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Cantata BWV 40
Dazu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of January 1, 2006 (2nd round)

John Pike wrote (January 1, 2006):
BWV 40 "Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes" : Introduction

As we proceed with our chronological survey of Bach's cantatas, in order of composition, the cantata for discussion this week (beginning 1st January 2006) is Cantata BWV 40 "Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes"
("For this purpose the Son of God was manifested") by Richard Stokes

Basic Information

Readings: Epistle: Titus. 3: 4-7 / Acts 6: 8-15 & 7: 55-60; Gospel: Matthew 23: 35-39 / Luke 2: 15-20

Event in the Lutheran church calendar: Cantata for the 2nd Day of Christmas [Christmas Monday, St. Stefanus Day]
Composed: Leipzig, 1723
1st performance: December 26, 1723 - Leipzig; 2nd performance: 1746-1750 - Leipzig

1 John 3: 8 (Mvt. 1);
Kaspar Füger Mvt. 3);
Paul Gerhardt (Mvt. 6);
Christian Keymann (Mvt. 8);
Anon [probably Christian Weiss, Sr., or J.S. Bach] (Mvts. 2, 4, 5, 7)

Short Commentary

The notes below are taken from sleeve notes from Suzuki's recording (by Klaus Hoffmann, 2000) [9]:

2 horns are used to open the cantata, something the Leipzig congregation had not witnessed before. This is a festive movement about the appearance of the Son of God on earth, who - as the cantata explains - had come to "destroy the works of the devil". This work of destruction is portrayed in the chorus by repeated percussive notes and extended coloratura, but all these illustr! ative elements are subordinated to a festive Christmas spirit and to a liturgical dignity of textual presentation within a wide ranging musical framework. The biblical text is presented in three sections and in two different ways: in the outer parts in free madrigal form and a somewhat more homophonic style, and by contrast in the central part, a strictly polyphonic fugal movement. Bach must have remembered this splendid piece in the late 1730s, for he imitated it in his F major mass (BWV 233) with the text "Cum Sancto Spiritu".

The cantata has little obvious connection with the gospel for the 2nd Day of Christmas (Luke 2: 15-20) which is the story of the shepherds' visit to the stable in Bethlehem. Perhaps Bach lacked a suitable text and took what was available, perhaps having some details amended by an author. Alfred Dürr suggests that the martyrdom of St. Stephen, which is traditionally remembered on the 2nd Day of Christmas, is more in the forefront of the or! iginal poem than is the Christmas story. Bach followed this with 2 exceedingly characterisitc arias: a wide-ranging, operatic bass solo, triumphant about the "hellish snake", whose head the Messiah has broken in victory, and a tenor aria - whose text points us to the joy and trust of Christmas - that is rich in coloratura and is exquisitely scored for horns and oboes. A Christmas song concludes the work, a verse from Christian Keymann's poem "Freuet euch, ihr Christen alle" ("All Christian men rejoice") on the popular tune by Andreas Hammerschmidt (1646), looking forward towards the new year and with an expression of joyous trust: "Freude, Freude ueber Freude!" Christus wehret allem Leide" ("Joy, Joy beyond Joy! Christ defends against all suffering").

Useful information

Link to texts, translations, details of scoring, references, provenance, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings:
Link to previous discussions:

Chorales used in this cantata

Bach used 3 different chorales in this cantata.

1. Wir Christenleut habn jetzund Freud. See:

2. Schwing dich auf zu deinem Gott. See:
CT: not available yet.

3. Freuet euch, ihr Christen alle. See:


Streamed over the internet, it is possible to hear Leusink's version of
the whole cantata [8]:

You can listen to short examples from other recordings through the links to Amazon provided at the Recordings page.

I look forward to reading your comments about this cantata and about the available recordings.

Peter Smaill wrote (January 1, 2006):
A Happy New Year 2006 to one and all!

We come now to Whittaker’s favourite Cantata BWV 40, “Da(r)zu ist erschienen
der Sohn Gottes

"One of the most perfect, every number is of superb quality. It is, indeed truly representative of the composer’s religious outlook and of his supreme inventive and imaginative powers”. By no means the most famous or most compelling of the Cantatas, what I think Whittaker is driving at is the alignment of a superior text in full compatibility with the musical setting. Is it by the same author as BWV 63, “Christen ätzet diesen Tag”? Again, there is scant reference to Christmas as such, still less to St Stephen whose feast day it is. Whereas in BWV 63, “gnaden” (“mercy”) is the key word and Satan has a walk-on part in the final Chorale, here, “gnaden” is at the zeugma in the schlusschoral:
"Ferner in Genaden an
Schenke, was man bitten kann,
Zu erquicken deine Brǖder
(“Henceforth in Grace
Grant all that one might ask,
To refresh thy Brethren:”)

In BWV 40, Satan is in the centre ground as is discussed later. There is thus thematic connection between the two succeeding works. But are there any structural parallels to the chiastic BWV 63 from the day before? The seven-part BWV 63 with the central seven line recitative is based on that number ;but three is the key to BWV40.Let me try to illustrate the point: There is an interesting overlay of the word “Leid (en)” in its various meaning in each of the three Chorales (itself an unusual feature):
BWV40/3 begins:
Die Sǖnd macht Leid
(“Sin produces sorrow”)
BWV 40/6 superimposes the atoning Passion:
Und Ich bin durchs Leiden
Meines Heilands dir entrǖckt
In den Saal der Freuden
(“And I am through the Passion
Of my Saviour from thee carried off
Into the hall of delights.”)

And finally, the Passion conquers sorrow in the Chorale setting “Freuet Euch”, (BWV 40/8), closing with a triple cry of joy, but then so that the third "Leide" is contrived to be tlast word:
Freude, freude immer Freude!
Christus wehret allem Leide
(“Joy, joy above joy!
Christ wards off all sorrow).”

At the third reference to “Leide”, Bach executes the master stroke of setting a chorale which ascends to its close, the marching Bass line denoting faith becoming more evident , and crowned by the sopranos' emphasis by closing with a final cadence set on high and modulating to F major. The symbolism is the converse impact of Christ disowning Majesty to become human; humankind is lifted up to divinity. Rarely do we have this rising effect to end a chorale, but in 1724 there is of course the ascending setting of “Herzleib hab ich O Herr” in the SJP (BWV 245), with the same theological inference. What of the triple reference to the serpent in BWV 40/4-6, in his various guises as set out by Aryeh Oron in the previous discussions in 2000? By chance I recently examined the one hymnbook known to have been owned by Bach, the 1538 "Ein Hubsch New Gesangbuch" of the Bohemian Brethren by Michael Weisse, in Glasgow University . The frontispiece is of a serpent curling down from the Tree of Knowledge to devour a skull , with it appears an axe or hammer nearby (?to crush the head thereof?).

There is a suggestion that this is the rebus of the Ulm printer Hans Varnier(?). At any rate, Bach would have known this powerful image through owning this book, one of the earliest hymnals.

The collection has many dozens of chorales, but on cursory inspection only seven interrelate with the incipits in the Reimenschneider “371”: one of these being, perhaps in an earlier form, “Freuet Euch”, which closes BWV 40.

More importantly, this hymnbook is the source for the Chorale opening Part 2 of the SJP, “ Christus, der uns selig macht”, with its marvellous alliteration:
Und fälschlich verklaget,
Verlacht, verhöhnt und verspeit

(“and falsely accused,
Deride, spat upon, vilely mocked”.)

For these reasons it seems plausible that Bach owned this hymnbook by 1723, though I stress that the coincidental links to BWV 40 are my speculation alone. As to the general authenticity of the book, despite not being in the Inventory at Bach’s death and, unlike the Calov Bible, unmarked (in superb condition throughout), there seems no doubt as to its authenticity due to the circumstances of its arrival in the United Kingdom via C P E Bach and Charles Burney . It was reviewed some thirty years ago by Robin Leaver and is referred to by Christoph Wolff in “Bach : The Learned Musician”. ( gives an impression of its appearance and outlines the provenance.

So here is Bach owning a book by a subset of the Moravian Brethren, considered somewhat heretical by Luther (who knew Weisse ), and who were suppressed by the Elector Augustus III in the mid 1730’s, around the time the MBM was being presented to the Saxon Court. It is yet another confirmation of the breadth of Bach's outlook and willingness to accept sources distant in time and orthodoxy from the Leipzig in which he celebrated the Christmas festivities in 1723.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 6, 2006):
BWV 40

This cantata, with its juxtaposition of the different orchestral colours of strings, horns and oboes, is one of a number of works which shows Bach pointing to the symphonic timbres that arose after his death. (The tenor aria of BWV 65, on the same CD in the Werner recording with BWV 40 [1], has flutes added to this mix of orchestral timbres, taking the process even further). The mood of the music is mostly stable, sunny and solid, except for the restless D minor bass aria.

There is a remarkable stretto concluding the central fugal section in the first movement, which has no less than 9 entries on `da-zu' in the order A-T-B-S-A-T-B-S-A.

The `hellish serpent' aria has continuous animated 1/16th notes in the 1st violins, sometimes adopted by the continuo; and the bright tenor aria has remarkably long runs on `freuet' (but not as long as the runs I came across during the BBC Bach-fest, on `siegen', in the AT duet of BWV 66 - see bars 56 to 63 - which must be among the
longest melismas in all baroque music).

Werner [1] has a remarkably compact sounding ensemble in his 1964 recording. Only the alto in the beautiful accompanied recitative is less than pleasing. Rilling [2], in 1970, has a larger sounding ensemble, with excellent soloists except for the alto (not a major problem since this is only a short movement). The tenor aria with Kraus is well performed with instrumental clarity and accurate coloraturas. The horn colour in the chorales is always pleasing.

John Pike wrote (January 6, 2006):
[To Neil Halliday] This is a truly wonderful cantata. The opening movement is an absolute gem, but all the movements are very fine.

I have listened to Gardiner [10], Suzuki [9], Leusink [8] and Leonhardt [3] and Rilling [2]. The first 4 give a fine performance of the first movment, with a particularly splendid account from Gardiner. The Monteverdi choir is in top form. All of the first 4 groups I mentioned are crisp and bright and the singing is full of joy. By comparison, I found Rilling slower and less joyous than the others. The string playing in his ensemble is as pleasant as ever, but I found the articulation and brightness of his choir a little dull compared to the other performances. Therefater, I enjoyed all the recordings. I thought Leusink and Harnoncourt both give some of the best performances I have heard from them and, while I preferred gardiner and Suzuki, these 2 other recordings were both very good.

Rank (for what it is worth): Gardiner [10], Suzuki [9], Leusink [8], Leonhardt [3], Rilling [2].


Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 40: 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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