Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

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 139
Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott

E. Chafe | A. Dürr


Thomas Braatz wrote (November 11, 2002):
BWV 139 - Commentaries:

From Eric Chafe’s “Tonal Allegory in J. S. Bach”

On the Allegorical Significance of Keys in the Bach Cantatas

E major as the characteristic of trust is associated with BWV 139. I am listing Chafe’s entire footnote for the record.

Bach associates E major in the cantatas with positive qualities – completely contradicting the interpretation for E major given by Mattheson (“Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre. P. 250) – among which blessedness (Cantatas BWV 8, 60, 124,) salvation (Nos. 9, 17, 49, 86, 116, BWV 139,) resurrection (Nos. 66, 67, 80, 94, 145,) and trust (Nos. 3, 29, 34a, 107, BWV 139, 171, 200) are the most characteristic. B major – Heinichen’s ‘extremum chromaticum’ – is, however, extremely rare (Cantatas 45, 49, BWV 139) and never appears as a movement key, whereas G sharp minor appears in recitatives, almost always with negative associations (Cantatas 8, 9, 60, 67, 107, 116.) E minor appears frequently, mostly with the association of suffering, sorrow, doubt, pain, fear, and the Passion (Cantatas BWV 4, 7, 20, 32, 60, 75, 81, 84, 88, 91, 92, 100, 109, 135, 138, 147, 155, 158, among others.) At the other end of the spectrum B flat minor –the ‘extremum chormaticum’—appears only once as a movement key (Cantata 106, “In deine Hände”); and as a key within recitatives it is associated almost always with darkness, the cross, and suffering (Cantatas BWV 2, 13, 21, 23, 29, 46, 47, 48, 52, 54, 78, 93, 102, 105, 127, 134, 146, 159, 186, 199, and others.) F minor is the flat limit for movement keys but unlike its sharp counterpart, E major, is never used as the key of a whole cantata: its associations are almost invariably anxiety, tears, tribulation, sin, pain, sorrow, care, suffering, and death (Cantatas BWV 3, 12, 13, 18, 20, 21, 47, 48, 54, 55, 56, 57, 70, 78, 89, 102, 105, 112, 131, 146, 186, 187, and others,) in this respect its associations are the most fixed. E flat minor appears only once in the cantatas (No. 159) and once in the St. Matthew Passion, both times associated with the most extreme torment. C minor appears frequently, and overwhelmingly in association with death and burial (Nos. 1, 20, 27, 48, 56, 57, 58, 73, 82, 91, 94, 95, 102, 106, 109, 127, 135, 138, 156, 161, 186, among others,) several times with the mention of the “sleep of death.” Other keys are not so firmly connected to their allegorical associations, although F sharp minor and B minor are often linked to the cross and suffering, and D and A major are usually positive, even triumphant. D and C, of course, often appear with trumpets and therefore bear strong associations of triumph, while F major (horns) sometimes has a pastorale association.

With relatively few exceptions, the movement keys of any given cantata remain within the tonal region of a single ambitus, and of those that do not the great majority remain within a single genus (either sharps or flats.) Only the Passions utilize the full spectrum of keys of the 18th- century circles of sharps and flats that enable us to consider shift of genus as an allegorical device. The Passions display these procedures most fully and in greatest detail, providing an array of tonal relationships that are not present in individual cantatas. Some of the relationships within the Passions, however, hold true for the whole corpus of cantatas, such as the range of keys for individual movements extending from F minor to E major, with the general associations of worldly tribulation and salvation attached to the two extremes. The general placement of the ambitus of any particular cantata with respect to the circle of keys is also important, particularly in the case of works in three or more sharps or flats. A few cantatas were conceived in terms of key areas whose tendency toward very sharp or flat modulations is a vital part of the meaning: for example, Cantata 116 is very sharp in tendency, Cantata 102 the reverse. Enharmonic relations are not rare and are always of great allegorical significance. Although they and all other extreme tonal devices are concentrated in the recitatives, they can still have a great effect on the overall plan.

Alfred Dürr:

Mvt. 1:
The introductory chorus follows the scheme that Bach customarily preferred using: the chorale melody (cantus firmus) is presented by the soprano with longer half-note values and is embedded in a concertante instrumental ritornello. Remarkable here is how everything, the instrumental as well as the other voice parts, is derived directly from the chorale melody. The opening motif of the 1st violin is a variant of the opening line of the chorale melody. This thematic material based on the opening motif is retained in the later ritornelli. In the choral sections, the other voices also partake of the melodic material provided by the chorale melody. As the soprano voice presents the chorale, the other voices along with both oboi d’amore and continuo provide counterpoint in imitation of the melody but with faster note values. The strings remain silent at this point, thus allowing the cantus firmus to be properly heard and they only enter again at the very end of the line. Looked at another way, the voices, following the customary treatment of slightly preceding with imitative material the cantus firmus but also accompanying it with this same material, have pushed aside the strings that might otherwise be playing concertante or at least colla parte and have made them superfluous here. The strings only have their say in the ritornelli.

Mvt. 2 (Tenor Aria):
Here Bach derives his thematic material, on the one hand, from the contrast between the “Toben” [‘raging turmoil’] of the enemy and, on the other hand, the peace of mind of a Christian who is certain of God’s friendship. Both the voice and the obligato instruments have the same thematic material. In the opening ritornello both solo violins (and the continuo as well) alternate between these contrasting motifs. Even the middle section brings no relief from the continuing turmoil.

Mvt. 3 (Secco Recitative for Alto):
Only 8 measure separate one aria from the other.

Mvt. 4 (Bass Aria):
Whereas the first aria was characterized by flowing musical figures that continued their movement throughout the aria, this aria has many and frequent changing rhythms. Here we have a complex form of the da capo aria which follows the following scheme: a b c c a b’ a’ b’’. Instead of simple, stark contrast between two extremes in the tenor aria, this aria demonstrates successive contrasts:

a) “Das Unglück schlägt…”: dotted rhythms, ‘poc’ allegro’
b) „Doch plötzlich, erscheinet…“: triads and triple meter, ‚vivace’
c) „Mir scheint des Trostes Licht…“: a flowing cantabile, only continuo while the obligato instruments are silent, ‚andante’

The last lines of the text (“da lern ich erst…”) are cited directly from verse 3 of the chorale, however, Bach made no attempt to reference the melody of the chorale here as well.

Mvt. 5 (Recitative for Soprano):
By using strings as an accompaniment, Bach is able to call attention to the “größten Feindes” [“the greatest enemy”] in the individual. The words, “Ich gebe Gott, was Gottes ist” [“I give to God what belongs to God”] once again make the connection with the Gospel for this Sunday.

Mvt. 6 (Chorale)
A simple 4-pt. chorale concludes this cantata.


Cantata BWV 139: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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


Back to the Top

Last update: Friday, September 01, 2017 13:38