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Cantata BWV 129
Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott

D. Neumann | A. Dürr | A. Schweitzer | W.G. Whittaker | Schuhmacher | T. Braatz

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 20, 2003):
BWV 129 - Background [Dieter Neumann]

The background below is quoted from the liner notes to MHS LP of Diethard Hellmann, originally issued by the German label Cantate. The other cantata on this LP is BWV 119, discussed in the BCML only two weeks ago. The notes were written by Dieter Neumann and translated into English by Herman Adler.

The Cantata BWV 129, "Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott", was assumed by Spitta to have been written for Trinity Sunday in 1732, but the more recent findings of Alfred Dürr place its composition in 1726 or 1727. The text consists of the five verses of the hymn of the same title by Johann Olearius published in 1665. As the Cantus Firmus for the opening chorus and final chorale, Bach uses the melody in major for 'O Gott, du frommer Gott' (1698). The first verse takes the form of a large-scale orchestral concerto into which the four-part chorus has been incorporated line by line. The choral voices not tied to the Cantus Firmus are thematically integrated in the instrumental texture. While this opening chorus represents an extended choral fantasia, the final chorale verse is laid out in the same manner, though en miniature, in some respects not unlike the sixth cantata of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248).

Bach composed verses 2 and 4 in aria form. Since, for this work, no poetic transformation of the hymn verses into more concise aria texts, such as we find in his later chorale cantatas, were available to Bach, these arias are quite extended and cannot easily be reduced to the balanced da capo scheme A-B-A.

The instrumentation is extremely varied: Verse 2 for bass and continuo is followed by a soprano aria with obbligato flute and violin. The penultimate verse is set in form of a trio: Alto, oboe d'amore and continuo.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 23, 2003):
Dürr’s Commentary:

This work belongs to those chorale cantatas, which Bach later (1726) added to his 1724/25 chorale cantata cycle (Bach’s 2nd yearly cantata cycle, in order to exchange it with BWV 176 which is not strictly bound to a specific chorale. Date of composition can only be approximated as having been composed for Trinity Sunday, June 16, 1726, but the possibility that it might have been composed for another occasion later that same year can not be entirely excluded.

The cantata text is the verbatim text of the chorale by Johann Olearius (1665) consisting of 5 verses. It is suitable for the holiday of Trinity because it treats in its content a praise of the Trinity: Vs. 1 is directed at God the Creator; Vs. 2 the Son of God; Vs. 3 the Holy Ghost/Spirit; Vs. 4 & 5 a general praise of the Trinity. To be sure, a specific relationship to the Gospel and Epistle readings for Trinity Sunday are lacking, and Bach, who accepted the text without changing it, made no attempt to establish such a link.

With an orchestra consisting of 3 trumpets, timpani, a flute, 2 oboes, strings and continuo, this cantata is definitely geared toward making a strong festive statement. The introductory choral mvt. begins with a very lively concertante treatment of the strings with interjections by the brass choir (trumpets.) The cantus firmus, using the melody known as “O Gott, du frommer Gott” is delivered line by line by the sopranos, supported by the imitative, freely polyphonic or chordal accompaniment by the lower voices. The same way that the supporting vocal lines are not bound specifically to the chorale melody, so also the thematic material presented by the orchestra lacks any direct connection with it. While it may be noted that the supporting voices in this mvt., in general, lack any profound connections with the chorale theme or scholarly counterpoint, this 1st mvt. makes up for this deficiency by the direct effect that its fresh thematic material presents in concertante fashion.

Without the interspersal of the usual recitatives, Bach has 3 arias follow each other without interruption. The 1st aria (Mvt. 2) with only continuo accompaniment gives the bass voice a very expressive melody (ms. 16-20.) It is certainly no coincidence that this aria is dedicated to God the Son, His incarnation, and his sacrifice “für mich” [for me.]

In the 2nd aria (Mvt. 3) the transverse flute and the solo violin join the soprano voice and continuo to form a quartet of a very solemn celebratory nature which is frequently broken up and enlivened by a repeated motif of 16th notes played by the instruments (ms. 1 & 2.)

In the 3rd aria (Mvt. 4,) a relaxed, song-like, almost dance-like joyfulness prevails. Since the alto voice repeats the ritornello theme developed by the oboe d’amore, there is a more homogeneous feeling that pervades the entire aria. Even the continuo occasionally picks up this motif in imitation. [ms. 1-4.]

The final mvt. is extraordinarily magnificent. The choir of trumpets, which in the introductory mvt. had been relegated to the function of marking the cadences rather than presenting thematic material, now assume a leading role in presenting the initial 6-measure ritornello as well as having an essential role in the interludes between the line of the chorale. Once again, there is no direct musical relationship between the easy-to-understand orchestral material which is moved by a joyful emotion and the chorale melody per se. The purpose of orchestral ritornelli of this type is to ‘frame’ the musical line of a chorale the same way that certain chorales are treated in the Christmas (BWV 248) and Ascension Oratorios (BWV 11) by having concertante orchestra ritornelli surround the verses in the middle, verses which are usually performed with reduced orchestral forces.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 25, 2003):
BWV 129 - Commentaries:


To express joy, Bach uses two types of motifs: one consists of a succession of rapid notes, and expresses joy of a more direct and naïve; the second is based on the rhythm of 2 16ths followed by an 8th or an 8th followed by 2 16ths (the latter more particularly typifies joyous agitation. [It is the 1st of these rhythms that Schweitzer singles out in BWV 129.] The 2nd of these motifs is the one most frequently used in the cantatas. It can assume manifold shapes, and so can express many varieties and shades of joy. In Bach’s works there are at least 200 motifs constructed upon this rhythm of joy, while it is scarcely met with in Handel and Beethoven. It is seen in its typical form in the violin solo of the “Laudamus te” in the B minor Mass (BWV 232).

The most extravagant of all the extravagant motifs of joy is seen in the bass figures in the bass aria “Gelobet sei der Herr” (Mvt. 2) in BWV 129 [Example given is the bc, ms. 9-16.]

The final chorale has an imposing accompaniment.


The entire hymn is one of praise, little change of mood is possible, although vs. 1-3 refer to the members of the Trinity in turn. Of the 5 stanzas, 1 - 4 begin with the same words, and the initial lines of 1 – 3 are identical. Variety is thus negatived. Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 5 in which the melody, “O Gott, du frommer Gott,’ is used, are splendidly orchestrated with the instruments being used with striking resilience. the fantasia (Mvt. 1) the brilliant 1st violin part, with its vigorous passage work [ms. 1] and its far-flung leaps [ms. 16-17] is doubled nearly all the way by the flute and 2nd violin. The trumpets often burst in with short, crackling fanfares [ms. 1-3.] The lower voice parts are very animate and never sing any themes derived from the cantus firmus. This mvt. is a stirring number and the pioneer of many great and magnificent chorale fantasias with independent orchestra. BWV 112, though surpassing it in beauty, almost seems a miniature by its side.

The extended chorale (Mvt. 5, final chorale) mates it on terms of equality. The flute doubles the cantus firmus at the octave above, but the other instruments are mostly independent; brass and percussion, oboes, upper strings are treated as 3 groups answering one another. The reference to “und mit der Engel Schar” [“and with the host of angels”] explains the presence in the orchestra of the 2-note angel-motif [ms. 3, upper strings.] The chief instrumental theme [ms. 1-3, 1st trumpet] embodying the joy motif, is announced by tromba I and is also used by oboes and upper strings. There are impulsive shouts from the angel hosts and the redeemed [ms. 8, upper strings.]

Bach evidently considered stanzas 2 – 4 unsuitable for recitative, so we find a succession of arias for bass, soprano and alto, a weakness in construction. Mvt. 2 (bass aria) dealing with the Son, is with continuo only, which, after a graceful descent [ms. 1 – 3 and the 1st note of ms. 4 in the bc], based on notes 1 – 4 of the cantus firmus (the significance is obvious), indulges in many wild leaps of joy [ms. 9 – 12, in the bc.] The appoggiaturas given at the beginning of ms. 1 & 3 are often absent subsequently. This is frequently the case in the cantatas, graces differ between instrument and voice, between one instrument and another. Must one assume that the 1st-written appoggiaturas were intended as an example and that singer and player were expected to introduce similar ones at identical places? As an appoggiatura gives a special character to melody and harmony one must assume that this is an unwritten law. The voice begins with a modification of the continuo theme [ms. 16 – 24, bass voice] during which, as will be seen, the bc keeps the principal figure in prominence. Even Bach’s prodigious bass vocalists could not be expected to negotiate [ms. 9 – 12,] so a long run on “gelobet” outlines the passage and introduces many allusions to the joy-motif. The leaps are prominent in the continuo during the early part of “des Vaters liebster Sohn, der sich für mich gegeben” [ms. 47 -60.] After an interlude based on both ideas a more tender phrase comes to “der mich erlöset hat mit seinem teuren Blut” [ms. 68 – 86] with a joyous run on the last “erlöset” and references to both themes by the continuo, the 2nd forming the next interlude. A gracious winding melody comes to “der mir in Glauben schenkt sich selbst” [ms. 90 – 98,] and with that marvelous resourcefulness which perpetually astonishes us, there is a new form of the initial continuo motif in the bc at this point. A long run on “höchste” [“das höchste Gut”] is supported by the same initial motif in the bc in its entirety. Almost the whole of the “gelobet” run is set to “Glauben” as well; splendid drops of a 7th occur to “sich selbst” above the wild leaps.

Mvt. 3 (soprano aria) also begins with a phrase which reaches upward to the 6th note and stresses it. Although the progression is merely scalewise, the resemblance can scarcely be accidental, and the same outline is to be found in Mvt. 4, proceeding from the lower dominant [cf. 1st 2 ms. of Mvt. 3 with the 1st 2 ms. of Mvt. 4.] The soprano aria [Mvt. 3], speaking of the Holy Ghost/Spirit, has an obbligato for transverse flute and violin solo, and a prominent feature is the little group [ms. 2 & 3 of the bc], evidently indicating the quickening of the mortal spirit by the divine Third Person of the Trinity. The introduction, after a 4-bar melody, develops this little group [ms. 2 & 3 of the bc.] The ritornello is reconstructed for the 1st vocal section – [ms. 16 – 30, soprano] and there is a lengthy trilled flourish on “Leben.” After an interlude based on the initial bc motif, there is another vocal section, based on the 1st, with the same words and ending on the dominant. The introduction is repeated in this key, but, in keeping with Bach’s meticulous care, the obbligato parts are interchanged. The final section [ms. 64 to the end] brings a new melody and, appropriately, the initial bc motif predominates in the orchestra. A shortened form of the introduction stresses again the necessity to praise the Almighty and a longer vocal section to the same words follows. It opens with yet another melody, but the rising scalic 6th is sung to “der mir gibt neue Kraft.” To 6 ms. on the initial bc motif are added bold leaping passages on the 2 1st clauses and then “schafft” is sung to the trilling “Leben” run. The command to praise is reinforced by the repetition of the introduction. A curious structural feature is that when the voice enters after the 1st ritornello, it does not repeat the initial them at once, but for 2 bars sings a flourish on “Gelobet,” a prolongation of the theme before proceeding on its way.

The alto aria (Mvt. 4) is a lengthy and tender pastoral. The oboe d’amore obbligato begins with a lovely melody of 24 ms.; this comes again in the middle of the aria, commencing in the dominant and leading to the tonic, and then again at the end in its original form. Thus, counting another ritornello, there are no fewer than 82 ms. without the voice. Probably Bach was already growing restive under the circumscribed conditions imposed by hymn-verses, and decided to cut the Gordian knot by concentrating on the instrumental side of the number. “Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott, der ewig lebet” is sung to the quoted theme, into which the oboe d’amore neatly fits an imitation. The answering clause follows, instrumentally. The Scarlattian repetition brings the whole of the introduction, with interesting modifications; there is a new counterpoint to the theme, as the oboe d’amore continues the melody the voice sings a free inversion of the 1st figure: at “den Alles lobet” the obbligato ceases and the singer flourishes on “Alles” and “lobet,” the oboe d’amore resuming its line part-way through the latter. In the continuation the word “schwebet” is allotted a run, and the original sentence is elongated in order to permit of a further and lengthier run on this word. In the remainder the motto-line of the text always associated with the chorale line “des Name heilig heißt, Gott Vater, Gott der Sohn, und Gott der heil’ge Geist” is generally sung to material fashioned from earlier ideas, but it once receives picturesque treatment.

Schuhmacher (from the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series):

Bach has utilized the division by stanza and thus of content for varied symbolism, in the opening chorus, which is similar in form to that of BWV 128, there are no horns. Three independent trumpet parts and timpani convey the symbolism. The trumpets are restrained, to show up the declamatory repeats in motet style describing the variety of creation and the varied praise of the Creator; figuration only occurs at “Leben” (life – bar 27ff., also 3rd mvt, bars 22-26,) and “alle Augenblick” (ever, ever.) The 2nd mvt. though derived from the sacred concerto, displays the characteristics of an aria in the prelude and instrumental da capo section. The interplay of the bass voice and the continuo obbligato indicates that God’s Son is the foundation of the faith of the New Testament, just as the thorough bass is the “Beginning and end” of music. In the quartet for soprano, flute, violin and cobbligato, Man (the soprano voice) praises the Spirit of God; the flute is the symbol of willingness to follow Christ’s example, the violin, prayer and comfort, the continuo, faith founded in Christ. This mvt. bears all the hallmarks of chamber music. Compared with this the following alto aria with oboe d’amore and continuo is much less sophisticated: an inward-looking mvt. in which Man praises the Trinity. The final chorus, its spaciousness exceptional in Bach’s cantatas, exalts the Trinity with its brilliant trumpet writing to which is added yet another triune symbol: the division of the orchestra into trumpets and timpani – woodwind – strings. This is used to summarize the preceding mvts.

Personal observation

[I do not think that any commentaries that I have come across point out a feature in the final (alto) aria that I know Bach used elsewhere: in ms. 89 – 91 only, Bach merges the otherwise separate 3 lines (oboe d’amore, alto voice, bc) in a unison passage (the bc follows exactly an octave lower) which unites the Three Members/Persons of the Trinity and makes them into One. Bach represents the unity of the Trinity musically the best way that he knows how: unison/parallel movement of the parts.]


Cantata BWV 129: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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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