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Cantata BWV 39
Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot
Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Discussions in the Week of May 29, 2016 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote (June 2, 2016):
Trinity 1 & Cantata 39, “Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot”

Bach and Trinity Time 1725

For Trinity Time 1725, the five-month hiatus of June to November from regular composition and performance of sacred compositions enabled Bach to take of stock of what he had composed and the directions in which he intended to compose the dominant sacred vocal music that had occupied his time for the past two years, in fulfillment of both his title of Cantor and his stated calling of a “well-ordered sacred music to the glory of God.” Systematically and intentionally, Bach had composed and presented, including recycling existing music, more than two cycles of church pieces. These proved to be far more innovative and diverse than those of his contemporaries who produced far more cantata cycles: Georg Philipp Telemann in Hamburg, Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel in Gotha, Christopher Graupner in Darmstadt, and Johann Friedrich Fasch in Zerbst.

Bach had arrived at a crossroads. While he returned to keyboard and other instrumental compositions with a view to renewing and exploring various forms and genres, Bach also considered the implications and directions within his vocal music and the connections between vocal and instrumental music, how he could best utilize what he had composed and transform it into new music and new directions. Foremost, Bach actively sought published libretti which enabled him to fill gaps in church music and provide structures that challenge his creative imagination and the materials he already had on hand. This time when Bach resumed regular composition, he would best utilize his time and avoid complications that befell him, while resuming his traditional activities of preparing and presenting regular and well-ordered church music.

From the actual record, it is possible to suggest primary concerns and specific activities Bach embraced. What emerged over the next two years were a multiplicity of homogeneous musical contents and forms that took time to develop and reach fulfillment. The general categories of new cantata music involved a return to the old two-part forms in the Rudolstadt texts, the employment of intimate solo cantatas with recycled music, and the filling of gaps in the overall fabric. From experimentation and consolidation in the first two cycles, Bach achieved culmination in cycles three and four and the late works, with “contextual considerations and expansions of the genre,” says Julian Mincham in his BCW project, “The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach: A Listener and Student Guide,”

1st Sunday after Trinity, 3rd Cycle

Three different dates signify the beginning of Bach’s apparent last deliberate cantata cycle: 1st Sunday after Trinity 1725 and 1726 and Advent Sunday 1725. Two-part chorus Cantata BWV 39 “Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot” (Break your bread with the hungry; Isaiah 58:7-8) was premiered on the 1st Sunday after Trinity (June 23, 1726). Fitting Bach’s need for another two-part festive work to begin the omnes tempore (Ordinary Time) second half of the church year, this 24-minute musical sermon was the first work to begin Bach’s illusive third cycle in the 1750 estate division between his two eldest sons, Friedemann and Emmanuel. Cantata 39 was the second of a new series of eight vocal church pieces set to 1704 printed Rudolstadt texts Bach composed in the summer of 1726 as he worked to fill the 60 service dates in the third cycle.

Chronologically, Bach’s last extant cantata cycle began the previous year on June 3, 1725, while he was on vacation in Cöthen, with a repeat BWV 75(a), beginning with No. 2, bass recitative: “Was hilft des Purpurs Majestät/ Da sie vergeht?” (What use are royal robes [literally purple] / since they pass away?, Luke 16:19). This abridged version did not have choruses, similar to its successor, Cantata 76(a), using only one of its two parts, beginning with recitatives and closing with a plain chorale setting of the popular “Was got tut, das ist Wohlgetan” (What God does, that is done well).

The record of Bach performances suggests that Bach officially began his third cycle on the First Sunday in Advent, December 2, 1725, possibly with an early version of the cantata parody, "Schwingt freudig euch empor" (Swing yourself joyfully upward) BWV 36, initially composed to a Picander text the previous April 5 for the birthday of a Leipzig University student, BWV 36c.

Cantata 39 in two-parts met Bach’s desire for a bi-partite cantata, literally two cantatas presented before and after the sermon, as had begun his first cycle two years previous with Cantatas 75 and 76, followed by Cantatas 21 (Trinity 3), 147 (Visitation), 186 (Trinity 7), 70 (Trinity 26), and 194 (Trinity Sunday). Only one two-part cantata, BWV 20, opening the chorale cantata cycle, was composed in the second cycle. Cantata 39 was part of a string of eight two-part works, beginning on Ascension Thursday Festival ((May 30, 1726) to Rudolstadt texts, reprinted in 1726. They alternated with Rudolstadt texts set to cantatas of Meiningen cousin Johann Ludwig Bach, enabling Sebastian again to take at least two weeks [to compose and present more challenging new two-part works. The seven extant Sebastian Rudolstad-text works and the Trinity Sunday performances are BWV 43 (Ascension), 39 (Tr. 1), 88 (Tr. 5), 187 (Tr. 7), 45 (Tr. 8), 102 (Tr. 10), 17 (Tr. 14).

These seven Sebastian works, as well as the 18 of Ludwig Bach that Sebastian also performed (JLB 1-17, 21) during the third cycle, “are rich in a sequence of Pelagian-leaning texts,” observes Peter Smaill in his unique essay, “Bach among the Heretics: Inferences from the Cantata Texts” (p.111f), Although the Anglican concept of Pelagian self-reform to achieve salvation conflicts with the Lutheran concept of faith alone, says Smaill, Leipzig Superintendent Salomon Deyling still “was exercising any control” over Bach’s cantata texts [More details on the Rudolstadt texts, the Meiningen Court, and Johann Ludwig Bach are found at BCW,, Discussions in the Week of June 20, 2010 and Bibliography.]

Cantata 39 Premiere

Cantata 39 was premiered at the early main service of the Nicolaikirche, before and after the Gospel sermon, Luke 16-19:31 (Parable of the Rich Man and Poor Man Lazarus), by Archdeacon Friedrich Wilhelm Schütz (1677-1739), says Martin Petzoldt in Bach Commentary, Vol. 1, Trinity Time Sundays.1 Schütz substituted for Superintendent Salomon Deyling (1677-1755), says Petzoldt, who was ill since Pentecost. Cantata 39 uses the basic format of the Rudolstadt texts, Petzoldt shows: Old Testament dictum, aria, recitative, New Testament dictum, aria, recitative, closing chorale. To achieve palindrome symmetry, Bach changes the order of arias and recitatives.

Cantata 39 features an extended opening motet chorus in three parts that takes one-third (8 minutes) of total play time, with the closing with the customary plain chorale. The basic theme is the Second Commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 23:39, KJV). Cantata 39 closes with the customary plain chorale and includes two bi-partite arias and two secco recitatives, and, beginning Part 2 in the center (no. 4), an extended, traditional bass vox Christi arioso singing the dictum, Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews 13:16.FN The Readings for the 1st Sunday after Trinity : Epistle: 1 John 4:16-21 (God is love); Gospel: Luke 16:19-31 (Parable of rich man Dives and poor man Lazarus), (German text Martin Luther 1545, English translation Authorized King James Version [KJV] 1611). The Introit reading is Psalm 62, Nonne Deo? (Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation, according to Petzoldt (Ibid.: 23). The full text is found at KJV),

The biblical-liturgical purpose of each of the seven movements is outlined in Petzoldt’s theological commentary: the opening chorus is the introit prophecy (Isaiah 58:7-8) and the closing chorale (no. 7) is the benediction. The opening bass recitative (no. 2) is the biblical teaching and the closing alto recitative (no. 6) is the prayer. The essential musical sermon theme of “Barherzigekeit” (merciful compassion) is expressed in the bass recit and is found in the alto aria (No. 3) and the offering is expressed in the soprano aria (no. 5). The unusual, subdued orchestra has pairs of soprano recorders (flutes à bec or blockflöte) and oboes, with strings. The three madrigalian movements are in dance-like triple time: chorus in ¾ and 3/8, alto aria in 3/8 passepied-menuett, and soprano aria in 6/8.2

Notes on Rudolstadt Text

Cantata 39 Rudolstadt text makes no direct reference to the readings for the 1st Sunday after Trinity but focuses on the background Beatitudes (Mathew 5:7 etc), “Blessed are those who from pity take to themselves the needs of others” (BWV 36/7). Bach was able to portray through innovative music the relationship of the chosen hymn to the Gospel and Epistle lessons. More information on the liturgy and chorales is found at BCW “Motets & Chorales for 1st Sunday after Trinity,” Cantata 39 text for the first Sunday in Trinity Time has numerous references only to God the Father and Creator, eschewing the Son or Reedemer/Saviour, and the Holy Spirit or Sanctifier and Enabler in the Christian Holy Trinity.

Cantata 39 closes (no. 7) with Stanza 6 of David Deicke’s 1648 11-stanza hymn, “Kommt, laßt euch den Herren lehren” (Come let the Lord teach you). The hymn is based loosely on the Beatitudes (Matthew, Chapters 5-7, Sermon on the Mount). This is Bach’s sole setting of this hymn, which is not found in the Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (NLGB) of 1682. Stanza 6 begins, “Selig sind, die aus Erbarmen” (Blessed are those who from pity). The full text of the hymn and Francis Browne’s English translation are found at BCW The BCW Short Biography of Deicke (1603-1680) is found at The plain chorale is set to the popular melody, “Freu’ dich sehr, o meine Seele” (Rejoice greatly, o my soul) originally anonymous c.1510 pre-Reformation, by Louis Bourgeois in 1551. The hymn is a commentary on Psalm 42, “As the hart panteth,” which was at the foundation of Luther’s theology of Justification by grace through faith alone. It is found near the end of the NLGB, No. 358, “Death & Dying.” Information on the text and melody are found at BCW, This chorale was one of Bach’s most frequently used.

Thematic biblical teaching patterns were complemented with systematic and intentional use of familiar omne tempore chorales as Bach traversed the initial Sundays After Trinity.3 Bach’s texts and hymns for the 1st Sunday after Trinity, cast in the first four two-part Cantatas 75, 20, 39, and 21 reveal an emphasis on Old Testament teachings as the foundation for the Christian Church with celebration and signing to the Lord, then the central message of Love as the Great Commandment in Christian teachings, and finally, the affirmation of the doctrinal Triune Church and Time through God the Creator, Jesus Christ the Redeemer, and the abundant and free grace of the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier.

Trinity 1 Two-Part Cantatas 75, 20, 39

All three Cantatas BWV 75, 20, and 39 for the 1st Sunday after Trinity are large-scale, two oarts works, while there is no record of a performance the previous year 1725, observes Julian Mincham’s introduction to Cantata 39, BCW << For the 1st Sunday after Trinity. This [Cantata 39] is certainly one of the largest and most expansive cantatas Bach composed after the completion of the second cycle. The clue may be found in the day for which it was written. C 75 (vol 1, chapter 2), also for the 1st Sunday after Trinity, was the first of Bach′s compositions to be performed in Leipzig in May 1723 announcing, as it did, the arrival of the new cantor and the beginning of his first annual cycle of cantatas. C 20 (vol 2, chapter 2), composed in 1724 also for this day, heralded the beginning of the chorale/fantasia second cycle. It was one of the most expansive of those works, heading the fifty-three cantatas performed in Bach′s second year at Leipzig and the only two-part cantata of that cycle. (It is surely no coincidence that all three works, Cs 75, 20 and 39 are bi-partite).

Strangely, there is no cantata for this day of 1725. It would have followed C 176 but this is the period of Bach′s ′sabbatical′ when he appears to have composed no new cantatas for some weeks. Whether they are lost, repeated earlier ones or works by other composers is not known. What we do know is that of this period only cantatas for the 9th, 12th and 13th Sundays after Trinity are extant (Cs 168, 137 and 164) and that two of these are comparatively slight works.>>

Cantata 39 Movements, Scoring, Text Incipits, Key, and Meter:3

First Part: 1. Chorus motet in three parts through composed (Isaiah 58:7-8) [SATB; Flauto I/II, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: A. ¾ opening sinfonia, homophonic chorus introduction, “Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot” (Break your bread with the hungry), and fugal statement, “und die, so in Elend sind, führe ins Haus!” (and those who are in misery take into your house!); B. 4/4 free chorus, “So du einen nackend siehest, / so kleide ihn und entzeuch dich nicht von deinem Fleisch.” (If you see someone naked, / then clothe him and do not withdraw yourself from your own flesh.); C. 3/8 fugue, “Alsdenn wird dein Licht herfürbrechen wie die Morgenröte,” (And then your light will break forth like the red glow of dawn), and homophonic section, “und deine Besserung wird schnell wachsen, / und deine Gerechtigkeit wird für dir hergehen,” (and your recovery will quickly increase / and your righteousness will go before you), and fugual finale, “und die Herrlichkeit des Herrn wird dich zu sich nehmen.” (and the glory of the Lord will take you to itself.); g minor.
2. Recitative secco [Bass, Continuo]: “Der reiche Gott wirft seinen Überfluß / Auf uns, die wir ohn ihn auch nicht den Odem haben.” (The bountiful God throws his abundance / on us, who without him do not even have breath.); closing, “Barmherzigkeit, die auf dem Nächsten ruht, / Kann mehr als alle Gab ihm an das Herze dringen.” (Compassion, that is concerned for our neighbour, / can more penetrate to his heart than all gifts.); B-flat Major; 4/4.
3. Aria two-part with ritornelli [Alto; Violino solo, Oboe I, Continuo]: A. “Seinem Schöpfer noch auf Erden / Nur im Schatten ähnlich werden, / Ist im Vorschmack selig sein.” (To our creator while on earth / even in shadows to become s/ is a foretaste of blessedness.); B. “Sein Erbarmen nachzuahmen, / Streuet hier des Segens Samen, / Den wir dorten bringen ein.” (To imitate his mercy / scattters here the seeds of blessedness / that we shall harvest there [in heaven]; F Major, 3/8 passepied-menuett style.
Second Part: 4. Arioso extended, text repitition (Paul’s Letter to Hebrews 13:16) [Bass, Continuo]: “Wohlzutun und mitzuteilen vergesset nicht; / denn solche Opfer gefallen Gott wohl.” (Do not forget to do good and to share; / for such offerings please God well.); d minor; 2/2.
5. Aria two-part with ritornelli [Soprano]; Flauto I/II all' unisono, Continuo]: A. “Höchster, was ich habe, / Ist nur deine Gabe.” (Highest, what I have / is only your gift.); B. Wenn vor deinem Angesicht / Ich schon mit dem meinen / Dankbar wollt erscheinen, / Willt du doch kein Opfer nicht.” (When before your face / I with my gift

would thankfully appear, / you do not want any offering.); B-flat, 6/8 generic dance style.
6. Recitativo secco[Alto; Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo]: “Wie soll ich dir, o Herr, denn sattsamlich vergelten” / Was du an Leib und Seel mir hast zugutgetan?” (How shall I then, Lord, sufficiently repay you / for the good that you have done for my body and soul?); closing, “Ich bringe, was ich kann, Herr, laß es dir behagen, / Daß ich, was du versprichst, auch einst davon mög tragen.” (I bring what I can, may it please you / that someday I may gather from it what you have promised.); E-flat Major to G Minor; 4/4.
7. Plain Chorale [S, A, T, B; Flauto I/II in octava e Oboe I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo]: “Selig sind, die aus Erbarmen / Sich annehmen fremder Not” (Blessed are those who from pity / take to themselves the needs of others); B-flat Major, 4/4.

Common Thread: Help Poor

Cantata 39 “common thread [is] an injunction to help the poor,” observes John Eliot Gardiner in his 2004 liner notes to the Bach Cantata 2000 Pilgrimage on Soli Deo Gloria recordings.4 << . . . we’re into the world of natural disasters and charitable appeals: BWV 39, “Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot,” composed in 1726. This seems to have been Bach’s second use of a text from the court of Meiningen where his cousin Johann Ludwig was employed. The Meiningen pattern entailed the quotation of two biblical texts: from the Old Testament for the opening movement, ‘Deal [in German, ‘break’] thy bread to the hungry’ (Isaiah 58:7-8), and from the New Testament ‘But to do good and to communicate forget not’ (Hebrews 13:16), the common thread [is] an injunction to help the poor.

The opening chorus is multi-sectional and, at 218 bars, immense. It begins with repeated quavers tossed from paired recorders to paired oboes to the strings and back. This gives way to a lyrical semiquaver passage in thirds which later accompanies the choir when it sings ‘take into your house’. The choir also enters in pairs, and with imploring gestures, emotionally choked, their pleas breaking and stuttering. This leads to sustained chromatic phrases for ‘and those that are in misery’, then a lyrical semiquaver passage in thirds for ‘führe ins Haus’ with weaving melismas. The tenors embark on a new condensed fugal theme with prominent A flats and D flats, which has a pathos all of its own, especially when for eight bars it is joined in imitation by the altos. After ninety-three bars the time signature changes to common time: the basses begin unaccompanied, and are then answered by all voices and instruments very much in the old style of Bach’s Weimar cantatas, with a florid counter-subject to suggest the ‘clothing’ of the naked. At bar 106 the time changes to 3/8 (again a Weimar feature) and the tenors lead off in the first of two fugal expositions separated by an interlude with a coda. The sense of relief after the stifling pathos of the opening sections is palpable and comes to a sizzling homophonic conclusion with ‘und deine Besserung wird schnell wachsen’ (‘and thy health shall spring forth speedily’). The basses now instigate the second fugal exposition, ‘the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward’. After so much pathos, the final coda led by the sopranos ‘und die Herrlichkeit des Herrn wird dich zu sich nehmen’ releases the pent-up energy in an explosion of joy.

There are other beauties in this cantata: an alla breve continuo aria (No.4) for bass where the underlying pulsation and grouping seems to be in 3 not 2, a delicious soprano aria (No.5) accompanied by the two recorders in unison, a touching alto accompagnato (No.6). But all are dwarfed by the immensity, vigour, flexibility and imagination of the opening chorus, every phrase of its text translated into music of superb quality. © John Eliot Gardiner 2004, From a journal written in the course of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage

Text: Meiningen Court, Johann Ludwig Bach

The Rudolstadt text connection to the Meiningen Court and Bach cousin Johann Ludwig is explored in Bach scholar Klaus Hoffman’s 2008 liner notes to the Masaaki Suzuki complete Bach cantatas.5 <<To deal thy bread to the hungry, like the other two cantatas on this recording, the piece for the 1st Sunday after Trinity in 1726 (23rd June) comes from a period in which – unlike in his first two Leipzig years – Bach no longer presented a new cantata of his own every Sunday, but made more extensive use of compositions by other people. An especially important role was played by cantatas by the Meiningen court composer Johann Ludwig Bach (1677–1731), based on a set of texts for the entire year published in Meiningen in 1704. No less than eighteen cantatas by his relative from Meiningen have been found in J. S. Bach’s music collection, and in one particular way Johann Sebastian’s involvement with these works influences his own output as well: on various occasions he used the same text source for new compositions of his own. One such work is “Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot.” As with all of the ‘Meiningen’ cantatas, it starts with words from the Old Testament (Isaiah 58:7–8), includes a New Testament quotation in the middle (Hebrews 13:16) and ends with a chorale. These elements are linked by freely written texts for recitatives and arias.

As regards content, the background of the cantata is found in the gospel reading for that day, Luke 16:19–31, with the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus; here the parable gives rise not only to an exhortation to love thy neighbour and help others in distress but also to an expression of gratitude for God’s succour.
The long, multifaceted Old Testament text that forms the basis of the opening chorus would present a challenge to any composer. With the authority of an experienced musical architect, however, Bach has turned these words from the Bible into a large-scale structure, more than 200 bars long; despite the imposing dimensions, the listener perceives the piece as an intrinsically rounded, harmonically well-defined and comprehensible whole. Bach follows the old formal principle of the motet, which decrees that each conceptual element of the text should have its own distinctive musical representation, and that the movement as a whole consists of a sequence of such sections. Above this, how ever, he creates a network of connections between formal sections that are sometimes far removed from each other by a variety of means: repetition of parts of the text or of musical procedures, thematic reminiscences, allusions and variations. The orchestra often plays an important role,

presenting independent thematic material and instrumental passages. Here it is maybe sufficient to make reference to the obvious division of the movement into three sections, marked by the words ‘Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot’ (‘to deal thy bread to the hungry’), ‘So du einen nacket siehest’ (‘When thou seest the naked’) and ‘Alsdenn wird dein Licht herförbrechen’ (‘Then shall thy light break forth’). The mature Bach’s skill in matters of form and musical setting is here combined with his typical clarity of textual interpreta. At the beginning of the instrumental introduction and, subsequently, during extended passages of instrumental accompaniment, he depicts the breaking of bread in a very original way: as a constant interchange of melodic and textural fragments between the various groups of performers. The harmonic agitation and expressive melodic turns on the word ‘Elend’ (‘poor’) are another effective touch.

The three arias are all display pieces. The alto aria has the feel of a quartet, strongly characterized by concertante writing for the solo oboe and solo violin. The New Testament words at the beginning of the second part of the cantata are entrusted to the bass, the traditional voice for the words of Jesus. The vocal part develops freely above an instrumental basso ostinato theme, the persistent repetitions of which lend emphasis to the urgency of the words. Then, in the soprano aria, the charming, very cantabile vocal part (beginning in the high register on the word ‘Höchster’ [‘Highest’]) is combined with a recorder part that is both thematically independent and of a distinctly instrumental character. After a solemn alto recitative, the final chorale summarizes the message of the cantata in a simple four-part setting. © Klaus Hofmann 2008

The monumental opening motet movement elicits strong comments from the Bach scholars and authors in the following chronological summary found in the Cantata 39 BCML Discussions Part 1 ( June 19, 2001),, complied by Aryeh Oron, discussion leader. Thomas Braatz, BCW contributor, in his “BCW Commentary” (, primarily provides detailed assessment of the writings of Albert Schweitzer, Woldemar Voigt (1918), Alfred Dürr (1971/75), and Konrad Küster (1999):6

*Philipp Spitta (1873-1880):7 “The cantata brings out the meaning of that text in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’, and the cantata is fitly concluded with the sixth verse of the paraphrase of the beatitudes. It is an affecting picture of Christian love, softening with tender hand and pitying sympathy the sorrow of the brethren, and obtaining the highest reward. The peculiar accompaniment, allotted to flutes, oboes, and strings, was very likely suggested to Bach by the idea of the breaking of bread. But how little he cares for such trivial realism is seen, as the number goes on, in a passage where the accompaniment is continued to entirely different words. It gives the piece a tender, dreamy tinge, and this is what Bach chiefly wanted.”

*Albert Schweitzer (1908, rough translation from Hebrew into English):8 “Another example of movement description can be found in the first chorus of cantata BWV 39. [snip] The music has initially something fragmented. Spitta assumes that the origin of this fragmentation is the cutting of the bread. But he cannot avoid of adding a reservation [see above]. Here the explanation of the musical picture and its justification are totally improper. It is totally unjustified to claim that Bach continues the imagery into a place in which it is not existed in the text. Furthermore, no listener can hear in this music the breaking of the bread. What is the meaning of this music? The monotonic instrumental accompaniment with the rhythmic movement of the quavers in the Basso continuo reminds us more of a march. The voices break the calm, in such a way that we can imagine feeble and unstable steps [musical example]. Therefore, the music describes the poor people, supported and brought into the house. When the words ‘into thy house’ pass, the accompaniment abandon this description and it is built gradually from other themes.”

*W. Gillies Whittaker (1959):9 “The crowning glory of the cantata is the opening chorus, varied, flexible, imaginative, every phrase is mirrored in music of superb quality. It is another miracle of the master’s, for it must have conceived and written in desperate haste. The German version differs from the English; the former is ‘Break for the hungry thy bread’, the latter ‘Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?’ Two flutes à bec begin with two repeated quavers, weak to strong, two oboes follow, then upper strings [musical example]. Spitta (who misdates the cantata) and Schering see in this the breaking of bread, Schweitzer the tottering of the weak. This otherwise inexplicable idea, supported throughout the continuo detached quavers, occupies the first 13 bars. Then the flutes in thirds, imitated by the oboes, play short semiquaver groups, the upper strings taking over the detached quavers from the bassi, while the continuo gives out a new version of the repeated two-note figure [musical example]. The significance of the latter is shown later, as it accompanies the choir when it sings ‘führe ins Haus’ (‘take into the house’). The woodwind now sustain. Violin I repeats (a figure from the example), violin II and viola keep up the detached quavers and the bassi bear the most important idea, an upward rush growing more and more intense [music example]” [Snip]

*Alec Robertson (1972):10 “The imaginatively devised orchestral introduction has been taken to represent the breaking of the bread or, which is much more likely interpretation, the feeble footsteps of the hungry coming up to receive it. The orchestral prelude ends with a new theme which will be used at the words ‘Take into the house’, at which point the tottering main theme and the detached notes of the continuo give place to different figuration as if depicting the warm welcome the hungry receive. The words, to the end of this section, are based on Isaiah 58:7-8, ‘Is not [the fast I choose] to share the bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked, to cover him and not to hide yourself from your own flesh’. It brings Jesus’ words to mind, ‘Inasmuch as you do it unto them, you do it unto me’ and his denunciation of the careless rich. Isaiah continues, ‘Then shall thy light break forth as the morning and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee.’ Bach sets the paraphrase of these last words to a glorious fugue, with two expositions, and so brings to an end one of his finest choruses and one that is worthy indeed of the inspired words of Isaiah.”

*Alfred Dürr (1974, liner notes to the Teldec recording): “Among the movements of this mature Bach composition, the introductory chorus stands out because of its expansive layout. In structure, the multi-part feature is just as pleasing as the independent instrumental treatment of the instrumental concerto, and the text-construing imagery of the figuration school. Its form has many parts: the fugal section “Alsdenn wird dein Licht herfürbrechen“, which introduced the third (last) major part, is the same subject as the concluding section “, und die Herrlichkeit des Herrn…“. In this way Bach succeeds in rounding off the form of the final section, just as he had managed to do so in the opening section by repeating the same text as at the beginning. When the instruments are dealt with independently they also serve to interpret the text, especially significantly at the beginning, by distributing the chords among the recorder, oboes and string, whereby the ‘distributing’ of bread to the hungry is illustrated.” Dürr in Cantatas of JSB describes the movements as (nos. 2-3) “injunction to love one’s neighbor, (no. 5) “an expression of gratitude for gifts received, and (no 6, the prayer that one day I myself will be received with compassion by God.” “The concluding chorale [no. 7] brings all these ides together once more. “Bach’s music shows the composer at the height of his powers.” 11

1st Sunday after Trinity Cantatas

All three Cantatas Bach composed for the 1st Sunday after Trinity “are all large scale” works observes John Eliot Gardiner in his 2004 linnotes to his Bach Cantata 2000 Pilgrimage recordings on Soli Deo Gloria (Ibid.)The three surviving cantatas [BWV 75, 20, 39] for Trinity 1 are all large scale, bipartite works, musically ambitious and of the highest quality. All three take their lead from the Gospel of the day, the parable of Dives and Lazarus, and the theme of pursuing riches on earth or in heaven, and from the Epistle, which defines love of God and the need for brotherly love. Bach’s treatment of these themes in each of the cantatas is diverse. Our grouping them together in a single programme made for a fascinating glimpse into the workings of his imagination – a display of his virtuosic mastery of varied musical rhetoric.”

Bach’s Leipzig performance calendar, 1st Sunday after Trinity:

1723-05-30 So - Cantata BWV 75 Die Elenden sollen essen, daß sie satt werden (1st performance, Leipzig)
1724-06-11 So - Cantata BWV 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (1st performance, Leipzig)
1725-06-03 So - ?Repeat BWV 75a, beginning No. 2, bass recitative: “Was hilft des Purpurs Majestät/ Da sie vergeht?” (What use are royal robes [lit. purple] /since they pass away?, Lk. 16:19); No. 6, “Was Gott tut” (Rodigast, S.5); only documented repeat of portion of Cantata 75, date uncertain, possibly 6/3/25.
1726-06-23 So - Cantata BWV 39 Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot (1st performance, Leipzig)
1727-06-15 So - no performance documented.
1728-05-30 So – no performance documented
1729-06-19 So - Picander text only P-42
1734-06-27 So - possible repeat of Cantata 20, abridged
1735-06-12 So - 1.So.n.Trin. - G.H. Stölzel: Wo euer Schatz ist, da ist auch euer 1-Terz, Mus. A 15:219 + Christus ward arm um euret willen, Mus. A 15:220
1736-06-03 So – no Stölzel cantata performance documented

Bach’s 1st Sunday after Trinity cantatas and plain chorales:

1. Cantata BWV 75 <Die Elenden sollen essen, daß sie satt werden> (The poor shall eat as much as they want, Psalm 22:26); chorales No. 7 & 11, “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (What God does, that is well-done);
2. Chorale Cantata BWV 20, <O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort> (O eternity, thou word of thunder);
3. Cantata BWV 39 <Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot> (Break your bread with the hungry; Isaiah 58:7-8); chorale, No. 7, D. Deicke “Kommt, laßt euch den Herren lehren” (Come let the Lord teach you); S.7: “Selig sind, die aus Erbarmen/Sich annehmen fremder Not,” (Blessed are those who from pity/take to themselves the needs of others) based on the Beatitudes.
4. [Picander Text only: P42 <Welt, der Purpur stinkt mich an> (World, thy purple robe stinks on me); chorale, No. 5, “Warum sollt ich mich denn grämen? (Why should I myself then grieve?); S. 6, “Was sind dieses Lebens Güter?” [What are these life’s goods]), survives as plain chorale BWV 422.

Provenance: Extant are most of the Bach manuscripts (scores and parts sets) for this Sunday, Cantatas 75, 20, and 39. Cantata 75a score BB SPK P66 survives through the estate of Emmanuel while the original score and parts set may have gone to Friedemann and were lost. Chorale Cantata 20 score (Rudorff) went to Friedemann and the parts set (Thomas School) to Anna Magdalena. Chorus Cantata 39 score (P 62 B) went to Emmanuel and parts set (St. 8 M) to Friedemann.

Trinity Time Gospel Thematic Patterns

Thematic Patterns in Bach's Gospels, Douglas Cowling wrote (May 3, 2011) (BCW, The season of Sundays after Trinity has never seen the scholarly interest that the Christmas and Eastern narratives have received and there is a certain assumption that the Gospel readings do not have the same dramatic significance. It is worth looking at several literary patterns which Bach would have known intimately. In general, there are three genres in the Trinity season: 1. Parables - short moralized allegories within the larger narratives of events in the life of Christ; 2. Miracles - short self-contained narratives of miraculous healings; 3. Teachings ­ excerpts from longer hortatory discourses by Christ.

There is also a series of groupings which would have been part of the critical apparatus of both theologians and musicians such as Bach who had such a finely-tuned ear for the literary shape of scriptural passages. Although there are no formal divisions in the official books, we see some important groupings which may have influenced Bach¹s cantata composition. A brief outline of the first half of the season: 1) Trinity 1-4 is a four week sequence of parables; 2) Trinity 5-8 has a series of paired miracles and teachings; 3) Trinity 9-19 generally alternates a parable with a teaching or miracle. Whether these literary patterns influenced Bach deserves investigation in both librettos and scores.

PART ONE: Four Parables: * Trinity 1: Luke 16: 19-31- Parable of Dives and Lazarus. There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feast sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores. * Trinity 2: Luke 14: 16-24 - Parable of the great supper. A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. * Trinity 3: Luke 15: 1-10 - Parable of the lost sheep

What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?; * Trinity 4: Luke 6: 36-42 - Parable: Blind leading the Blind. And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?


1Petzoldt, Martin. 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: 46).
2 Cantata 39 BCW Details and Discography, Score Vocal & Piano [2.09 MB],, Score BGA [3.74 MB], References: BGA VII (Cantatas 31-40, Wilhelm Rust 1857), NBA KB I/15 (Trinity 1 Cantatas, Alfred Dürr 1968, Bach Compendium BC A 96, Zwang: K 143.
3Cantata 39 Rudolstadt text and Francis Browne English translation are found at BCW,
4 Gardiner notes, BCW[sdg101_gb].pdf; BCW Recording details,
5 Hofmann notes, BCW[BIS-SACD1801].pdf; BCW Recording details,
6 Küster Cantata 39 Essay in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, ed. Boyd, Malcolm (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 67-74).
7 Philipp Spitta, Johann Sebastian Bach (London: Novello & Company, 1989 (trans. Clara Bell & J. A. Fuller-Maitland); 3-volume edition (New York: Dover Publications, 1951: III:81f).
8 Albert Schweitzer, J. S. Bach (Leipzig: Breitfkopf & Härtel, 1911 translation by Ernest Newman; New York: Dover Publications: 1966: 46).
9 W. Gillies Whittaker, The Canof Johann Sebastian Bach (London: Oxford University Press, 1958: I:688-97).
10 Alex Robertson, The Church Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach (New York: Praeger, 1972: 168).
11 Alfred Dürr, Cantatas of J. S. Bach, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, New York, 2005: 392-97).

Julian Mincham wrote (June 3, 2016):
[To William Hoffman] It is good to see Will bringing together of several critic's views on this cantata, especially the first movement.The massive (over 200 bars) chorus is an excellent model for student's to analyse Bach's approach and musical thinking at this moment at the height of his powers. The three sections of the chorus (four if we list the 23 bar orchestral introduction separately) are, interestingly, distinguished by different rhythms, 3/4, 4/4 and 3/8. The complex nature of the text (something which always seemed to stimulate Bach) deals with three concepts----the poor, naked, hungry and cast out------ the virtuous Christians who assist (feed and clothe)-----the light and glory of the Lord which rewards the good! Wow! That's an awful lot to encompass within a single movement let alone the opening orchestral bars. It's worth noting the contrast of musical ideas, the broken figuration with which the movement begins (one can scarcely call it a theme, certainly not in the melodic sense) followed by the flowing scales in thirds on flutes and oboes (from bar 14) above a confident triadic bass. One is bound to wonder just how much of the detail and structure of the movement Bach had planned out in his mind even before he put pen to paper.

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 9, 2016):
Cantata BWV 39 - Revised & updated Discography

Cantata BWV 39 "Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot" (Break your bread with the hungry) was composed in Leipzig for the 1st Sunday after Trinity of 1726. The cantata is scored for soprano, alto & bass soloists; 4-part Chorus; and orchestra of 2 recorders, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola & continuo.

The discography pages of BWV 39 on the BCW have been revised and updated. See:
Complete Recordings (26):
Recordings of Individual Movements (15):
The revised discography includes many listening/watching options to recordings directly from the discography pages, just below the recording details.

I also put at the BCW Home Page:
2 audios & 2 videos of the cantata. A short description below the audio/video image is linked to the full details at the discography pages.

I believe this are the most comprehensive discography of the cantata. If you are aware of a recording of BWV 39 missing from these pages, or want to correct/add details of a recording already presented on the BCW, please do not hesitate to inform me.

You can also read on the BCW the current discussion of the cantata in the BCML (4th round):



Cantata BWV 39: 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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Last update: Monday, September 11, 2017 15:24