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Cantata BWV 64
Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of January 8, 2006 (2nd round)

John Pike wrote (January 7, 2006):
BWV 64 "Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget" : Introduction

As we proceed with our chronological survey of Bach's cantatas, in order of composition, the cantata for discussion this week (beginning 8th January 2006) is Cantata BWV 64 "Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget" ("Behold, what a love the Father has shown to us" (by W. Murray Young))

Basic Information

Event in the Lutheran church calendar: Cantata for the 3rd Day of Christmas [Christmas Tuesday, St John's Day]
Readings: Epistle: Hebrews 1: 1-14 / Ecclesiastical Letters 15: 1-8; Gospel: John 1: 1-14

Composed: Leipzig, 1723
1st performance: December 27, 1723 - Leipzig; 2nd performance: c. 1742 - Leipzig

Text: I John 3: 1 (Mvt. 1); Martin Luther (Mvt. 2); Georg Michael Pfefferkorn (Mvt. 3); Johann Franck (Mvt. 8); Christian Weiss, Sr. or Anon (Mvts. 3, 5, 6-7) [based on text from Johann Oswald (?) Knauer cantata cycle]

Short Commentary

The notes below are taken from sleeve notes from Suzuki's recording (by Andreas Gloeckner, 2000):

For the composition of the first year of cantatas in Leipzig in 1723, Bach had no librettist at his disposal, and the texts are of very divese origins. The textual basis for BWV 64 has only recently been established. These texts are partly by Johann Oswald Knauer, and were published as early as 1720 for performances by the Gotha Hofkapelle in the chapel of Schloss Friedenstein. The libretti - originally set to music by Gottfried Heinrich Stoelzel and Johann Friedrich Fasch - appear in considerably altered forms in Bach's settings - and it is unclear who undertook the revisions. It is likewise impossible to say how Knauer's poems came to be in Bach's possession.

In Bach's setting, Knauer's text appears in radically shortened and at times considerably modified form. A further difference is that it contains two additional chorale strophes ("Das hat er alles uns getan" and "Was frag ich nach der Welt"). Knauer's libretto does not refer directly to the texts of the reading (epistle and gospel) for the third day of Christmas, which is also the commemoration day of St John the apostle. In order to incorporate a reference to this commemoration day, however, he places a textual quotation from from the First Letter of John (3:1) at the beginning of the poem. Bach gives this dictum a four-part motet-like choral setting, with the vocal parts doubled by instruments (cornet, three trombones and strings). In Bach's cantata movements without separate instrumental parts, this practice can be observed relatively often. It is evidently to be ascribed to the lack of choral singers, especially noticeable on major feast days when two choirs performed at the same time in the main Leipzig churches (St. Nicholas and St. Thomas).

Whereas the first two movements of the cantata ("Sehet welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeigt" and "Das hat er alles uns getan") refer directly to the Christmas story, the cantata text undergoes a surprising change of direction before the third movement, a recitative ("Geh, Welt! Behalte nur das Deine") by renouncing everything worldly and and turning to Jesus, "the world" is clearly rejected. This concern with the next world becomes evident not only in the chamber-music-like intimacy of the two arias, but also in the choral movements that are not connected with the Christmas story - "Was frag ich nach der Welt" and "Gute Nacht, o Wesen" (these were added later).

BWV 64 was performed again, with no recognisable changes, in the years around 1742. It is among the works by Bach that were performed not only in Leipzig's two principal churches but apparently also outside his area of authority (perhaps in the Neue Kirche ?). As late as Michaelmas 1761, the publisher Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf still offered a copy of this cantata in his catalogue of manuscripts.

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 the chorale "Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ" in this cantata. See:


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

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 7, 2006):
BWV 64, “Sehet, Welche eine Liebe hat uns der Vater Erzeiget”, continues the breathtaking run BWV 63-BWV 40- BWV 64 with which Bach celebrates his first Christmas at Leipzig.

John Pike sets out the recent scholarship by which we know the author of part of the text, which originates with Johan Knauer, “unmistakably” in Dǖrr’s view. Through Knauer we are led to Johann Friederich Fasch, 1688-1759, for whom Knauer wrote several texts which found their way into the former’s cycle of Cantatas. Fasch was Kappelmeister in Zerbst and was admired by Bach, who appears to have arranged the organ Trio BWV 585. One reason to be interested in Fasch is his correspondence with the leader of the quasi-pietist revival in Saxony led by the Moravian Brotherhood set up at Herrnhut in Saxony by Count Zinzendorf and which, as mentioned recently, was suppressed in the mid 1730’s by Augustus III. However, precisely how this libretto came to be formed remains a mystery.

My contention is that it is , however, not wholly independent of the sentiment of the preceding work BWV 40, which expresses the coming down of Christ from majesty and , in its ascending final bars in the Schlusschoral hints at the raising up of mankind. In BWV 64 this sentiment is made manifest:

BWV 64/1 – emphasised by a hiatus:
dass wir Gottes Kinder heissen!
(“that we God’s children are called!)
BWV 64/3
Denn Jesus will den Himmel mit mir teilen,
Und dazu hat er mich erkoren

(“For Jesus would heaven with me share
And for that he has me chosen”)

It is striking that none of these Christmas cantatas has much reliance on the usual Christmas fare and that a theological exegesis runs through them.. Eric Chafe’s take on this period in the church year is tha“ while “Christen, ätzet diesen tag” utilizes its symmetrical design to emphasise the meaning of Christmas Day as the turning of the ages, cantata BWV 121Christum wir sollen loben schon”, for the second day of Christmas (1725) draws an implied analogy between the unfathomable mystery of the incarnation and the turning of the sun at the winter solstice, and the Cantata BWV 64 emphasizes instead something closer to the division of the worlds “above” and “below” rather than past and future , a theme that is more in keeping with its Johannine Gospel reading”
The Christmas cantatas we are reviewing are certainly replete with allusions to the impact of new light of Christ as befits the Christmas message; we have the elaboration of “strahl” (“ray”) in BWV 63 , “erschienen” (“shining forth”) in BWV 40, and the emphasis on “Sehet!” (“See!”). The tension with the light of this world , which in BWV 64/6 only reveals sin, is apparent too. Since these three Cantatas so tentatively relate to the season and feast days it is tempting to wonder if it is the sermons fixed for this period which drove the content.

What of the opening motet-like BWV 64/1? It is one of seven settings of biblical texts in the surviving Cantatas in which Bach deploys this form, a technique beginning with “Deine Alter sei wie deine Jugend” in BWV 71 at Mühlhausen in 1707 and continuing right up to the 1730’s in the adaptation of “Siehe zu, das Gottesfurcht nicht heuchelei sei” to the Kyrie of the Mass in G (BWV 236). In general his technique is to use such an emphatic, disciplined choral structure where there is a “Spruch” or dictum to be driven home. For example, the surviving libretti of the Christiane Mariane von Ziegler texts of BWV 68 and BWV 108 actually call suchlike movements “Dictum”. So the decision here is deliberate and not just patching together a Cantata under pressure from some old contrapuntal essay from the Weimar days.

Other commentators have found the robust, brass-reinforced subject of BWV 64/1 ungainly in the context of the tender love of the baby Jesus; and yet the emphatic break before “Wir Gottes Kinder heissen” is so bespoke to the words that it seems unlikely that Bach simply adapted this movement from an earlier work, even though his enormous workload would arguably have inclined him to such a path. One ultimately agrees with Whittaker that it is “extremely beautiful, sheer musical joy from start to finish.” The attaca running of the recitative BWV 64/3 into the chorale BWV 64/4 is a dramatic detail indicative of a skilful adaptation.

Finally we have the chorale ,”Jesu, meine Freude”, which was harmonised, according to Daniel Melamed, ten times by Bach in the Cantatas or independently, as well as set five times in the Motet BWV 227, and in two melody variants.

Here it is the more antiquated , pre-Leipzig version of the tune which is deployed , and the use of a motet introduction in this work and the following year’s BWV 121 may be a piece of deliberate archaism by Bach to emphasise the handing down of faith from the past in the re-enactment of the Christmas mysteries and the theology of the Incarnation.

Drew wrote (January 8, 2006):
Some Comments on BWV 64: "Sehet, welch eine Liebe..."

The recording I own of BWV 64 is from the Archiv (DG) releases from
Gardiner's Bach Cantata Pilgrimage:

Gardiner' reading of BWV 63 (Christen, aeztet diesen Tag) is worth the price of the disc alone. A brilliant interpretation of a perfect cantata (certainly one of Bach's best - the opening and closing choruses are superb, not to mention the duets).

It is interesting that on the Gardiner disc BWV 64 follows right after BWV 63. What a striking - even startling - shift in tone, from the boisterous, euphoric (yet simultaneously tender and reflective) BWV 63 and the much more subdued, almost chastened BWV 64. Good night pomp and pride (No. 8, "Gute Nacht, du Stolz und Pracht!") indeed!

This musically ascetic tone fits the major themes of the cantata:

(1) a humbled gratitude in response to the "gross Lieb" (great love, no. 2) of God expressed in sending Jesus, the true treasure.

(2) (as a response to the great "Christmas" gift) renunciation of the world (in keeping with the emphasis of St. John in his epistles).

What is most noteworthy to me about this cantatas is, not surprisingly, the two beautiful arias (nos. 5 and 7). In Gardiner's recording, no. 5 (Was die Welt / In sich hält, / Muß als wie ein Rauch vergehen) is sung beautifully by Ann Monoyios. The interplay of the Violins I / II and the Viola is lovely. I seem to have read somewhere that the flourishes of Violin I suggest the movement / dissipation of "Rauch" (smoke). (For some reason, the Violin I embellishments remind me a little bit - just a little bit, in spots - of V. William's "Lark Ascending"). Everything in this world is ephemeral - only in Jesus can lasting "Schaetzen" (treasure, no. 4) be found.

Denunciation of the world's vanity is even more dramatic in the alto aria (no. 7), sung by Sara Mingardo in the Gardiner recording. It is not a highly dramatic aria, as one might expect, but graceful and assured (what type of baroque dance is this?). The soloist repeats the sibilant "nichts" ("From the world I long for NOTHING") some 34 times (17 in Part A, and 17 in the da capo). With this attention-getting iteration, no one doubts the sentiment of the final chorale: "Gute Nacht, o Wesen, Das die Welt erlesen!" (Good Night, o Existence, Which the World has chosen!).

S. Sper wrote (January 8, 2006):
Text in Cantata 64

Notes on Cantata 64

I am new to this group, and new to studying the Cantatas (though I have listened to many of them, but not very closely).

I am greatly interested in the text of the Cantatas, how the music and the text relate to the designated readings, and how the music and text would minister to the listener sitting in a church service. How I wish that my church performed a Bach cantata weekly! How spiritually edifying that would be to the congregation! Indeed, as it is, studying the Cantatas, with headphones on, is certainly a personally moving experience.

The readings for Cantata BWV 64 are John 1: 1-14 and Hebrews 1: 1-14. These texts speak of the mystery of the incarnation, and also the exaltation of Christ. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world know Him not" (John 1: 10). "God... hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1: 3). So, these texts speak of the world and of heaven: Christ coming into the world; Christ being exalted in heaven.

At first glance, it seems that the text for Cantata BWV 64 does not relate to these readings, or relates only tangentially. Given the readings, one might have expected a Cantata that speaks of the mystery of the incarnation and the exaltation of Christ in heaven. Certainly some majestic music could have been (and has been) written on those subjects!

Yet, how does the Cantata start: "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestoupon us, that we should be called children of God" (I John 3:1). The Cantata begins speaking of "us", drawing the listener in. It should be noted that the Cantata was written for St John's day and, appropriately, the Cantata begins with one of the most beloved verses that St John wrote, concerning the love of God for us. But also, this verse does relate directly to a verse in the readings: "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name" (John 1: 12).

The second movement is a choral response to the Biblical text in the first movement: "All this for us our God hath done, whose great love gave us His Son, so joyful let all Christians be, and give Him thanks eternally." The music for the Chorale is peaceful and beautiful, lulling the listener.

But the peace is broken by the sharp beginning of the third movement Recitativo: "Geh, Welt!..." This movement presents a second response to the text of the first movement, and presents the textual theme for the rest of the Cantata. Not only should we respond with "joy" and "thanks" (as expressed in the second movement), but also we should look heavenward, and realize where our true riches lie. "Hence, world! Keep earth's poor riches... Heaven is now mine, in this my soul will revel."

Each of the following movements build on this textual theme of looking heavenward: the 4th movement aria ("Little worth's found on earth"), the 5th movement Recititavo ("In heaven above one day I'll rest"), the 6th movement Aria ("Of this world I ask for nought, nought, nought"), and finally the concluding Chorale ("Farewell all that earth doth treasure").

What is interesting, upon reflection, is that the text of the Cantata does parallel the text in the readings. The readings summarize the incarnation of Christ on earth, and His exaltation in heaven. The text of the Cantata begins with the love of God exalting us to be children of God, and the result is for us to turn from earth and look toward heaven.

Another note of interest to me, is exactly how appropriate the text of this Cantata is to us nowadays, given the way we celebrate Christmas. I don't know how things were in 18th Leipzig, but here in 21st century America, during the Christmas season, there is far too much focus on the world's riches (which "perish like smoke"), and far too little focus on the true riches of heaven.

Peter Smaill wrote (January 9, 2006):
S. Sper writes:
< Another note of interest to me, is exactly how appropriate the text of this Cantata is to us nowadays, given the way we celebrate Christmas. I don't know how things were in 18th Leipzig, but here in 21st century America, during the Christmas season, there is far too much focus on the world's riches (which "perish like smoke"), and far too little focus on the true riches of heaven. >
The recent posting underscores the relative strangeness of the libretti for the first Christmas at Leipzig , with their heavily theological exegeses and only a couple of (rather indirectly) Christmas-connected chorales in evidence. John Eliot Gardiner's notes (by Ruth Tatlow) let us glimpse into a very different attitude to Christmas in Lutheran orthodoxy:

"There would have been neither Santa Claus nor Nativity palys for the Bach children at Christmas time: in Leipzig both were considered potentially harmful to children - an opinion echoed in Johann Heinrich Zedler's "Universal Lexicon" (Leipzig, 1733-52) under the entry "Weynachten" ("Christmas"):

"For it is nothing more than shameful foolishness to try to make children good by invoking Father Christmas. Indeed, it is akin of idolatry which, with God's gracious judgement, turns out so badly for some parents that they regret it for the rest of their lives.....all Christmas plays are worthless, and no matter if one makes a thousand excuses,,joking about such serious matters remains sinful nonetheless; it is unseemly for Christians".

We have to recall that the Reformation did turn against the accretions of medievalism which attached to Christmas; in the 1960's in my native (Presbyterian/Calvinist) Scotland, many did not celebrate it at all (N ew Year is big instead) and shops were open on the 25 December. Christmas has certainly metamorphosed even in my lifetime!

A trick to play even with quite churchy folk is to ask, "which book of the bible mentions the ox and ass looking on at the Nativity scene?" We are all in the Anglican world brought up to to the Christina Rossetti hymn:

"Enough for Him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
and a manger full of hay;
Enough for him, whom Angels
fall down before,
the ox and ass and camel
Which adore"

Unfortunately, none of this delightful tableau can be found anywhere in the New Testament! (The "manger" is a mistranslation of the Aramaic anyhow). So it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Bach sets quite ascetic texts given the Lutheran atmosphere of biblical fidelity and doctrinal emphasis . When we come to the Christmas Oratorio, although the descriptive components from the Gospels of the shepherds, the star, the wise men and the gifts are indeed apparent (unlike the first Christmas at Leipzig), Bach scrupulously avoids the apocryphal worshipping animals. The nearest he gets is:

BWV248 1/17 Chorale:

"da speise vormals sucht ein Rind
Da ruhet itzt der Jungfrau'n Kind

(" where once the ox sought food
Now sleeps the Virgin's child").

There certainly were Chorale texts which were extant that bring on the Christmas menagerie, such as the macaronic "Puer Natus in Bethlehem". As far as I know (any contrary observations?) however, Bach and/or his librettists avoids this fiction which is, and always has been, extra-biblical.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 9, 2006):
BWV 64: some more observations

The alto aria is a quietly confident expression of rejection of the attractions of this world, and has some charming syncopation (in 6/8 time) in the voice and oboe parts.

I notice in the Richter recording [2] the somewhat pronounced semi staccato treatment of the continuo, in contrast to Rilling's mostly sempre-legato approach [4]; this is an area where the HIP groups have shown an improvement, with their more flexible treatment of the phrasing of the continuo line. Harnoncourt [3], with the earliest of the period recordings, is quite successful here.

Richter [2] is fortunate to have the lovely alto voice of Anna Reynolds, so that his recording including the oboe is quite attractive in its expression of calm optimism, despite the above-mentioned flaw. Rilling's Ann Murray [4] is not appealing, and this is perhaps the least attractive performance of the aria; the samples of all the other recordings seem acceptable.

Rilling [4] turns the tables on Richter [2] in the soprano aria, where the latter's vocalist (Mathis) has the excessively strong vibrato problem; Augér with Rilling manages to tone down her usual tendency to shrillness, and the strings are typically bright. The viola line in the middle section that briefly replaces the continuo is quite clear. The other problem with the Richter is the over-strong contrast of the strings' loudness level between the ritornellos and the accompaniment.

Richter [2] has pleasing treatment of the recitatives with subtle instrumental accompaniment; the organist might even be opening and closing the swell box in the bass recitative, a technique usually totally inappropriate in Bach, but here the effect is magical. Leusink has a similar approach in this recitative (without the swell pedal), gaining more expressiveness in comparison to the typically scrappy effect of the othHIP ensembles.

The opening chorus, with its dense contrapuntal choral writing, is obviously difficult to transfer to CD; clarity in the lower voices seems to be a problem in the recordings. Rilling [4] and Harnoncourt [3] have slower tempos that allow for more audibility of the parts. Richter's vigorous performance [2] appears to have set the tempo for most of the more recent recordings.

BTW, the entire Richter CD [2] (BWV 121, BWV 64, BWV 28, and BWV 171) is a pleasing example of his art, the major drawback being soprano Mathis' occasionally shrill vibrato (occasionally, because her soprano aria in 171 remains attractive, in a lovely, calm performance). Also, the Rilling CD containing BWV 64 [4] starts with one of my favourite choruses, BWV 62/1, in a performance that rocks with joyous animation.

John Pike wrote (January 14, 2006):
BWV 64

This week's cantata is very pleasant. I particularly enjoyed the arias. I listened to Gardiner [6], Suzuki [7], Rilling [4] and Harnoncourt [3] and enjoyed them all. The string introduction to Rilling's contralto aria (No. 7) was particularly fine and touching, but the effect was spoilt by the soloist's vibrato when her entry came.


Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 64: 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
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