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Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources

Cantata BWV 116
Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ

Alfred Dürr | Woldemar Voigt | Eric Chafe


Thomas Braatz wrote (April 29, 2003):
Dürr’s Commentary:

Serving as the basis of the text for this cantata is the chorale by Jakob Ebert (1601), a chorale consisting of 7 verses. The 1st and last verses are retained literally while the ‘inner’ verses are paraphrased in such a way that verses 2-4 correspond with the mvts. having the same number, but verses 5-6 are paraphrased in mvt. 5. The librettist who undertook the task of paraphrasing is unknown.

The text of this chorale laments the misfortune that has deservedly befallen mankind and it prays for forgiveness and salvation from all dangers among which the perils of war are considered the greatest. The paraphrase follows rather closely the chorale text. As apparent as the connection with the Sunday’s Gospel might appear on the surface, the librettist makes no effort to clarify it with specific references.

The introductory mvt. follows Bach’s preferred form for large-scale chorale fantasias: the chorale melody as cantus firmus is sung by the soprano with colla parte support by the horn in long note values (mainly half-notes.) The vocal sections featuring the chorale melody are embedded in orchestral musical material consisting of ritornelli that serve as a framework but also provide the interludes between the lines of the chorale. The instrumental sections performed by 2 oboi d’amore, strings and continuo are dominated by the 1st violin which provides very lively concertante figures. There is also the usual, variable treatment of the supporting (non c. f.) voices whereby the ‘outer’ (1st and last) lines which ‘frame’ the ‘inner’ lines of the chorale are treated in a plain manner, while the ‘middle’ lines take on a much more independent and complicated form:

Stollen 1:

Lines 1 & 2: these are treated in a more homogeneous fashion, accompanying the c. f. in a chordal manner using similar note values (mainly half-notes) to those in the c. f.

The instrumental material is completely independent.

Stollen 2:

Lines 3 & 4: these are much more lively with imitative techniques using thematic material derived from the instrumental ritornelli.

The instruments play colla parte (for the most part).


Lines 5 & 6 (condensed as one): chordal treatment, but creating a contrast to the c. f. by means of shorter note values.

The instruments play independent material.

Line 7: analogous to lines 1 & 2.

In lines 1, 2, and 7, the supporting voices merge with the c. f. to create a unified sound, while in lines 3 & 4 there is a fusion with the independent instrumental material. In lines 5 & 6 they attain their greatest independence as they are pressed into service in the interpretation of the text. In none of the lines do the supporting vocal parts actually partake of the thematic material contained in the chorale melody.

While it may appear that the 1st violin in mvt. 1, through its rich musical figures, has assumed the proportions of a modified violin concerto, the 2nd mvt. stands out with its expressive solo vocal part assisted by an obbligato oboe d’amore that relinquishes a concertante role in favor of a balanced, alternating, and quite cantabile part based on the treatment of the same material that the vocal part has. It would be easy to transform this mvt. into a duet by taking the oboe part and transcribing the high sections to the lower octave and adding the text as needed.

The following recitative (only 10 ms. long) looks like a secco recitative, but has the continuo quoting the chorale melody, thus making a strong connection with the chorale melody and text: “Gedenke doch, o Jesu, daß du noch ein Fürst des Friedens heißest.” As in BWV 38, a Terzetto, accompanied by continuo which announces the material which the vocal parts develop, follows which is of the same excellent caliber as that of the previous alto aria.

Mvt. 5 (Recitative) is a prayer and request for the end of all miseries, but also for a stable peace. The alto voice is accompanied by strings and ends with an arioso. A plain, 4-pt. harmonization of the chorale ends this cantata.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 30, 2003):

The orchestral ritornello which opens the cantata has very great energy, and with its urgent forward movement, it stands as a very effective contrast to the solemn treatment of 1st 2 lines of the chorale. Very unusual and significant is the fact that the repetition of these 1st 2 lines is treated very differently; specifically, the accompanying voices contrapuntally use and interpret poetically the musical material (motifs) presented in the instrumental ritornello. The final lines once again return to the solemn mood established in the 1st 2 lines. To shorten the concluding ritornello, it can be reduced simply to the final 4 measures.

In the musical style of the 1st choral mvt., Christ appears as the helper against external enemies. For this reason it is surprising that, in the course of the textual and musical development, Christ becomes the mediator between an angry God and humanity. But this is perhaps understandable because the troubles brought about by external enemies through wars can be considered as the punishment meted out by the powers of heaven.

The alto aria is one of the austere laments which Bach tends to associate with a text of this sort. Quite unusual is the beginning of this aria, where the voice twice introduces a fragment of the theme (on the word “Ach”) which is immediately picked up and continued by the oboe d’amore. Even the short ritornelli are noteworthy.

The following tenor recitative, the continuo twice plays the 1st line of the chorale as an introduction for the voice.

The terzetto/trio for soprano, tenor and bass, already interesting simply because it is one of the few vocal trios in Bach’s cantatas, is outstandingly beautiful with deep expression. This mvt. easily lends itself to doubling and tripling of the parts.

The 2nd recitative refers rather directly to troubles issuing from war, but somehow the text of the final chorale does not follow organically from that which precedes it.

Eric Chafe:

In the A major cantata (BWV 116), a work that in some respects might be called an ascent/descent cantata, but in others just the reverse, E major appears in a context that emphasizes the extreme sharps. The 1st aria, “Ach, unaussprechlich ist die Not,” in F sharp minor, modulates to G sharp minor with much dissonance and chromaticism in its middle section, “Kaum, daß wir noch in dieser Angst, wie du, o Jesu, selbst verlangst, zu Gott in deinem Namen schreien,” a reference to the opening chorale, which describes Christ as “ein starker Nothelfer” and ends “Drum wir allein im Namen dein zu deinem Vater schreien.” Then, after modulation to E in the 1st recitative, the E major vocal trio, “Ach, wir bekennen unsre Schuld und bitten nichts als um Geduld und um dein unermeßlich Lieben,” marks the apex of the work, in which the acknowledgement of sin that Luther made central to the dynamic of faith is heard in combination with the slowly descending chromatic tetrachord, broken into “sight” figures for “um Geduld.” In this piece we can see something of the dualistic character of the deeper sharps. The cry of torment to God is all that was ‘unaussprechlich’ in the 1st aria, while the reference to Jesus’ love appeared in the intervening recitative in association with the move to E. The trio divides into 4 sections, the 1st, 3rd, and 4th based on the above-mentioned text, the 2nd comprising the B section of the da capo text: “Es brach ja dein erbarmend Herz, als der gefallnen Schmerz, dich zu uns in die Welt getrieben.” In the 1st section the words “um Geduld,” imitated between the soprano and alto, set up a falling circle of 5ths beginning on G sharp that reaches ultimately to G major, then suddenly turns to B major for “und um dein unermeßlich Lieben.” In Lutheran theology love is always described as motivating the incarnation (the opening chorale emphasizes the 2 naof Jesus “wahr’ Mensch und wahrer Gott,”) and the recitative brings out the love of Jesus the ‘Friedefürst,’ as counterimage to God the judge in the 1st aria. The 2nd section of the trio provides the image of the incarnation and redemption in a huge descent/ascent pattern that takes the B major close of the preceding section as the dominant of E minor and from there moves down to A minor (“dich zu uns in die Welt getrieben,”) before moving in measured stages back up to close in C sharp minor. The 1st section is repeated, moving once again to G and closing in B major, and a somewhat shortened form serves as the final section, now closing in E. Within the 2nd section the sharpest dissonances describe the pain of humanity as motivating the incarnation.

The basic elements of Luther’s Passion Sermon – human tribulation and acknowledgement of sin, prayer, God’s judgment and Jesus’ love – underlie the meditative progressions of many of Bach cantatas as well as the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244). As we saw in Cantata BWV 12, these ideas are closely linked to what may be called an allegorical dynamic of increasing faith that goes hand in hand with the rising sequence of keys in its tonal plan. In the case of “Du Friedefürst” the acknowledgment of sin is treated as the apex rather than the nadir of the work as it is, for example, in the F minor arioso dialogue “O Schmerz” from the St. Matthew Passion. Acknowledgment of guilt is also linked with Jesus’ love in the key design of “Ach, wir bekennen unsre Schuld”: that is, the endings of the 3 main sections turn to B and E major as the text turns to love. Modulation downward, however, is associated with both the human plea for God’s forbearance (“und bitten nichts als um Geduld”) and the idea that human suffering broke God’s merciful heart and prompted the incarnation. Bach begins the preceding recitative in A, with the opening phrase of the chorale “Du Friedefürst” in the basso continuo (“Gedenke doch, o Jesu, daß du noch ein Fürst des Friedens heißest!”), then transposes the chorale phrase down to D in an unmistakable sign of the merciful side of God that counteracts the F sharp minor and G sharp minor of the preceding aria. After arriving on the D the text “Aus Liebe wolltest du dein Wort uns senden” immediately brings in E major, setting up the trio; the effect is very similar to that in BWV 60. The move from F sharp minor to G sharp minor in the aria represents a false move upward, prompted by fear, while the E major enters as a point of resolution. Acknowledgment of sin is a positive step toward redemption, operating in conjunction with Jesus’ work. In this context the octave leap upward of the voices on the opening phrase “Ach, wir bekennen unsre Schuld” and the gradual diatonic descent might suggest, along with the quasi-canonic imitation, the paradoxical nature of Lutheran dogma that holds that the pain of sin is joined to a release from sin. The same dualism underlies the meaning of the E major chorus, “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß,” ending Part One of the St. Matthew Passion, a mvt. that is at once a lamento and the culmination of an ascent to E with predominantly positive associations.

The final recitative of “Du Friedefürst” begins in G sharp minor with the words “Ach, laß uns durch die scharfen Ruten,” moving downward to C sharp minor for “nicht all zu heftig bluten” and continuing downward to end in A as the text prays for peace and the final chorale (in A) prays for spiritual enlightenment and grace. Once again the G sharp minor represents an extreme torment for mankind. As with the progression upward to E major in the St. Matthew Passion, the same dualism arises here as the significant modulation to G sharp minor is made. In such places the dualism of ‘durus’ as hard and harsh on the one hand and strong and positive on the other is evident.

In the passage (‘Harmonologia Musica’, p. 62) Werckmeister, speaking of “Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ,” which he also considered to be in the Hypophrygian mode, says: “Da doch dies Lied ‘Hypophrygii transpositi’ ist, und man aus dem a. wie sonst aus dem ‘Phrygio transp.’ gebräuchlich ‘Clausuliren’ solte.” In the principal chorale books of Bach’s time, however, “Du Friedefürst” is treated as transposed Ionian, and all Bach’s settings of the melody (in BWV 67, BWV 116, and BWV 143) follow that usage. Persumably Werckmeister felt that the final line should end on a’ instead of f’, as the two ‘Stollen’ do and as the final line does in the Vopelius chorale book (ending on e’’ in the ‘cantus durus.’)


Cantata BWV 116: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Commentaries: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal Works BWV 225-524 | Sources


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Last update: Friday, September 01, 2017 13:22