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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: 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

Cantata BWV 71
Gott ist mein König
Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Discussions in the Week of February 6, 2005 [Continue]

Doug Cowling wrote (February 10, 2005):
Fanfares for BWV 71

Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The signals produced by trumpeters were subject to a prescribed duty to keep them secret and for this reason they were never written down. The way in which Bach set up this cantata makes is possible to conjecture that before the entire ensemble began its performance, it was preceded by a trumpet fanfare, perhaps one that was repeated annually or perhaps one improvised by the trumpeter. In any case, Bach was not responsible for providing the music for such a fanfare, for this obligation fell to the trumpeters themselves. Consequently we can state that the cantata was transmitted in its complete form, but in order to recreate the impression of the performance in its entirety as it was given at its first performance, a trumpet fanfare with at least 3 trumpets would have to precede it. >
Interesting. I surmised an organ intonation a la Gabrieli and Frescobaldi before the cantata, but some kind of brass intrada before the cantata would be equally traditional. Has any recorded performance of the cantata improvised a fanfare or inserted a known canzona as the "prelude" to the cantata? Sounds like a challenge for Paul McCreesh's team.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 10, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>I surmised an organ intonation a la Gabrieli and Frescobaldi before the cantata, but some kind of brass intrada before the cantata would be equally traditional. Has any recorded performance of the cantata improvised a fanfare or inserted a known canzona as the "prelude" to the cantata?<<
I am not aware of any.

>>Sounds like a challenge for Paul McCreesh's team.<<
Yes, he would be the right conductor to tackle this properly.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 10, 2005):
Pitch for the early cantatas

< The editors of modern editions of Bach's Mühlhausen cantatas are faced with very special problems of notation. (...) Notated in C major are the trumpets and strings as well as the vocal parts and the continuo, but the groups with oboes and bassoon as well as the recorders and violoncello are notated in D major. How can these pitch-dependent conditions be resolved? (...) >
There's a handy table "Proposed Solutions to Questions of Tonality in Bach's Early Cantatas" to accompany the excellent discussion, in Bruce Haynes's article "Questions of Tonality in Bach's Cantatas: The Woodwind Perspective". (J American Musical Instrument Society 12: 1986, pp 40-67.) He discusses cantatas BWV 12, BWV 18, BWV 21, BWV 23, BWV 31, BWV 71, BWV 106, BWV 131, BWV 132, BWV 150, BWV 152, BWV 155, BWV 161, BWV 172, BWV 182, BWV 185, BWV 199.

< In the performance practices used in the churches of Mühlhausen, there was a discrepancy in pitch between the woodwinds and the rest of the musical ensemble, at least as far as Bach was concerned. This is understandable: because Bach's situation here was different than it would later be in Leipzig where he had musical leadership as Thomaskantor over several other churches (in Mühlhausen he understood all his music making in terms of the organ which was his primary responsibility), he therefore used the organ as his primary reference point for pitch. Bach undoubtedly 'thought' the music in the same key in which the organ part was notated. >
That, too, continued at Leipzig: the organ (and its layout of harmonic contrasts) being the primary reference point. The composition stems from the way the (transposing) basso-continuo part will sound, as to its dramatic tensions and resolutions in forward motion. The basic Affekt is laid down by the organ's temperament. Bach took that into account before writing the music, and he used those effects objectively to create music appropriate to the motion/meaning of the words.

That's evidenced both in the resulting sound in these Leipzig compositions (playing through them in the temperament that Bach wrote down for use on the Leipzig organs, allowing for the transposition!), and in Bach's well-known pedagogical remark that thoroughbass is the soul of music and composition. "The thorough-bass is the most perfect foundation of music, being played with both hands in such manner that the left hand plays the notes written down while the right adds consonances and dissonances, in order to make a well-sounding harmony to the Glory of God and the permissible delectation of the spirit; and the aim and final reason, as of all music, so of the thorough-bass should be none else but the Glory of God and the recreation of the mind. Where this is not observed, there will be no real music but only a devilish hubbub."

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Early Bach Cantatas - Part 2 [General Topics]

Peter Smaill wrote (February 11, 2005):
One of the constant themes of the Cantatas is reference back to old chorales and affekts which would elicit an emotional response in the congregation, a technique already deployed on the early Cantatas.

In BWV 71 we have, in "Du wollest der seele....Turteltauben" a dramatic bringing down of the choral line at the end to the intonation of plainsong, in augmentation in the final four notes which would be the clue to whichever tone was being signified. Can anyone identify what the plainsong this progression actually represents? (if it relates to a particular Latin text?)

Of course there are many later uses of plainsong, eg BWV 10 and the Credo of the BMM (BWV 232). Perhaps BWV 71 contains the first such quotation?

Neil Halliday wrote (February 11, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
<"In BWV 71 we have, in "Du wollest der seele....Turteltauben" a dramatic bringing down of the choral line at the end to the intonation of plainsong, in augmentation in the final four notes which would be the clue to whichever tone was being signified. Can anyone identify what the plainsong this progression actually represents? (if it relates to a particular Latin text?)">
Interesting observation. The augmentation of the (chorale?) theme (if it is one) at the end is indeed impressive. The notes are sung in unison by all voices in the choir, the final eight notes being C,C,C,C; Dflat,C,Bflat,C. (You can see that the last four notes assume the shape of a turn, which should make it easy to identify if it is a plainsong melody, by someone who has a book of plainsong.)

Doug Cowling wrote (February 11, 2005):
BWV 71 & Chant

[To Neil Halliday] This is a very interesting question. The presence of a plainsong melody is certainly suggested by the penultimate Bb which gives the music a modal flavour. The repeated notes suggest a recitation formula from a psalm tone and the melody looks like the half verse "mediation" of the First or Sixth Tone. The complete psalm melody was certainly used in the Baroque period. Albinoni used it throughout his "Magnificat" and Händel quoted an old Roman variant at "Donec ponam" in the opening chorus of "Dixit Dominus". Those, of course, are examples from the Roman rite.

Bach's use of chants tends to be restricted to those which had become chorales. The most famous are of course "Victimae Paschali Laudes" which became "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" - the use of the minor key for a festiEaster cantata is dictated by the modal melody of the chant -- and the Tonus Peregrinus which became the German Magnificat as "Meine Seele Erhebt" (viz. Cantata BWV 10 and "Suscepit" in the Magnificat (BWV 243))

There are a couple of examples which show Bach using a recitation formula which gives us the repeated notes. The "Confiteor" of the MBM (BWV 232) uses a psalm tone and we can see another "mediation" at the words "in remissionem". The other example is the opening Kyrie of the Missa Mrevis in F Major (BWV 233) where the Litany tone which is very similar to a psalm tone is used.

The difference between the above examples and Cantata BWV 71 is that the repeated recitation tones tend to be on the mediant or dominant not the tonic. Whether Bach's listeners heard a chant quotation is probably insoluble. The possibility struck me when I first heard the passage but I assumed that the D flat was a reference to the "cooing" motif which opens the movement.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 14, 2005):
Ammern, Mühlhausen and Cantata BWV 71

Visiting Ammern & Mühlhausen

Ammern was our first station after a long drive from Kassel. I do not know much about Ammern. This village, only a few kilometres North to Mühlhausen, does not even have a website. I have not been able to find information about this place anywhere. When I was in Leipzig, I found two books dedicated to stations in Bach's life, and Ammern is not mentioned in either of them. But Bach was definitely here. Between 1708 and 1712 he attended the place to examine the new organ by J.F. Wender at St. Vitus Church. The church had been originally built in 1270, and was restored from 1998 to 2000. We arrived there on Sunday around 11:00 and found the church closed. A passer-by guided us to a place where the priest should have been. We heard people singing a chorale, entered the modern building, and following the voices found the room. A small congregation was there, the priest invited us to join and we were given praying books. It was a strange feeling. We did not belong there; it was not our service, and we did not want to interfere. We stayed a little while and left quietly.
See photos from Ammern: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Tour/Ammern-Photos-2.htm

When we arrived to Mühlhausen it was about noon, but there were almost no people in the streets of the Old City. Knowing that the Tourist Information would be closed we went to the Blasiuskirche (= Divi Blasii Church), where Bach served as an organist for a year (July 1707 - June 1708). The huge church (although not as big as the Marienkirche) is located just South of the well-preserved wall. Couple of minutes after we had entered, we found ourselves participating in a funeral, which took part inside the church. We continued to a walking tour in the streets of the Old Town. It was our second visit to Mühlhausen, and this beautifully restored town had not changed much during the past 5 years. Our next station was Weissenssee.
See photos from Mühlhausen: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Tour/Muhlhausen-Photos-3.htm

Musical History of Mühlhausen

During his short service in Mühlhausen, Bach composed Cantata BWV 71 for the election of the new Town Council. In the liner notes to the CD 'Mühlhäuser Staats-, Fest- und Ratsmusiken: Schütz, J.R. Ahle, Erlebach, J.S. Bach' (Thorofon 1995), which included a recording of this cantata (by Wolfgang Unger [9]), I found an interesting article by Manfred Fechner titled 'Musical Works For State, Municipal And Other Festive Occasions In Mühlhausen'. The article gives you a broader background for the context and time in which Bach lived and worked. The well-chosen works supply some hints for the musical tradition which was culminated by J.S. Bach's work. In the somewhat archaic Cantata BWV 71, the connection between Bach and his predecessors, can be easily felt.

In the course of the centuries the Thuringian city of Mühlhausen, with its status of Free City of the Reich (and from 1348 onwards having full provincial sovereignty), was of enormous political importance. It was particularly at events in this political context that the city - whose detailed musical history has not yet been fully recorded - was able to emanate a distinctive aura of musical excellence. But it was not only during politically occasioned festivities that musical culture thrived in Mühlhausen - as indeed it did throughout Thuringia. 16th and 17th century musicians of no mean rank were born in this city (Johannes Eccard, Johann Rudolf Ahle and his son Johann Georg, to name but a few). Evidence of the powerful influence music must once have exerted on the citizens of Mühlhausen is to be found in the proud assertion made in 1626 by Georg Andreas Fabricius, rector of the Grammar School in Mühlhausen (and later of that in Göttingen) who taught the young Johann Rudolf Ahle "Qui non est musicus, non est Mühlhausen" (He who is not a musician is not of Mühlhausen).

The state of musical culture as it existed during the 17th and early 18th centuries in the free city is captured by the present selection of works, as if caught by a roving historical spotlight The compositions of Heinrich Schütz, Philipp Heinrich Erlebach and J.S. Bach owe their genesis to extraordinary (political) events in Mühlhausen, while Johann Rudolf Ahle's contributions represent, as it were, the 'long-established, native musical practice for Sundays and feast days, the continuity of music of an artistically high standard.

Following the failure of the relevant rulers negotiating at an initial summit conference in Mühlhausen in March 1620 to reach compromises which would restore peace to the Reich, the Thirty Years' War continued, "senselessly, and following a colossal, bewildering and unfathomable dramaturgical plan" (M. Gregor-Dellin, 1984). A man of no martial bent, the Electoral Prince of Saxony, Johann Georg I sought with conciliatory and diplomatic tenacity to be loyal to the Imperial constitution in his thinking and actions, desiring "at all costs to avert for as long as possible the warring armies' invasion of his vulnerable province, with its inviting potential for use as a corridor" (M. Gregor-Dellin). However, the fighting continued to spread, the belligerents had got the bit between their teeth. Ferdinand II too, who had been elected Emperor on the votes cast by the Protestant electoral princes in 1619, was not to be persuaded into assuming a more tolerant or peace-loving attitude by the occasional battle victories booked by the Catholic Imperial League. The consensus the electoral princes were nevertheless able to reach in the course of renewed negotiations which took place in Mühlhausen between October 4 and November 5, 1627 (Oct 13 to Nov 15 by the modern calendar) was a course dictated by fear. Shared in equal measure by the Catholic princes, this apprehension was focused upon the figure of Wallenstein who, in his surfeit of self-confidence, "was taking history into his own hands, seeming to have the Kaiser fully in hiscontrol" (M. Gregor-Dellin) - an impasse not to be tolerated and providing ample justification for all parties concerned to make another attempt at dialogue. In its political consequences the conference was fruitless, despite the impressive array of powerful figures represented there. Whereas Kaiser Ferdinand II, two of the three "lords spiritual" among the electoral princes the Archbishops of Trier and Cologne, the Elector of Bavaria (as the successor to Friedrich von der Pfalz who had forfeited his electoral privileges) and the Elector of Brandenburg had sent emissaries accompanied in some cases by sizeable entourages, the Electoral Prince-Bishop of Mainz and Johann Georg I, Elector of Saxony, appeared in person (the electoral entourage from Saxony comprised 600 persons and 506 horses and included Kapellmeister Heinrich Schütz together with his instrumentalists, singers, organists and choir boys).

Following the custom of opening imperial and electoral assemblies with a composition appealing for concord and love of peace (as early as 1530 such a work had come into existence in Ludwig Senfl's motet "Ecce quam bonum", conceived for the Augsburg Parliament). Schütz composed for the Mühlhausen negotiations a work exhorting a similar attitude of mind. This was the appropriately impressive motet for double choir "Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostris..." (SWV 465). With this medieval antiphon, after Martin Luther's "Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich" (Grant us merciful peace), the 5-part Chorus I opens as if in prayer, supported by violas da gamba, while Chorus II, in four parts and - as Schütz demanded "quite distinct from the first", greets and salutes the right honourable dignitaries of Church and Reich. Each emissary was included in an almost hundred-fold salutary address. The spiritual Electors of Mainz, Trier and Cologne were praised as very foundations of the peace, Ferdinand II as unconquerable Caesar and the Electors of Saxony, Bavaria and Brandenburg as the "three bulwarks" of the peace. In no other double choir work did Schütz provide the individual choirs with such opposing roles, revealing here his talents as a dramatist, and indeed as a theatrical composer and master too - at the same time testifying to his heart-felt yearning for peace.

Johann Rudolf Ahle was one of the most outstanding musicians active in Thuringia in the latter half of the 17th century. To today's musical world he is an unknown quantity, at best mentioned in encyclopaedias (this, despite the efforts of the great musical researcher Johannes Wolf, who gave Ahle a place of note among the monuments of German musical achievement with the publication in 1901 of his volume containing a representative selection of the composer's works). Born in Mühlhausen, he was - subsequent to his school and student days in G6ttingen and Erfurt, where he studied theology at the university - artistically and politically connected with that city until the end of his life (Ahle was organist of the St Blasius church and was a member of the city council, becoming Lord Mayor in 1673, the year of his death). The annals maintain a veil of silence as to who his teacher were. As a composer, Ahle devoted practically the whole of his art to the service of the Church. No musical form having a place in the liturgical music of the time was neglected by him: the Mass, the Magnificat, the lied, the motet (chorale arrangements), the sacred concerto and the dialogue are all represented there. His composing style aims at clarity (and there with textual comprehensibility), at easily graspable melodies and, despite the occasional contrapuntal part-writing, at a form of composition essentially harmonic and chordal. He achieves in this way a thoroughly Italian gusto" (not without good reason did the Lüneburg cantor Michael Jacobi call him the "German Monteverdi"). Taken all in all, Ahle adheres far more to the tradition of declamatory homophony of, for instance, Andreas Hammerschmidt than to the motet-style exemplified by Heinrich Schütz's "Sacred Choral Music" of 1648.

Together with the sermon, the Missa Brevis (consisting only of Kyrie and Cloria) was the most important part of the main service until after 1700 in Protestant as well as in Catholic churches Ahle's "Missa à 6" of 1668 with basso continuo is a perfect example of this liturgical usage. Composed in the "stile antico" (with the "Cloria" intonation by the pastor, cantor or precentor), its respectable stylistic conservatism quite fulfils the expectations of the period, indeed it distantly echoes the Mass settings of the late Netherlandish masters.

The Magnificat, the canticle of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1: 46-55 and lesser doxology), bore a similar relationship to the vesper service as did the Missa Brevis to the main service. Ahle's Magnificat setting of 1657 is noteworthy for its concise handling of the Luke passage, the imaginative and varied ways in which it is assigned to the favoriti (vocal soloists) and the Capellchor (mixed group of singers and instrumentalists). The instrumentation is somewhat unusual, lending the work a distinctive sound, but is perfectly suited to the dignity of the text it sets. Supported by the basso continuo, the vocal ensemble receives reinforcement and contrast from a brass quartet consisting of a cornet and three trombones, which are at times treated in obbligato manner.

Johann Rudolf Ahle's "Ich hab's gewagt" (I've taken the plunge), calling for four singers, strings and basso continuo, is a work written for a wedding, and vouchsafes latter day generations an intriguing insight into a festive occasion of this kind in an (unnamed) middle-class family in Mühlhausen. Furnished with two symphonies in Venetian style, the work (published in 1658) reveals itself as a sophisticated choral concerto. The gracefulness of expression, the transparent mood of the work as a whole and the religious faith manifested by both text and music are very deeply moving (it is possible that Ahle also wrote the text).

Almost equally unknown, but revealing himself to be Johann Rudolf Ahle's probable superior in importance and artistic mastery, is Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, born in Esens (East Friesland) and Kapellmeister of Rudolstadt. Toward the end of the 1670s he was appointed to the Rudolstadt Court (originally as musician and manservant to the Count) and he was to keep this position for the rest of his life; here he played a decisive part in shaping musical culture, becoming "Capelldirektor" in 1681 and "Capellmeister" in 1708. With his suites in the French style and chamber music oriented on the Italian style, Erlebach is an instrumental composer of international rank as well as being an important master of the early German opera, cantata and passion music. Although almost his entire vocal oeuvre was destroyed by fire in the Rudolstadt Palace in 1735, contemporary copies of at least some of his cantatas - mainly from North German sources and scientifically reconstructed by the research done by Bernd Baselt - are in existence today, testifying to the past glories of musical culture at the Residence of the Schwarzburgs.

As part of the "Musicalia at the Act of Homage" on October 28, 1705 in Mühlhausen, the choral concerto "Exultemus, gaudeamus" was performed in honour of Kaiser Joseph I, together with two other works, a serenata and a march. Mühlhausen was until 1802 directly responsible to the Holy Roman Empire of German nations, serving no overlord or prince other than the Kaiser. Each time the throne passed into different hands therefore the Mühlhausen Council proffered their allegiance (and that of their subjects) to the new ruler in ritual form with a solemn procession, church service and Council meeting. The dignitary officially representing the Kaiser in Mühlhausen in 1705 was Count Albrecht Anton II, of the house of Schwarzburg, and it was he who had commissioned his Kapellmeister Philipp Heinrich Erlebach to compose the musical homage. The musical character of the concerto "Exultemus, gaudeamus" identifies it as typical of the cantatas of the High Baroque written for official use, containing flashy coloratura passages and the festive sheen of trumpets, but it is distinguished by the consummate compositional skills of its creator and his sure use of the emotional musical idiom of the time.

As organist at the St Blasius church in the Free City of the Reich, Mühlhausen, Johann Sebastian Bach, like his predecessor in office Johann Georg Ahle (son of Johann Rudolf), was responsible for ensuring that music was available for the church service held annually on the day following the City Council election (on February 4) in order to celebrate the change of representatives. For the service following the Council election of 1708 he composed "Gott ist mein König" (God is my King) (BWV 71) - the only work Bach wrote for these occasions which has been preserved (the Council even had it printed at its own expense by Tobias David Brückner in Mühlhausen). Its texts are based largely upon the Bible, but their actual author or compiler cannot be definitely ascertained. The handing over of office from the old Council to the new is symbolized by this writer in the metaphor Age - Youth, the idea culminates in the line "Your old age shall be as your youth" at which point God is called upon to support the new administration. The ensuing lines consist of eulogies, pleas and felicitations for the "new regime".

Although he entitled it "Motetto", Bach has in this \ cantata in fact produced a "concerto" for multiple choirs, The orchestra is divided into four "choirs", (I) 3 trumpets and timpani; (II) 2 recorders and cello; (III) 2 oboes and bassoon; (IV) 1st and 2nd violins, viola and violone. The choir of voices, in its turn functionally divided into concerto and ripieno, makes up a fifth. The result is extreme diversity and timbral differentiation from one section to the other, which "conforms formally to the serial placing of short sections characteristic of Bach's earliest period" (A. Dürr, 1985). However, even the movements of this cantata lacking extensive polyphony adhere completely to the 17th century tradition of concerti ecclesiastici and are not amenable to such "modern" terms as "aria" or "arioso".

Recordings of Cantata BWV 71

Although BWV 71 is certainly a festive cantata, it also has its moments of melancholy and pessimism (Mvt. 2: the aria for alto which pictures the old man), consolation (Mvt. 3: quartet), and plea (Mvt. 6: chorus). As much as the text of the cantata is about honouring the past and congratulating the future, so is the writing of young Bach. On the one hand, the style of the cantata is similar to Buxtehude and to previous Mühlhausen's composers; on the other, it is revelatory, full of surprises and innovations. Some of them Bach would use in his later works; others were used only once, in this cantata. The da-capo in the arioso for bass (Mvt. 4), the fugal writing in the quartet (Mvt. 3), the syncopated woodwinds imitating the cooing of doves in the 2nd chorus (Mvt. 6), the sudden abrupt that ends the concluding chorus (Mvt. 7), and so on. This cantata has plenty of gems.

I prefer renditions, which reveal the multi-mood facets of this cantata and which take care of the many treasures hidden in it. For my review of April 2000, I listened to 6 recordings. I have enjoyed them all, except for Harnoncourt's, that I found as inferior to the others. Since then 3 additional recordings have appeared: Unger [9], Leusink [13] and the DVD recorded at Marienkirche [11]. I do not have the last one, but based on Olle Hedström's recommendation, there is much to expect, both musically and visually. I have listened to all 8 recordings at my disposal and I have to admit that I hear them differently.

In the first round I found positive things to say about Kurt Thomas [3]. Now I find even more. No couple gives so heart-rending rendition of the duet for tenor and soprano as Rotzsch and Giebel do; no bass sings the arioso with such dignity as Adam does; no choir sings with such naivety and innocence as the Thomanerchor, and so on. The imaginative organ playing of Hannes Kästner should also not be overlooked. I prefer this recording to Rilling [4], Harnoncourt [5], Rotzsch [6], Koopman [8] and Suzuki [10], especially for the superiority of the singers.

To this very first recording of the cantata, I must add now the 'new' recording by Wolfgang Unger [9] as a personal favourite. None of his singers is a house-old name, but all of them have pleasant voice and good technique and they sing with outmost dedication. Most important is that this rendition, more than any other, gives the feeling of being there, in Mühlhausen on February 4, 1708, together with the people gathering in the Ober market place near the Rathaus to celebrate in Marienkirche the election of the new council. One eye is weeping for the departure from past (or life), while the other is happy for the good things which the future brings. IMO, this is the most authentic rendition of this cantata, and the care and sensitivity with which Unger and his forces handle the various moods and the numerous details hidden in this cantata, make this recording the one to which I shall return most often.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 14, 2005):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
>
Ammern, Mühlhausen and Cantata BWV 71 <
I found this in-depth report very illuminating and am still amazed how few, if any, connections between Bach and Johann Rudolf Ahle, and even Schütz who performed there, have been established, i.e., what influences these earlier composers may have had on Bach. I find virtually nothing to establish any clear connections. Mühlhausen would seem to hold the key, but somehow pointing out Bach's use of many choirs of singers and instruments in BWV 71 seems to provide only a vague connection regarding influences that Bach may have received elsewhere.

An excellent recording of Ahle's music is the recording by Suzuki (BIS-CD-821) with Midori Suzuki, Mera, Türk, and Schreckenberger. It contains some of the music mentioned in Aryeh's presentation.

Missa a 10
Herr nun lässestu deinen Diener a 5
Zwingt die Saiten in Cithara
Magnificat a 7
Jesus dulcis memoria
Misericordias Domini
Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag
Magnificat a 8

Peter Smaill wrote (February 15, 2005):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thank you especially for this insight into the musical tradition of Mühlhausen, which begins to answer the question as to why this small city-state, although in Bach's time ravaged recently by fire, went to the extravagance of completely restoring the organ and of printing BWV 71, "Gott ist mein König". The former extent of the musical tradition, which is only touched on by Wolff in his book on the early sacred cantatas, suggests that the appointment of the new organist was a significant catalyst for attempting to re-establish the musical prestige of the place.

Johann Rodolph Ahle (1625-73)

As often in Bach he pays homage to an illustrious predecessor, in this case of course it is the various settings of J R Ahle's melody (in the Orgelbuchlein and elswhere ), Liebster Jesu wir sind hier. Both in the Church of England and Church of Scotland, his chorale has been appropriated to baptism; the original text by Tobias Clausnitzer is an adult's prayer to Jesus for enlightenment, placing the the Saviour as from God ("licht vom licht aus gott...")but also as the source of the [Holy] Spirit. No babies anywhere and implicitly the Spirit proceeds from the Son! It is marked as "vor dem Predigt "in sources which implies this chorale was sung before the sermon.

It would be interesting, given its prominence in worship, to know if any older harmonisations exist before JSB created his many settings in which several harmonic and rythmic devices enrich the simple melody so as to suggest that it was, with Bach as with today's congregations and organists, a special favourite.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 15, 2005):
[To Peter Smaill] You are right. Bach uses the melody in BWV 373, 633, 634, 706, 730 and 731. At least BWV 373 (4-pt. Chorale setting with a wonderful octave-jumping bass line) looks as though it might have come from a lost cantata. The Evangelical Lutheran hymnal from North Germany has it placed, as you indicate, as a baptism hymn, the text, however, written by Benjamin Schmolck, a staunch Pietist (1672-1737). ["Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, deinem Worte nachzuleben; dieses Kindlein kommt zu dir, weil du den Befehl gegeben."] The original text which Ahle set to music began with "Ja, er ist's, das Heil der Welt..." My hymnal source
indicates that this text was changed several times after that (not to mention the fact that this melody was also used for other hymn texts: "Nun Gott Lob, es ist vollbracht" which is sung at the end of the service ["Zum Beschluß des Gottesdienstes"] and to a
slightly different text also beginning with "Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, dich und dein Wort anzuhören; lenke Sinnen und Begier auf die süßen Himmelslehren" by Tobias Clausnizer (1618-1684.)

Johann Ludwig Krebs has an organ prelude with obbligato instrument, but other than this, it does not seem that other (important) composers of the period have any special settings of this chorale melody.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (February 15, 2005):
BWV 71 - Gott ist mein König

What a spectacular opening: "God, God,God is my King!" A powerful proclamation by the choir, at once triumphantly reinforced by the trumpets. What an overwhelming impression it must have made on the congregation at St. Mary's on this February day almost three centuries ago. It is obvious that Bach wanted his emphatic exposition without any previous notice. I can not imagine him having complied with a trumpet fanfare preceding his cantata to spoil the effect he had in mind. Should he have wanted an entrada of any sort to introduce the opening chorus, Bach would have composed one himself and it would have been printed with the rest of the manuscript. There may have been a trumpet fanfare at the entrance of the councillors into the already crowded church, but wouldn't that have been at the beginning of the ceremony and not, Bach forbidding, at the onset of the cantata. Neither do I believe in the tuning theory for the choir to pick up their tone. There must have been ample opportunity for tuning before the actual ceremony began, and if I were Bach, I would have waited until the usual noise of the audience had subsided and as soon as they had gone silent, I would have given them threefold God! For that is what J.S. was up to, he wished to make an impact! Giving his singers the right tone must have been hardly a problem for Bach. Since he used the organ as his primary reference point for pitch and the master himself was to all likelihood situated behind the keyboard, what would have been easier than a stealthy tone from the organ or from a designated instrument, maybe a recorder, to provide the choir with their required pitch, in those last moments of the crowd's murmurs dying out.

Indeed this is an enthralling chorus. I love the intricate play of the various "choirs", Bach building up the tension towards the end of this movement with the vigorous strings, raising the festive spirits, but after the last "God ist mein König" the exuberance is fading, paving the way for the following contemplative duet. What fascinates me most is not the ingenuity Bach shows in these concluding simple ritornellos, first in the trumpets, then in the woodwinds and finally in the delicate recorders, but the fact that he should compose it at all in this way. It is as if he wishes us to realize that all things go by comparison.

To me, the aria con corale in canto is the highlight of this cantata. The organ obbligato echoing the singers and improvising on their melodic lines is exquisite, the intricate weaving of the tenor aria and the soprano chorale, seemingly dealing with the same idea, but in fact each of them singing from a different point of view is another example of the profoundness of the master's music. The tenor symbolizes the old, retiring councillor, who is retreating from his duties so that he can die in peace in his beloved city, to be buried next to his father and mother. The soprano (in Bach's days a treble or counter, in either case a young man), on the other hand, stands for the young councillor, newly elected. He realizes that, should he wish to advance in his (political) career to a high position in life, he would have a hard road to travel. Therefore he prays for patience and protection against sin, shame and scandal so that in the end he may be allowed to wear his grey hair with honour and dignity, an ideal almost lost in our time.

The following fugue is a quiet but firm assurance that God will be with both the old and the young in everything they will undertake, provided they live their lives with honour and dignity.

The beautiful arioso for bass is an elaboration of the Psalm 74 theme from the first movement. God owns day and night. He, who determines the course of the sun and the stars, is also the One who sets the boundaries of each and every land. Delightful interplay of the oboes and the flutes with the bass soloist, skilfully assisted by the BC, make this another gem in honour to God, the real king of this world.

The glorious alto aria is again down to earth: God grants safe borders, peace at home whereas war and murder are constant threats everywhere. King and Government may tremble, God's omnipotence will bring about happiness and well-being. This is a straightforward triumphant song of faith, in which the brass instruments and timpani are the natural companions of the alto soloist.

However, the elation about having God as a powerful ally does not linger on. It is subdued by the awareness that his enduring protection can not be taken for granted. The citizens of Mühlhausen are subtly reminded of their sinfulness by the image of the turtle doves, which of old used to be sacrificed to God as sin offerings. But then, fortunately, turtle doves are also a symbol for love, as in the Song of Songs, and therefore the choir beseech God to watch over them against their enemies. With the imitative cooing of the doves permeating the enchanting music, and the intimate plea "Du sollest" being repeated again and again in all voices, the chorus must have sounded as an incantation to heaven in the ears of those present. And when the spell is finally broken there is an open end in expectation of the conclusive movement.

Which is as richly orchestrated as the opening chorus. The new local regime receives every good wish they might expect and at last the worldly king is not forgotten. Heaven should daily grant the emperor happiness, well-being and great victory throughout his realm. Bach gives it all he has got, but like in the first movement he is philosophical again in the end. He continues to delight and surprise me.

Since I only have the recordings by Suzuki [10] and Leusink [13], suffice it to say that I like them both greatly. The sophistication and smoothness of Suzuki's performance balances the enthusiasm and radiance of the Leusink boys. There is however one movement where I have clear preference, which is in the aria con coralin canto. I find the chemistry between Ruth Holton and Knut Schoch awesome and I just hope Bach can hear Holton from heaven. If not, he will get his chance later, for she sings just heavenly.

Doug Cowling wrote (February 15, 2005):
Peter Bloemendaal wrote:
< Should he have wanted an entrada of any sort to introduce the opening chorus, Bach would have composed one himself and it would have been printed with the rest of the manuscript. There may have been a trumpet fanfare at the entrance of the councillors into the already crowded church , but wouldn't that have been at the beginning of the ceremony and not, Bach forbidding, at the onset of the cantata. Neither do I believe in the tuning theory for the choir to pick up their tone. There must have been ample opportunity for tuning before the actual ceremony began, and if I were Bach, I would have waited until the usual noise of the audience had subsided and as soon as they had gone silent, I would have given them threefold God! For that is what J.S. was up to, he wished to make an impact! >
I really think you are projecting the protocols of the modern concert hall onto Bach's church setting. Bach's choral and organ works were performed cheek to jowl with prayers, readings, chorales, sermons and the music of other composers. There was no theatrical pause while the congregation fell silent like a modern audience in hushed anticipation of the opening of "Gott ist Mein König". There was a fanfare, probably by another composer or even improvised by the trumpeters, and the cantata began.

We have lost the rhythm and interplay of word and music of the Lutheran service for which Bach wrote his music. How many of us would be prepared to hear an hour-long address between the two halves of the St. John (BWV 245) or St. Matthew Passions (BWV 244)? And yet Bach wrote his works for that pattern, and it could be argued that the effect of his music is dependent on such a break. He certainly would have been horrified at the dinner break which is increasingly common in modern performances of the St. Matthew!

I recommend that Paul McCreesh's "Epiphany Mass" on Archiv which reconstructs a complete Leipzig liturgy -- including a bit of the sermon! -- should be required listening for any of us who are serious fans of Bach's music.

Rianto Pardede wrote (February 15, 2005):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] It happens that I have not so different opinion regarding the performance of the aria con chorale movement, by Ruth Holton and Knut Schoch [13].

Also, I like the idea of the tenor symbolizes the old, retiring councillor, while on the other hand, the soprano stands for the young, newly elected councillor. This idea actually makes me thinking over my own about the connection between the tenor lines, and that of the soprano. I previously imagined that both the tenor and the soprano were conveying the concerns of just one man, i.e. the newly elected councillor (already old with grey hair, in this case).

Anyway, I have a good time reading the whole review. Thanks!

 

BWV 71, Gott ist mein König on DVD

Harry W. Crosby wrote (August 27, 2006):
Olle Hedström wrote to Aryeh Oron:
[11] < Being a dedicated Bach fan like you, I presumed you already had aquired all the available Bach Cantatas performances on DVD available worldwide.There aren't that many, unfortunately.
The BWV 71, "Gott ist mein König" is the best DVD-release I've encountered so far, where a Bach cantata is envolved. Recorded flawlessly in the Marienkirche in
Mühlhausen. Where else ? Breathtaking if you ask me. I have watched it dozens of times, and I'm stunned.
Besides the full cantata BWV 71, with the Telemann Kammerorchester you also get:
# the toccata in d-minor from the Bachkirche in
Arnstadt, with Gottfried Preller
# the motet, "Der Geist hilft unserer Swachheit auf" with Biller and the Thomaner in the Thomaskirche
# 3rd Brandenburg from Cöthen (Spiegelsaal) also Telemann Kammerorchester
# Concerto in C-dur for cembalo, (BWV 984) Christine Schornsheim, Schloss Weimar
# From the Art of Fugue, Dresdner Steich Trio, Alte Börse,
Leipzig
There's also a documentary shot on Bachlocations in Germany: "Lebensstationen"
I think you can find it at www.amazon.com or other net retailers.
If you cannot find it I can send you a copy. Let me know !
DVD: Johann Sebastian Bach, "Leben und Werk" VKJK 0101, 90 minutes, PCM stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1, PAL 16:9,
www.querstand.de >
[11] Dear Widely Scattered and Willdly Assorted fellow Bach lovers, after a recent experience, I feel compelled to bring in what may well be very much a minority report, but I'd feel remiss if I did not waggle my finger and mouth Caveat Emptor.

I purchased the DVD recommended by the enthusiastic Olle Hedström in the accompanying message to this group. I was, I must say, less than impressed by the performances and --- pardon the expression --- "camera work" on this disk.

It opens with what I can only describe as a dutiful, dull rendering of BWV 565, and proceeded to what I found to be an equally dull and oddly inappropriate presentation of BWV 71. It is treated as a somber. reverential church cantata about as lively as BWV 4. The singers are, to my ear, undistinguished, which with the plodding tempos, make this a real snooze. Gott! All I can say is look at the circumstances for which this was written, look at the text, look at what most of our respected conductors have made of it. Just for fun, I got out my Rotzsch recording after sitting in amazement, watching the camera pan endlessly, non stop around the lovely church, and listening to those who made this cantata into a dirge, OK, I played my old CD and it sounded so celebratory, so involved, so vibrant, that I just had to send this report.

Oh, and as a sort of P. S., let me add that I found no reason whatever to own the Thorofon CD of BWV 36b and BWV 134a with the Leipziger Universitatschor and the Pauliner Barockensemble conducted by Wolfgang Unger [9]. These performances seem very routine throughout when compared to the comparable parts of the more widely performed versions.

So, am I just a killjoy? Don't I like anything? You better believe it; I've got many dozens of Bach disks about which I am hugely enthusiastic. (I'll spare you details here, but lists are available . . .)

Thanks for taking in these, I assure you, well-intentioned admonitions.

Eric Bergerud wrote (August 28, 2006):
Can't comment on the particulars here but I have been getting more interested into "home theater." A DVD (which almost always is made to access Dolby 5.1 hardware in the receiver) is recorded very differently than a stereo CD. Those interested in the complications of the field can get a good primer on the BEST BUY site which has the best informational content of any of the commercial places: (http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?id=pcmcat22200050005&type=category).
What it boils down to is this: when watching a DVD or listening to SACD CDs, your hardware is going to have a huge impact on the overall experience. There are some really rotten "home theater" systems that do a poor job on regular movies much less something like an opera or the SMP (BWV 244). Or you can waste several thousand dollars on electronic overkill. But, if you do it right, the multiple channel system that Dolby allows can deliver a real added dimension to the experience. This is not hype but very audible indeed. (I am less sure about SACD because none of my audio junkie friends has a system really designed for it so I can only work from word of mouth which ranges from "not so hot" to "dynamite." The "" guys tend to be the music lovers with deep pockets.) And, depending upon what type of effect you want, one has a lot of control by deciding which type of speakers to buy and where to position them. In any case that makes judging the relative merits of a DVD no easy matter. In our day, one can get a pretty good stereo system for CDs at relatively decent prices. (Sony of all people has a new series of 3-way speakers out that deliver very impressive sound for under $150 a pair.) Classical music fans tend to have decent systems so I doubt that CD judgements are unduly weighted by hardware. In the DVD world that could very well be the case. Obviously Mr. Crosby or Mr. Hedström may be right about the artistic merit of the DVD in question. And certainly a bad performance could have excellent sound. But in the DVD world it's much more possible for a good performance to be harmed by bad sound. Just something to keep in mind. (I'm constructing my own audio Frankenstein and will report in when the project is complete.)

 

Gott ist mein König [Tölzer Knabenchor ML]

Rocío wrote (April 21, 2009):
I'm not so lucky as some of you who can visit a lot of concerts, for this reason I must... Ich muss mich mit den Aufnahmen abfinden. :-) I've just heared Bach-Cantata BWV 71, "Gott ist mein König", with the Tölzer and the treble Wilhelm Wiedl [5]. This Cantata is not very known but it has really wonderful moments, as the begin-chor, the fuga and the end-chor. Here two samples: http://www.sendspace.com/file/vlrvmu

I'm so moved now that I need to share it with you. If there are people in this group which still don't have the Teldec- complete sacred Cantatas, buy them immediately! :-) No no, I don't receive any money of Teldec... How is Teldec now, I've forgoten it! And it was one of the eldest Schallplattenfirmen, Telefunken, after Emi...

This recordings-work was really a masterwork! What I regret is that there were so little fragments with alt-boys soloists. Paul Eswood... Hm.

OK, I leave you because I want to hear the fragments again.

Andreas Burghardt wrote (April 21, 2009):
[To Rocío] You are right, the cantatas are the main work in the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach and an absolute highlight of occidental music culture. And I also agree, Paul Esswood is the weekest point in the entire Harnoncourt / Leonhardt cantata series [5]. His singing is often almost unbearable. I have found an other version of "Das neue Regiment" (the final part of cantata BWV 71) with a boy alto soloist. It is an old private live recording, sorry for the bad sound quality, especially the distortions. The soprano soloist could be Christian Fliegner, but I am not sure. Of course the Tölzer Knabenchor is singing and the direction has Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden.

http://www.alice-dsl.net/toelzer1/DasNeueRegiment.mp3

Can you imagine sitting in the congregation of a Sunday service at the church of Mühlhausen on the 4th of February 1708, celebrating the inauguration of the newly appointed government with a solemn cantata, with timbals and trumpets? This cantata has also very darks moments, Todessehnsucht (dead wish) "Ich hab nun 80 Jahr ... soll ich auf dieser Welt mein Leben höher bringen" and redemption through faith in god "Dein Alter sei wie deine Jugend, und Gott ist mit dir, in allem das du tust" and then this final choral trying to pledge the congregation to the new government ...

Das neue Regiment
Auf jeglichen Wegen
Bekröne mit Segen!
Friede, Ruh und Wohlergehen,
Müsse stets zur Seite stehen
Dem neuen Regiment.
Glück, Heil und großer Sieg
Muss täglich von neuen
Dich, Joseph, erfreuen,
Dass an allen Ort und Landen
Ganz beständig sei vorhanden
Glück, Heil und großer Sieg!

Rocío wrote (April 24, 2009):
[To Andreas Burghardt] You can not imagine how glad you have made me with your wonderful present. Oh, you have all refered to the Tölzer, impressive! You have also made a very, very good comment, Kantaten-Spezialist! Andreas Scholl is much better als Eswood, but boy altos are the very best!

Rocío wrote (April 24, 2009):
How would have been this fragment with Panito?
http://www.sendspace.com/file/8qesir

Rocío wrote (April 24, 2009):
«you are right, the cantatas are the main work in the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach and an absolute highlight of occidental music culture».
I don't forgive Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Because of his negligence more of 100 Cantatas and other works of his father were lost. Wenn ich ihn erwische…! How can I say that? "If I catch him…!", so? &#61514;We could have had more jewells sung by the Tölzer…

Perhaps the first Cantata that we have is BWV 4, "Christ lag in Todesbanden". Bach composed it when he was 22 years old, to apply for the position of organist in Mühlhausen. I love this cantata: each fragment, even the Sinfonia, is based on the same Choral. It's perfectely built! I have sung it in Granada with my "choir" (amateurs). A friend knew my love for this work and said to me that they sung it in a choir. I came to the rehearsales and begun to sing with them… It was moving.

It's a pity; I don't have a version with the Tölzer. The soprano of my version (Harnoncourt, Teldec) has aparently no name… "Soloist of the WSK".

 

Continue on Part 4

Cantata BWV 71: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: 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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