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Cantata BWV 80
Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott
Cantata BWV 80a
Alles, was von Gott geboren
Cantata BWV 80b
Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott
Discussions - Part 6

Continue from Part 5

Discussions in the Week of March 17, 2013

William Hoffman wrote (March 14, 2013):
Cantata 80: Intro & Reformationfest Cantatas, Chorales

See: Motets & Chorales for Feast of Reformation

Linda Gingrich wrote (March 17, 2013):
Intro to Reformation Cantata "A Mighty Fortress" BWV 80

My name is Linda Gingrich and I am the artistic director/conductor of Master Chorus Eastside, a volunteer chorus in the foothills east of Seattle. My connection with Bach cantatas springs from my doctoral dissertation, a study of the allegorical links within and between Bach's second cycle Trinity season chorale cantatas. I was asked by Aryeh to lead the cantata discussions concerning the Reformation cantatas for the next two weeks.

The discussion this week focuses on BWV 80, "Ein Feste Burg is unser Gott," one of Bach's best-known cantatas, in part because of the much loved and musically stirring chorale upon which it is based. I have sung and loved this hymn from childhood, and never tire of its strong text and mighty music. As Will pointed out earlier in the week, this is one of the "Reformation" cantatas presented at the annual Reformation festival in Leipzig on October 31. Its history is complicated, for it evolved over a number of years in several versions. For more on this, see: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV80.htm, which includes translations, pdfs of liner notes (see especially Gardiner and Suzuki), a listening file for the cantata, and as always, Julian Mincham's insightful analysis at: http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-60-bwv-80.htm.

I wasn't very familiar with this cantata, so looked forward to spending some time with it in preparation for leading off the discussion. As a choral conductor, I was astonished at the difficulty of the opening movement. In fact, I would think twice about programming this cantata with any but an accomplished chorus! The syncopations, the constantly shifting strong and weak beats, the off-kilter nature of the rhythm combined with the dense counterpoint, make the movement quite challenging, but perfectly fit the nature of the text. The persistent image it brought to my mind was that of two boxers bobbing and weaving as they jabbed at one another. And the second-movement duet certainly calls for an agile bass. I would carefully choose the soloist for that one!

Besides my perspective as a conductor, I also bring a strong interest in musical allegory to the discussion table, and I noted several things as the cantata unfolded. In musical allegory, key relationships and meters (among many factors) can be revealing, and there are several interesting connections here. Below are some fugitive thoughts that may spark some discussion.

The key of D is the overriding key-movements 1, 2, 5, 6 (ultimately) and 8-and appears to be associated with battle and triumph. B minor seems to be Bach's choice for confession (movement 3) and yielding to Christ (movement 4). It's interesting to note that modulating from a major key to its relative minor is considered a tonal descent; here perhaps it represents humility? The use of 12/8 in movement 4 is also intriguing. I once heard Helmut Rilling say that 12/8 represents the Holy Spirit in Bach's music, and I have also observed its Trinitarian symbolism in some of the cantatas. Since the singer is here inviting Christ into his/her "heart house," might it allude to the indwelling Holy Spirit?

The one appearance of G, also a tonal descent (two-sharp to one-sharp key signature), may represent the death mentioned in the final line, but in terms of a blessed crowning. Certainly the 3/4 meter and serene duet suggest that death is a blessing for "those who carry God in their mouths" and faith in their hearts.

I would be happy to see many of you offering other observations or in other ways participating in this discussion.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 19, 2013):
[To Linda Gingrich] Thanks for the intro. (I can speak as one of the (few? several? many?) list members who has read your thesis which, although it concentrates upon cantatas from the second cycle, clearly links with BWV 80 since it is also a chorale cantata and, in it's final form, possibly one of the last two composed by Bach).

It occurred to me when reading your intro that it would be nice if it sparked a reversion to the custom of some years back when the introductions fired some members to return to the work under discussion (or perhaps to explore it for the first time--lucky them!) and then participate in some on-line discussion about it. Admittedly such discussions often had more emphasis upon the performances and who preferred which recording, but there was also occasional astute comment on the context, word picturing, instrumentation and structuring of the works.

I'll kick off with a couple of observations.

1 In what ways does this cantata display characteristics common to the 1724-5 set of chorale cantatas or is it indisputably a more mature composition? How does it compare with BWV 14 with which it may share the honour of being Bach's last offerings of the chorale cantata form?

2 I make the observation that the musical architecture of several of the movements clearly embody the concept if 'simplicity' moving inexorably towards 'complexity'. (This is not an 'off the wall' fantasy but results from an analysis of the musical components). What symbolic meaning might listeners take from this?

Linda Gingrich wrote (March 19, 2013):
[To Julian Mincham] Thanks for your comments! I doubt that many have read my dissertation, but hopefully a few have. I also caught the connection with BWV 80 and the chorale cantatas, but didn't give much thought as to how to work that in.

I greatly appreciate your thoughts, and mine are tending in the same direction. I've noticed that discussion on the list has been sparse lately, don't know why, and there certainly hasn't been any discussion after my intro. Maybe people are just too busy, I know I've been extraordinarily so. I think Aryeh would like to spark more discussion. Asking questions may be a good way to do that. And I also checked out a few of the discussions from years past, the year 2000 was one, and I noticed that they tended toward analyzing recordings, performances, etc. I'm usually a bit less interested in that, more interested in what Bach did with the music, which fits your observations very well. Since I haven't done this before I'm feeling my way, and welcome any ideas you might have. I'm doing BWV 79 for next week, and then take a break until early April and the council elections cantatas. I don't know those at all!

You should probably be leading the discussions!

Linda Gingrich wrote (March 19, 2013):
Oops, I think my response may have gone out to the whole list rather than directly to Julian. However, I am indeed feeling my way, and hope that others may be encouraged to send ideas and questions to the list.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (March 19, 2013):
Linda Gingrich wrote:
< You should probably be leading the discussions! >
Julian does a good job, but so do you.

I am up to my earlobs in Easter music. I will try to catch up after Easter. Just know that plenty of people read and appreciated your introduction.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 20, 2013):
Linda Gingrich wrote:
< Oops, I think my response may have gone out to the whole list rather than directly to Julian. >
Not a problem, it was in fact entirely appropriate (generous of spirit!) for the entire list.

One of the issues in stimulating discussion is that it is really necessary to review what has been said in the past in order to post thoughtfully. I think you and Julian are on the right track in proposing that specific questions may be helpful. That has certainly been true in past years.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 20, 2013):
Linda wrote:
< Oops, I think my response may have gone out to the whole list rather than directly to Julian. However, I am indeed feeling my way, and hope that others may be encouraged to send ideas and questions to the list. >
We've all done it! I certainly have and it's particularly easy when you reply to someone from the list, forgetting that the return address is to the group! I now check all the addresses at the top before sending off. cheers

Linda Gingrich wrote (March 20, 2013):
[To Julian Mincham] Yes, I usually remember to check the addresses, but I haven't posted a response in awhile, so forgot. And this is indeed going out to the entire list right now! With thanks for several kind responses.

Peter Smaill wrote (March 25, 2013):
BWV 80- Emblemata

Most reviewers of this great Reformation cantata note the profound contrast created by the inward and devotional Soprano aria, No.4, "Komm in mein Herzens Haus."

It is, as often in Bach, a mystical image to which he responds with a wonderfully expressive ritornello and the rapt sense of "Jesu, mein Verlangen!" is well expressed :"the vocal melody unfolds freely and exp[rssively over the continuo ritornello theme, which os repeated many times and in varied modified forms". (Duerr)

This mystical image of Jesus coming into the heart is well represented in emblemata - one I recall has a Jesus-figure with a broom cleaning the heart- shaped dwelling! But of interest is that Bach himself had an image of the heart as emblem in the frontispiece to his copy of Mueller's "Himmlischer Liebes-Flamme"....only , in this representation, the heart-dwelling is occupied by an organist with attendant consort, and with a heavenly choir above.

The idea is worship in Earth and Heaven; and if this image inspired the librettist, then the heart to which Jesus enters is a musical one.....

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 25, 2013):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< But of interest is that Bach himself had an image of the heart as emblem in the frontispiece to his copy of Mueller's "Himmlischer Liebes-Flamme"....only , in this representation, the heart-dwelling is occupied by an organist with attendant consort, and with a heavenly choir above. >
Is this image online anywhere?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 25, 2013):
[To Douglas Cowling]
http://ia600800.us.archive.org/zipview.php?zip=/25/items/olcovers607/olcovers607-L.zip&file=6075296-L.jpg

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 25, 2013):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] Is he heart emblem online?

Peter Smaill wrote (March 25, 2013):
To Kim Patrick Clow & Douglas Cowling] I have asked Aryeh to post the image to the Emblemata section of BCW as per the established protocol.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 26, 2013):
[To Peter Smaill, Kim Patrick Clow & Douglas Cowling]
Here it is: http://bach-cantatas.com/Emb/BWV80-4-Emb.htm
Linked from: http://bach-cantatas.com/Emb/index.htm

Linda Gingrich wrote (March 26, 2013):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thank you!

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 27, 2013):
Thomas Braatz has contributed a possible interpretation to the Emblemata page of BWV 80/4.
See: http://bach-cantatas.com/Emb/BWV80-4-Emb.htm

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 27, 2013):
[To Aryeh Oron] Many many thanks to Thomas and Peter for this.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 27, 2013):
P.S.

That emblem brings to mind that whenever Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel required an obbligato organ in 37 of his cantatas, the texts frequently are dealing with themes about heaven, angels, etc. This illustration brings that point home in a very meaningful way.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 28, 2013):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Thomas Braatz has contributed a possible interpretation to the Emblemata page of BWV 80/4.
See:
http://bach-cantatas.com/Emb/BWV80-4-Emb.htm >
You can see a similar iconogrpahy on the title page of Praetorius' "Theatrum Instrumentorum" with the celestial musicians above ("Pleni sunt coeli") and the terrestial below ("et terra").
http://www.recorderhomepage.net/crumhorn/praetorius_theatrum_1.jpg

(Also an early representation of conductors)

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 28, 2013):
[To ] This all strikes me as consistent with Bachs highlight in his Biblical commentary (author?), to the effect *Where there is music, there is God.*

Alas, I do not have the resources at this instant to cite more precisely.

Linda Gingrich wrote (March 28, 2013):
[To Ed Myskowski] Perhaps you are thinking of the note Bach scribbled in the margins of his Calov Bible next to II Chronicles 5:12-13. In the chapter the Ark of the Covenant is carried into Solomon's Temple, accompanied by an outpouring of music by the Temple musicians. In these two verses, at the height of the music, God's glory filled the Temple, and in the margin Bach wrote,"With a devotional music, God is always present with His grace."

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 28, 2013):
Thomas Braatz has expanded his section on possible interpretations of BWV 80/4 Emblemata.
See the PDF embedded in the page: http://bach-cantatas.com/Emb/BWV80-4-Emb.htm
under the header Possible Interpretations.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 9, 2013):
Emblemata

An addendum to my previous post. I believe Linda also cited the marginalia to Chronicles (or perhaps the Biblical text itself).

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 7, 2011)[re BWV 137]:
[To Nessie Russell] Seems like an opportune moment to remember this post, re Bach’s notes to his copy of Calovs commentary on Luther’s Bible:

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 3, 2009):
IMO, the music is much more durable than the texts. Or as Bach noted, marginalia to Chronicles (the text!):
<Where there is Music, there is God.>

 

Continue on Part 7

Cantatas BWV 80, BWV 80a & BWV 80b : Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 80 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 80 | Details of BWV 80a | Details of BWV 80b | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

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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