the help we must seek from Jesus in order to overcome it.
In passing, one should note certain similarities between these works which cannot be accidental. One such example is the use of pizzicato strings in three of them (Cs 95, 161 and 8) and high repeated recorder notes in the latter two.
C 27 might almost be thought of as a summation of these various attitudes towards death and its consequences for mankind. As with C 8, it concerns itself with the natural question of how long we might live, our proper preparation for that event and a sense of weariness with this world of conflict and vanity. But whilst all four cantata texts express a yearning for death this one is, at least in the latter verses, the most positive. Death is confidently welcomed, it being an essential pathway towards the one true goal in life. Thus there can be no doubts about the rightness and appropriateness of the transition into the next, much longed-for existence.>>
Cantata 27 movements, scoring, incipits, key, meter:9
1. Concertante Chorale plain [SATB] troped with ritornelli, and Recitative in ¾ [Soprano, Alto, Tenor; Corno (canto), Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: chorale: “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?” (Who knows how near my end is to me?); recitative, Soprano: “Das weiß der liebe Gott allein, / Ob meine Wallfahrt auf der Erden / Kurz oder länger möge sein. (It is known only by the dear God / whether my pilgrimage on earth / may be short or longer.); chorale: “Hin geht die Zeit, her kommt der Tod” (Time departs, death approaches.); Alto recitative: “Und endlich kommt es doch so weit, / Daß sie zusammentreffen werden.” (And in the end there comes a point / that they will meet together.); chorale: “Ach, wie geschwinde und behende / Kann kommen meine Todesnot!” (Ah, with what speed and agility / my death agony can come!); Tenor recitative: “Wer weiß, ob heute nicht / Mein Mund die letzten Worte spricht. / Drum bet ich alle Zeit”(Who knows whether it is not today / that my mouth may speak my last words. / Therefore I pray at all times); chorale, “Mein Gott, ich bitt durch Christi Blut, / Mach's nur mit meinem Ende gut!” (My God, I pray through Christ's blood, / make sure my end is good!”; c minor; ¾.
2. Recitative secco [Tenor, Continuo]: “Mein Leben hat kein ander Ziel, / Als daß ich möge selig sterben / Und meines Glaubens Anteil erben” (My life has no other goal / than that I may die a blessed death / and inherit the portion of my faith); “Drum leb ich allezeit / Zum Grabe fertig und bereit” (therefore I live at all times / ready and prepared for the grave); “Und was das Werk der Hände tut / Ist gleichsam, ob ich sicher wüßte, / Daß ich noch heute sterben müßte: / Denn Ende gut, macht alles gut!” (and the work that my hand does / is just as if I knew for certain / that I must die this very day: / for a good end makes everything turn out well!); g to c minor; 4/4.
3. Aria free da-capo with ritornelli [Alto; Oboe da caccia, Organo obligato, Continuo]: A. “Willkommen! will ich sagen, / Wenn der Tod ans Bette tritt.” ("Welcome!" I want to say / when death steps up to my bed); B. “Fröhlich will ich folgen, wenn er ruft, / In die Gruft, / Alle meine Plagen / Nehm ich mit.” (Happily I want to follow, when he calls, / to the grave, / all my troubles / I take with me.); E-flat Major; 4/4.
4. Recitativo secco [Soprano; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Ach, wer doch schon im Himmel wär! / Ich habe Lust zu scheiden / Und mit dem Lamm, / Das aller Frommen Bräutigam, / Mich in der Seligkeit zu weiden.” (Ah, to be in heaven already! / I have a desire to depart / and with the lamb, / the bridegroom for all who are devout, / enjoy blissful pasture.); “Flügel her! / Ach, wer doch schon im Himmel wär!” (Give me wings! / Ah, to be in heaven already!); c minor; 4/4.
5. Aria free da-capo with ritornelli & shifting tempi [Bass; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. “Gute Nacht, du Weltgetümmel!” (Goodnight, world's turmoil!); B. “Itzt mach ich mit dir Beschluß; / Ich steh schon mit einem Fuß / Bei dem lieben Gott im Himmel.” (Now I have done with you; / I stand already with one foot / next to my dear God in heaven.”; g minor; ¾ sarabande style.
6. Chorale plain [SSATB; Corno e Oboe col Soprano I (canto); Violino I col Soprano II, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: A. 4/4, “Welt, ade! ich bin dein müde, / Ich will nach dem Himmel zu, / Da wird sein der rechte Friede / Und die ewge, stolze Ruh / Welt, bei dir ist Krieg und Streit, / Nichts denn lauter Eitelkeit”; B. 3/1 alle breve, World, farewell! I am weary of you, / I want to go to heaven, /in that place there will be true peace / and everlasting, noble rest / World, with you there is war and strife, / nothing but pure vanity” (In dem Himmel allezeit / Friede, Freud und Seligkeit.” (in heaven there are forever / peace, joy and bliss”; B-flat Major.
Notes on the Text
The varied textual sources and their meanings are explored in Peter Smaill’s Commentary in the Cantata 27 BCML Discussion Part 2, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV27-D2.htm. <<Overall the tendency in Bach to associate archaism with death is apparent. The use of the Rosenmüller chorale is a case in point, as are the quotation from Erdmann Neumeister in the aria BWV 27/3 (Mvt. 3), and the overall sentiment of the text, dwelling on preparedness for death at any moment. Although a fine example of the Baroque sentiment of the "ars moriendi", the origin of this form of contemplation lies in medieval mysticism. Perhaps the intensity of the emotional effect is the fact that the first daughter of Bach's marriage to Anna Magdalena had died only a few months before the composition of "Wer weiss".
As previously mentioned, Bach also (largely) borrows a chorale for another Cantata for this Sunday, BWV 8/6, "Herrscher ueber Tod und Leben", by Daniel Vetter, I recall a Leipzig predecessor. The Rosenmüller chorale was originally composed for the early-deceased daughter of the Archdeacon of Leipzig, Abraham Teller in 1649, according to Schulze [Hans-Joachim, Die Bach-Kantaten: Einfuhrungen Zu Samtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs (Edition Bach-Archiv Leipzig, 2007 2nd ed.)].
There are for me two other resonances. The use of alternating solo voices in BWV 27/1 (Mvt. 1) recalls the sublime "Nun ist der Herr zu Ruh' gebracht" , again a series of personalised meditations, which occurs towards the close of the SMP. The dramatic alternation of wordly chaos and heavenly peace of BWV 27/5 (Mvt. 5) is reminiscent of the dialogue in BWV 67/6, "Friede sei mit euch".
This is a Cantata in which Bach is employing a diversity of texts and musical devices yet the theological message is remarkably unified and the whole so satisfying in conception that one wishes that more had been written so as to achieve, as it were, such unity by inclusion. Although debated with some skepticism by Dürr (Ibid.: 555), the proposition in all the circumstances that Bach himself arranged the libretto cannot be discounted.>>
The tenor recitative (no. 2), “Mein Leben hat kein ander Ziel, / Als daß ich möge selig sterben” (My life has no other goal / than that I may die a blessed death), closes with a quotation from a proverb of Ovid and Shakespeare based on Ecclesiastes 7:9a: “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry” (KJV), says Martin Petzoldt (Ibid.: 480f). The last line of the recitative is: Mach's nur mit meinem Ende gut!” (make sure my end is good!). Shakespeare’s use is “All’s well that end well,” the title of his 1602 comedy, based on Publuis Ovidus Naso 43 v.Chr: Finis coronat opus (Heroiides II,85). At the close of Act IV, Scene IV, Helena declares: “Yet, I pray you: / But with the word the time will bring on summer, / When briers shall have leaves as well as thorns, / And be as sweet as sharp. We must away; / Our wagon is prepared, and time revives us:  / All's well that ends well; still the fine's the crown; / Whate'er the course, the end is the renown.” The thorn image also is found in the tenor recitative (no. 2) of Cantata 161, “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” (Come thou, sweet hour of death): “Und wo man deine Rosen bricht, / Sind Dornen ohne Zahl” (and where your roses are gathered / there are thorns beyond counting), Salomo Franck text.
The central alto aria (no. 3) begins with a quotation from Erdmann Neumeister: A. “Willkommen! will ich sagen, / Wenn der Tod ans Bette tritt.” ("Welcome!" I want to say / when death steps up to my bed). The source is his Geistlichen Cantaten anstatt einer Kirchen-Music (Weißenfels: 1700). It was his first collection of sacred cantata poetry.
The soprano recitative (no. 4) contains popular, characteristic images: “Ach, wer doch schon im Himmel wär! / Ich habe Lust zu scheiden / Und mit dem Lamm, / Das aller Frommen Bräutigam, / Mich in der Seligkeit zu weiden.” (/ ” (Ah, to be in heaven already! / I have a desire to depart / and with the lamb, / the bridegroom for all who are devout, / enjoy blissful pasture.). The lamb, of course, is the sacrificial Jesus, also called the “bridegroom” in “Soul-Jesus dialogue arias, here together to enjoy the pastorale “blissful pasture.” The soprano plea is answered in the bass Vox Christi aria (no. 5). The phrase “Ich habe Lust zu scheiden” (I have a desire to depart) is from Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians 1:23b: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (KJV). It also is the last line of the tenor recitative (no. 2), “Ich habe Lust, von dieser Welt zu scheiden” (I desire to depart from this world.) in Cantata 161.
Petzoldt cites the source of the first, second and fifth lines of this recitative: “Ah, to be in heaven already! / I have a desire to depart / . . . Give me wings!” (Flügel her). It is found in the first two lines and the penultimate line of the first stanza of the anonymous pietist hymn, “Flügel her, nur flügel her / Jesu, ich will gerne scheiden (I will with pleasure depart) / . . . Ich schwingt mich zu dir hinauf” (I swing with you above), source, Kluge hymnbook 1747.
The opening of this recitative (BWV 27/4) is quite similar to the opening of the soprano recitative (no. 4) in Cantata BWV 146, "Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen” (We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God), Jubilate Sunday (Third after Easter): “Ach! wer doch schon im Himmel wär! (Ah, if only I were in heaven already), observes Petzoldt (Ibid.) The closing harmonized chorale (no. 8) was transmitted without text. Werner Neumann (Sämtliche von JSB vertonte Texte) suggests using the closing verse 7 of the Rosenmüller or Albinus hymn, "Alle Menschen müssen sterben": “Ach, ich habe schon erblicket / Diese große Herrlichkeit! (Ah, I have already beheld / this great glory!). Another Bach setting of the same text closes solo Cantata 162, “Ach! ich sehe, / Itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe” (Ah! I see / now, as I go to the wedding), for the 20th Sunday after Trinity to a Salomo Franck 1715 text, premiered in Weimar in 1716, reperformed in Leipzig in 1723. “Ich habe Lust zu scheiden” also is the title of a Georg Philipp Telemann 1724 solo Cantata TVWV 1:836 for the Feast of the Purification. With a text by J. Friedrich Helbig (1720), it also was erroneously listed as a Bach cantata, BWV Anh. 157 (for Details, see BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWVAnh157.htm).
In the bass da-capo aria (no. 5), “Gute Nacht, du Weltgetümmel!” (Goodnight, world's turmoil!); the B section says: “Itzt mach ich mit dir Beschluß; / Ich steh schon mit einem Fuß / Bei dem lieben Gott im Himmel.” (Now I have done with you; / I stand already with one foot / next to my dear God in heaven.”). The phrase, “Ich steh schon mit einem Fuß,” is quite similar to the incipit of the BWV 156/2, “Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe” (I stand with one foot in the grave,” for the third Sunday after Epiphany, probably 1729, to a Picander text, saysd Petzoldt (Ibid.) It is also the beginning of a sacred song of pietist poet Benjamin Schmoltz (1672-1737), best know as librettist of annual church cycles of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel that Bach probably performed in the mid-1730s. The song (Breslau Gesangbuch 1773) closes with the phrase, “Gedencke, daß du sterben mußt” (Think on this: that you must die!). It is similar to the sacred song “Gedenke doch, mein Geist, zurücke” (Think on these things, O Soul of mine; text and melody unknown),10 BWV 509, in the Clavierbüchlein Notenbuch (No. 41) for Anna Magdalena Bach. Composed by the mid-1730s, it is scored for soprano and continuo and closes with the same phrase: “Gedenke, dass du sterben musst.”
The two cantatas “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende” (BWV 27) and “Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe” (BWV 156) “both begin with anticipation of death,” says Eric Chafe as cited in Braatz’s “Commentary: Eric Chafe,” September 20, 2002, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/BWV27-Guide.htm. “Cantata BWV 27 delineates a progression toward the anticipation of eternity, while Cantata BWV 156 is the prayer of one near death first for release from the sickbed of punishment for sin, then for God’s aid with the sickness of the soul. In the one (BWV 27) readiness for death and in the other (BWV 156) acceptance of God’s will leads to the awaited “blessed end.” Cantata BWV 27 begins in c and ends, after a rising-third sequence of keys, in Bb; Cantata BWV 156 begins in F and ends, after first modulating in the subdominant direction in association with the theme of si, in C.”
Cantata 27 as Elegiac Lament
Triple Metre in Bach’s cantatas for the 16th Sunday after Trinity and Cantata 27 as an elegiac lament are discussed in John Eliot Gardiner’s in 2004 liner notes to the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage on Soli Deo Gloria recordings (recording, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJgD-8iiun0).11
<<With two of its movements in triple time (Nos.3 and 5), BWV 161 seems to be setting a pattern for Bach’s later cantatas dealing with the call of death – or is this quite by chance? Could this be a deliberate device to lull and soothe the grieving heart? Three of the four main movements in BWV 95 are in triple metre. So too is the magical opening chorus of BWV 27 Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende, an elegiac lament into which Bach has woven the modal tune linked to Georg Neumark’s hymn ‘Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten’, which seemed to make such a deep impression on performers and listeners alike every time it surfaced along our pilgrimage route. The passage of time is suggested here by the slow pendulum strokes in the bass of the orchestra; against this the downward falling figure in the upper strings and a poignant broken theme in the oboes provide the backcloth for the haunting chorale melody, interlaced with contemplative recitative. Even the harpsichord obbligato and continuo line of the chirpy alto aria (No.3) seem to be imbued with the spirit of measured time (heard here in the percussive articulation of the harpsichord keys), a recurrent feature in these death-knell cantatas. The bass aria in G minor (No.5) shows a strong kinship with Peter’s aria of denial ‘Ach mein Sinn’ in Bach’s St John Passion, at least in its valedictory opening bars. Then it erupts in animated imitation of the ‘world’s turmoil’, which the departing soul will gladly leave behind. The vigorous writing for strings here, an updating of Monteverdi’s stilo concitato, is not Bach’s only nod to the past. For the closing chorale (No.6), most unusually, he quotes almost unaltered a predecessor’s composition, Johann Rosenmüller’s five-part ‘Welt, ade! ich bin dein müde’, which was first printed in Leipzig in 1652. It feels utterly appropriate. Perhaps Bach, matchless as he was at setting chorales, felt that on this occasion there was nothing here that could be bettered. © John Eliot Gardiner 2004, From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage>>
Cantata 27 Gospel Text, Application
The Gospel text and the its application in Cantata 27 is explored in Klaus Hofmann’s 2009 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki BIS complete cantata recordings. 12 <<“Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende” (Who Knows How Close I Am to my End?). Bach’s cantata for the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity in 1726 (6th October of that year) takes the gospel passage for that day (Luke 7:11–17) – with its description of the raising from the dead of the young man of Nain – as the basis for a meditation upon our own death in the expectation of resurrection at the end of time. The starting point of the cantata is the first strophe of a well-known elegy by ÄÄmilie Juliane von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt (1672–1737). The unknown librettist has expanded this strophe – and accentuated its content – by inserting sections of recitative: here we think of our own death with sorrow and anxiety. The following recitative declares that life’s true goal is to die in a blessed state. The text of the third movement, the aria ‘Willkommen! will ich sagen’ (‘Welcome, I shall say’) follows on from this, as a profession of readiness for death. The next two movements tell of the longing for heaven (fourth movement) and renunciation of the world (fifth movement), and both of these motifs are taken up in the concluding strophe from an elegy by Johann Georg Albinus (1624–79).
In the introductory chorus Bach strikes a note of grim earnestness. Minor triads and dissonances above an oppressive pedal point form the basis of the sound image; from this emerge the lamenting voices of two oboes, closely interwoven imitatively. The choral writing, with a 3/4 variant of the well-known chorale melody Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten (Whoever lets only the dear God reign) in the soprano, is simple and homophonic; on occasion the three lower voices solemnly repeat the text beneath a long-held final note from the soprano. Only the last line is more elaborately formulated, with brief pre-echoes in the lower voices. This artlessness lends the pensive recitative entries of the soprano, the alto and finally the tenor even greater emphasis.
The cantata’s two arias are display pieces of a kind unequalled by any of Bach’s contemporaries. For the alto aria ‘Willkommen! will ich sagen’ (‘Welcome, I shall say’; third movement) Bach has chosen to write for oboe da caccia and obbligato keyboard – an exquisite combination of instruments, unique in its period. According to Bach’s score, the keyboard part was intended to be played on the harpsichord. The surviving parts, how ever, include only an organ part here, which moreover may date from a later repeat performance, so it remains unclear whether in 1726 the aria was performed with harpsichord or organ accompaniment. Connoisseurs will recognize that the keyboard writing speaks a highly individual language: here Bach imitates lute music, not unlike similar writing in the bass arioso in the same key in the St John Passion, ‘Betrachte, meine Seel’ (‘Consider, my soul’) – perhaps a symbolic allusion to the old tradition in pictorial art of portraying Death as a lute player.
The bass aria (fifth movement) derives its musical attributes from the contrast indicated in the text between renunciation of the world (‘Gute Nacht’ – ‘Good night’) and hatred of it (‘du Weltgetümmel’ – ‘turmoil of the world’). The former is portrayed, dirge-like, in the manner of a poignant sarabande, whilst the latter is described in the orchestra with powerful, tumultuous motifs.
In the final chorale Bach does something very unusual. The setting of the strophe ‘Welt ade! Ich bin dein müde’ (‘O world, farewell! I am weary of you’) is not a composition by Bach himself, but a five-part version by Johann Rosenmüller (1620–84 – a former teacher at the Thomasschule and organist at the Nicolaikirche) from a funeral piece written in 1649 that was published in 1652 and included with the title ‘Valet und Trost-Lied eines Sterbenden’ (‘Farewell and Comforting Song of a Dying Man’) in Gottfried Vopelius’s Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch. This songbook was probably Bach’s source. For those who attended the church service in Leipzig, the chorale’s final choral will have been perceived not as just any’ hymn strophe but rather a well-known quotation from the familiar customs surrounding the last rites, and the tradition of funeral music. © Klaus Hofmann 2009>>
<<Production Notes: Both BWV 27 and BWV 47 continue to present problems as regards the selection of obbligato instruments in the arias. BWV 27/3, the problem posed by the third movement of this cantata is whether to use the harpsichord or the organ to play the obbligato part. In the autograph score the movement exists in a rough draft and a fair copy, the former with the indication ‘Aria a Haub da Caccia e Cembalo obbligato’ and the latter without any indication regarding the scoring. This obbligato part, however, does not appear in the organ part, and another extant part entitled ‘Organo obligato’ is not transposed for the organ. Further more, this title has been added by someone other than the copyist [Christian Gottlob] Meißner, and there is a possibility therefore that it may not have been intended for the organ. For the present performance of the complete cantata we have chosen to use the harpsichord, as Bach indicated in his rough draft, but have also included a version using the organ as an appendix. © Masaaki Suzuki 2010>>
1 Cantata 27 BCW Details & Discography, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV27.htm. Score Vocal & Piano [1.56 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/BWV027-V&P.pdf, Score BGA [2.37 MB], http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BGA/BWV027-BGA.pdf. References BGA V/1 (Cantatas 21-30, Wilhelm Rust, 1855, NBA KB I/23 (Trinity 16 Cantatas, Helmut Osthoff 1984), Bach Compendium BC A 138, Zwang: K 153.
2 Martin Petzoldt, Bach Kommentar: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. Bis 27. Trinitas-Sontagges, Vol. 1; Theologisch Musikwissenschaftlicke Kommentierung der Geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastan Bachs, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004: 480).
3 In Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 522f).
4 Richard D. P Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750. “Music to Delight the Spirit” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 176).
5 Source materials, see BCW, “Motets & Chorales for 16th Sunday after Trinity, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/LCY/M&C-Trinity16.htm.
6 Günther Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, ed. Robin A. Leaver (St. Louis MO: Concordia Publishing, 1985: 242).
7 Cited in Thomas Braatz’s Cantata 27 “Provenance” article, BCW, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV27-Ref.htm,
8 Cited in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wer_weiß,_wie_nahe_mir_mein_Ende%3F_BWV_27.
9Cantata 27 anonymous text and Francis Browne English translation, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV27-Eng3.htm.
10 Translation Alison Dobson-Ottmers, BCW Edition Bachakademie Vol. 136, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV508-523.htm, No. 15.
11 Cantata 27 Gardiner BCW liner notes, www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Gardiner-P08c[sdg104_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Gardiner-Rec2.htm#P8.
12 Cantata 27 Klaus Hofmann notes, BCW http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Pic-Rec-BIG/Suzuki-C47c[BIS-SACD1861].pdf; BCW Recording details, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Suzuki-Rec3.htm#C47.