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Cantata BWV 168
Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort

W.G. Whittaker | P. Spitta | A. Schweitzer | A. Dürr | A. Robertson & W. Murray Young


Francis Browne wrote (July 28, 2002):
BWV 168: Whittaker

I am sure that I am not alone in finding of great interest the quotations from commentators on the cantatas that Tom Braatz has supplied in recent weeks. Even when they seem mistaken or misguided I have found such opinions useful in coming to terms with the week's cantata (and of course Tom's own superbly detailed comments are a wonderful supplement and often correction to other commentaries).

In discussing BWV 45 Tom mentioned a (wrong-headed) opinion of W. Gillies Whittaker but added he did not have access to the book. I suspect few members of the list do, since the text is out of print and was first published in 1959. This is a great pity since the two volumes and 1400+ pages of the work contain much that is valuable and illuminating. Whittaker clearly had a great love and knowledge of Bach's music and over a period of forty years performed all of the cantatas at least once. Sometimes he is simply wrong about a movement, his sympathies with some aspects of the librettists' expression of Luther's Christianity was clearly limited and his coverage of the cantatas varies greatly in detail and insight. But at his best he is perceptive and illuminating, and I have learned much from the first volume of his book (all frustratingly that my local library possesses!).

To allow other members of the list to sample Whittaker's writing for themselves I add without comment what he says about this week's cantata. I have omitted his quotation of the text - a translation is available - and [quote] means the point is illustrated from the score. The cantata is discussed in a chapter devoted to 'Reconstructed Weimar Cantatas'.

Introduction; text
It is difficult to see why Bach should have rewritten Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort unless, indeed, it was for the sake of the splendid opening bass aria. Salomo Franck was led by the Gospel for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity, St. Luke xvi. 1-9, which relates the parable of the unjust steward, to speculate in terms of money, payment and business calculations, scarcely inspiring topics for the sacred Muse!. Bach wrote the first version no doubt, when the libretto appeared in print, 1715. Spitta, however, is of the opinion that the composer from time to time harked back to Franck and did not write the cantata at Weimar.

Mvt. 1: Bass Aria
Bach conceived the parable as concerning God and man, for the rushing triplet semiquavers, three bars of 24/16 in the bassi followed by four bars of similar movement in violin I, the dotted-note passages for the upper strings at the beginning [quote] and the continuo idea repeated by the unison strings at the fine, tell of the Almighty speaking through the thunder and the lightning. Tue rechnung! is a stern command, Donnerwort always appears in triplet runs, Das die Felsen selbst zerspaltet brings vigorous passages and a scattering run on the verb; Wort, wovon mein blut erkaltet throws its verb on a low note while violin I sways above and the bassi mutter the Tue Rechnung idea below. Part 1 concludes with the command Seele, fort!. Even where the sinner is admonished to render back to God his gifts, the awful mutterings of the angry Omnipotent are heard in the bassi.

Mvt. 2: Tenor Recitative
After this the interest of the cantata sags for a while. The tenor sings of the lament of the unjust steward, but the text contains nothing of note until the plea that he mountains fall and the hills cover him from God's judgement of anger, when the accompaniment appropriately descends in leaps, and the reference to the lightning, where it springs upwards. Why Bach should choose oboes to play sustained chords in recitatives is one of the puzzles that one has not yet been able to solve. Two or three oboes are commonly employed and in BWV 183 he demands for that purpose two oboes d'amore and two oboes da caccia. These combinations are difficult to handle technically; unanimity is rarely achieved, even with good players, some of the sustained notes are so long as to be barely possible, the quality of tone, even with modern instruments, so different from the coarse reeds of that day, is insistent and does not yield sympathetically to the voice. There are cases where an aria is scored for three oboes, which are remarkably effective, but it is not the same with sustained chords in recitatives. The accompaniment to this number is for two oboes d'amore, so it must have been rewritten at Leipzig, and one sees no reason for the choice.

Mvt. 3: Tenor Aria:
The oboes d'amore in unison play the obbligato in the succeeding tenor aria, though doubtless one would be tacet during the vocal portions. What composer could write good music to a text beginning 'Kapital und Interessen meiner Schulden gross und klein muessen einst verrechnet sein'.? Why should the tender tones of the oboe d'amore be used with these words? Yet the long-enduring composer contrives to pen not uninteresting music. The opening phrase, modified for the voice [quote] is not without charm, and semiquaver groups in voice and continuo waft a certain naivety into the spiritual counting -house.
Part II is not so crude. The customary run is allotted to ‘Alles’, beginning with the semiquaver-group, 'steel' and 'stone' are appropriately to long notes, there are interesting variants of the first phrase and many graceful semiquaver passages for the instruments.

Mvt. 4: Bass Recitative
The words of a bass recitative secco, in which the erring and contrite steward is comforted (the character of the man is not that indicated in Holy Writ!) are uninspiring, though not so guilty of execrable taste. Franck's texts certainly do not err on the side of brevity, scriptural incidents are productive of compound interest. [translates whole recitative].

Mvt. 5: Aria, Duet Soprano Alto Mvt. 6: Chorale
The composer must have breathed a sigh of relief when he turned from this dreary admonition to the S.A. duet. Three characteristic ideas present themselves, a rushing up of the continuo (the only accompaniment) [quote] to represent the breaking of the iron, a snapping off of 'zerreiss' [quote] and an involved run to 'Kette'. The vocal parts rush toward each other on 'streuet'. The chains continue to be broken even when Machet sanft mein Sterbebette' is sung, although the voices gently sway down and up. The outlined melody of the continuo sinks step by step, until the lowest depths are reached with 'bauet mir ein festes Haus'. Neither does symbolic breaking cease during 'das im Himmel ewig bleibet, wenn der Erden Gut zerstauebet'. The voices begin this with yet another idea, all three being unrelated to the continuo theme, with a trill on im and swimming blissfully on ewig, ewig; there are holding notes on bleibet and long convolutions on zerstaeubet, and, at the end, a semiquaver rest between the last two words, the snapping off of all relations between here and hereafter. With this attractive duet and the closing four-part chorale the work recovers from the artistically devastating influence of the usurer's office. The anonymous melody of B. Ringwaldt's Herr Jesu Christ, du hoechstes Gut is sung to stanza 8

The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach, Sacred and Secular, Volume 1, p217

[Just one question on the sustained chords for oboes in the recitative: does Bach use this technique where the text portrays a process of thought on the speaker's part, a working out of the implications of a point perhaps made earlier to reach a conclusion or insight in the course of the recitative? This is what to my untutored ears the sustained chords seemed to convey]

ThoBraatz wrote (August 2, 2002):
Francis Browne kindly shared the contents of Whittaker’s comments on this cantata and called our attention to Whittaker’s comments on the Tenor Recitative (Mvt. 2). The points of interest here are:

1) Why did Bach use two oboi d’amore for the greater part of this recitative, where all they do is play long sustained notes, notes that would normally be sustained (or according to Dreyfus’ theory on the shortened secco recitative basso continuo accompaniment should not be sustained) by the organ accompaniment which here is probably replaced by these instruments.

a) it is difficult ‘even for good players’ according to Whittaker to sustain these long notes and maintain a good quality of tone (the reeds, according to Whittaker, were coarser than those today.
b) it is difficult to blend these coarse sounding instruments with the voice.
c) it is not an effective way to use these instruments in an accompanying mode except perhaps in certain arias, but certainly not in recitatives.
d) Whittaker seems to imply that this must have been an aberration on the part of Bach.

Having the oboes perform descending and ascending leaps as word painting to underline God’s judgement (the falling mountains) or lightening, does make sense, but this occurs only toward the end of this recitative

Whittaker: “The accompaniment to this number is for two oboes d'amore, so it must have been rewritten at Leipzig, and one sees no reason for the choice.”

Bach does not tend to rewrite or parody his own recitatives. He composes new ones. In this case it has been proven that no earlier version of this cantata existed, hence seeking for reasons why the oboes were chosen in this instance over an earlier version becomes superfluous.

Francis Browne asks whether the use of these instruments:
a) portrays a process of thought on the speaker’s part or
b) a working out of implications of a point made earlier to reach a conclusion or insight.

In trying to find some sort of an answer to these problems a) use of treble instruments in sustained ‘secco-,’ non-arioso-type recitatives; b) the nature of the text and how it might influence the use of these instruments in this way; I consulted Dürr’s book on the cantatas to select all similar recitatives for inspection (there were almost 40 instances not counting those that use only string instruments, such as the ‘halo’-effect used in the passions and also in some cantatas when Christ speaks)

The statistical results are interesting:

29 cantatas contained such examples (some cantatas had 2 or 3 instances)

Voice Ranges Involved:
S = 4
A = 12
T = 7
B = 15
Instruments Involved:
Flutes/Recorders = 15
Oboes (all types) = 28
Trumpets = 3
Upper Strings + Winds = 11

The number with strings alone would be much higher

Next I examined the score of each of these instances. Here are some generalizations:
1) The bass voice has some instances of very large instrumental combinations, including even trumpets (and timpani!) along with other instruments.
2) Bach does not seem to favor any particular instrument combination for a specific voice range. His choice of instruments depends upon other factors.
3) It is unusual to have these instruments (whatever combination Bach has selected – and these do vary quite a bit) play only long sustained notes all the way through the recitative without eventually breaking into faster musical figures.
4) Often the recitative is of the common, secco-type variety, which begins with only sustained notes and then at some point changes to an arioso where the instruments (and the voice as well) move into faster, more strictly rhythmic patterns.
5) Even if no arioso occurs, the instruments might engage in word painting at some later point. In some instances the musical figures are consistently maintained throughout the mvt. (to exemplify ‘waves’ etc.)
6) The choice of instrument is dictated by mood, or specific word content of the text. Recorders and Oboi d’amore, for instance, reference a bucolic scene. To these are added the Oboe di caccia (scenes of the shepherds in the fields or at the manger – BWV 248)
7) The instruments frequently break into faster figures (8th and 16th notes) at points where the voice has finished a phrase/sentence and needs to take a breath.
8) In BWV 171/5 with two oboes, one of the oboes has to hold the same note for 18 beats! What would Whittaker think of that!?
9) The text being sung can be a quote from the Bible, but these instances are in the minority.
10) By far the greatest majority of the texts involved what Whittaker calls a ‘plea.’ This is very much the feeling that the individual is expressing a strong request in the form of a prayer or strong wish. I found numerous example of this.
11) There are many texts that sound like a condemnation, a warning, such as that which might be delivered by a pastor in a sermon.
12) There are instances that sound like an appeal to one’s conscience, either the individual talking to himself or a higher authority attempting to awaken this conscience.

The most important thing that I learned from this investigation is that the lines drawn between ‘secco’ and accompanied recitatives are very unclear when applied to Bach’s recitatives. The arioso (sometimes a complete mvt.) is an intermediate vocal style between recitative and aria.

What frequently happens in recitatives only accompanied by the bc group is that the beginning is in long notes (the ‘secco’ type) but the ending is an arioso, even if it is not so marked by Bach. The way to tell when the change to an arioso occurs is when the bc changes to a faster more regular notation (quarter and eighth notes) and the voice has a corresponding, more lyrical mode with melismas possible.

In the examples I looked at today, the only difference in the 1st part is that the figured bass notes are written out for the instruments to play the chords that normally are sounded only by the bc group. This brings up the question: If Bach wrote out the long notes in the bc in a secco recitative (without upper range instruments) exactly the same way as he does in these instances of an ‘accompanied’ recitative, should they not be played the same way with full values given to the notes that are written out in the score?

Since the two sections (secco and arioso) in a typical Bach recitative are also identifiable in many of the recitatives of the accompanied variety that I inspected today, it is possible to link this similarity in form so that it becomes independent of the observation whether treble instruments accompany the recitative or not. The fact that Bach wrote out the long note values for these treble instruments to play would mean that the bc, which does the same thing in the “secco” recitative (remember that the term ‘secco’ and the distinction that it makes, did not exist in Bach’s time) should also play the sustained notes as written (unless the die-hard Dreyfus’ advocates would use this observation to reduce the values of the notes assigned to the treble instruments in the ‘secco’-like section of the recitative as well.)

To put this another way: the beginning of a typical Bach ‘secco’ recitative looks musically just like the accompanied recitatives (recitative accompagnato/obbligato) with the only difference being that the accompanied recitative has the figured bass written out for instruments other than those in the bc group. The existence of these accompanied (non-arioso) ‘secco’-like recitative sections where very long note values are indicated would imply that there is no doubt that Bach would have wanted the plain ‘secco’ recitative to be performed the same way by the bc group.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 2, 2002):
BWV 168 - Commentary


Spitta, as a number of other commentators after him also point out, find the text of the tenor aria ‘difficult to digest,’ particularly the words, “Capital und Interessen.” The duet (soprano and alto), however is a splendid showpiece with great power and the bass aria is also very good.


Schweitzer states (I quote from his book): [Bach} also rin his music attempts at movement. A characteristic example is the theme of the aria [duet], “Herz, zerreiß des Mammons Kette” (“Burst the bonds of Maommon, oh heart”) [the theme] which is a veritable Laokoon-design in music.

The opening aria of the cantata…is rather enigmatic. It is not clear what is signified by the agitated figure in the strings. It suggest most strongly the aria of the scourging in the SMP, “Erbarm es Gott.” As a matter of fact the figure here also symbolizes a succession of blows. Bach remembers the text that has been in the mind of his librettist, “Ist mein Wort nicht ein Hammer, der Felsen zerschmeißt” (“Is not my word like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?”) and accordingly depicts the hammer-blows in his music. When played with sufficient animation the mvt. is very impressive. If the music to the aria, “Kapital und Interessen meiner Schulden groß und klein, müssen einst verrechnet sein“ („Capital and interest of my sins, great and small, must some day be reckoned up“) does not affect us very deeply, that is not to be wondered at. On the other hand a fascinating effect is made by the titanic efforts expressed in the bass accompaniment to the aria [duet], “Herr, zerreiß des Mammons Kette” (“Lord, break the chains of Mammon.”)


If there even was a prior Weimar cantata version of this text, it must have been entirely different from this Leipzig version. As a Baroque poet Franck, the librettist did not shy away from using shocking word combinations where the realism is quite stark such as “wenn ich…meine Rechnungen so voll Defekte sehe,” [“when I review my accounts and determine many mistakes”] and “Kapital und Interessen.” Similar to BWV 105, the 4th mvt. contains the decisive turning point with the pointing out of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death, which has the effect of “deine Schuld durchstrichen” [“has eradicated your own guilt/debts”]

It is possible that, because there is no large choral mvt., the final chorale might have been sung by the participating soloists (OVPP).

Mvt. 1
The ritornello places the dotted rhythm of the strings against the triplet figures in the bc. It is from the latter that the main thematic material is developed as this figure moves into the strings at the end of the ritornello and then is picked up by the voice in the coloratura on the word, “Donnerwort” [“Word of Thunder.”] In the main part of the mvt., Bach creates long stretches of the vocal part by a process of “Vokaleinbau” [this is the same as “Choreinbau” except that a single voice instead of a choir is involved.] This Vokaleinbau occurs when sections of the ritornello are repeated. Only the middle section is treated more freely, but the connection to the triplet figure is never lost. A shortened da capo concludes this mvt.

Mvt. 2
The harmonic background for this recitative is provided by 2 Oboi d’amore, but toward the end, at the words, “ihr Berge, fallt…” [“you, mountains fall” and “Blitz” [“lightening”] special figures appear which give this recitative a pseudo-arioso ending.

Mvt. 3, Mvt. 4, Mvt. 5
Compared to the introductory mvt., the role played by the instruments in the following two arias is on a smaller/lower scale of importance. Mvt. 5, the duet/aria has the two voices pursue each other in canon-like passages that are accompanied by a quasi-ostinato bc whose 32nd –note figures represent the tearing of Mammon’s chain.

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 3, 2002):
BWV 168 - Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort - Background

The background below is taken from the following books:
Alec Robertson: ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ (1972), and
W. Murray Young: ‘The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – An Analytical Guide’ (1989);
The English translation is by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.

Mvt. 1 Aria for Bass
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort
(Give an account of yourself! Word of thunder)
Robertson: Here, as in Cantata BWV 94, the parable of the unjust steward is applied to the Christian Soul. God is to be paid what is owing, and quickly! The solo bass appears here in the role – in present-day terms – of the income-tax inspector presenting his final demand. In this splendid bass aria declamatory phrases for the voice are accompanied in the first section by imperious quaver figures on the strings, with a triplet figure on the continuo.
Young: This fine aria with string accompaniment seems to portray the bass in the role of a tax-collector, demanding us to pay God what we owe Him now. The word ‘Donnerwor’ implies the coming Day of Judgement, which the bass repeats, for insistence of payment, at the beginning and at the end of the movement. The agitation of his urgent demand comes out well.

Mvt. 2 Recitative for Tenor
Oboe d'amore I/II, Continuo
Es ist nur fremdes Gut
(It is only the property of someone else)
Robertson: The unjust steward makes his excuses, praying that the mountains may fall on him and conceal him from God’s anger.
Young: With the unusual accompaniment of two oboes d’amore, he describes how everything he possesses has only been entrusted to his stewardship by God, his Master. He is overcome with fear, because his account has so many defects, caused by his callous neglect. Taking Christ’s words in Luke 23: 30, he says that he wishes to hide from his Master’s anger.

Mvt. 3 Aria for Tenor
Oboe d'amore I/II all' unisono, Continuo
Kapital und Interessen
(Capital and interest)
Robertson: The debts are all put down in God’s account book ‘as with steel and diamond’.
Young: Again with the two oboes d’amore, he manages to sing a rather interesting aria, despite the dull, un-poetic text with which Bach had to cope. All his debts are inscribed in God’s book.

Mvt. 4 Recitative for Bass
Jedoch, erschrocknes Herz, leb und verzage nicht!
(And yet, my frightened heart, live and do not despair!)
Robertson: God is referred to as the Security, who has all debts remitted, and the text goes on to counsel the Soul, free of debt, to use worldly wealth prudently, give to the poor, and so rest with untroubled conscience in heaven.
Young: His long discourse, secco, resembles a sermon to comfort the dishonest steward and give him hope of pardon. Christ’s sacrifice has effaced his debt to God, but he must strive to make good use of his worldly possessions and also help the poor to guarantee himself a place in heaven.

Mvt. 5 Aria (Duetto) for Soprano & Alto
Herz, zerreiß des Mammons Kette
(Heart, tear apart the chains of Mammon)
Robertson: No one has ever satisfactory explained Christ’s words about making friends with Mammon as a matter of expediency – surely He spoke ironically – so the librettist played the safety in this cantata and gave Bach chance to break ‘the chains’ with a delightful duet which prays for a ‘death-bed soft’ and a ‘firm house’ that will last for ever when earthly possessions turn to dust.
Young: With continuo only, they sing a delightful duet, which features an imagery of movement for the breaking of Satan’s bonds throughout the whole movement, even in the last half where death and the future life in heaven are depicted. This idea of motion stems from a gently rocking rhythm as the voices sing in canon. The thought expressed by the text and by the music is fascinating.

Mvt. 6 Chorale
Oboe d'amore I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo
Stärk mich mit deinem Freudengeist
(Strengthen me with your joyful spirit)
Robertson: The 8th verse of Bartholemäus Ringwaldt’s ‘Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut’ (1588) set to its melody (1593).
Young: B. Ringwaldt’s hymn, is a prayer to Christ to strengthen us, so that we may join His elect in heaven.


Cantata B168: 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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