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Cantata BWV 177
Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
Commentary

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 30, 2002):
Inspired by the comments made by Spitta, Dürr, Aryeh, and Dick, I used them as a starting point from which I extended them and added ideas of my own:

Viewing the cantata as a whole, Spitta makes a comparison between Bach’s typical treatment of a keyboard suite which begins with an allemande back to which the remaining dances in the suite refer and relate. Each subsequent dance in the suite is a very free variation of the allemande, just as each subsequent mvt. of a chorale cantata such as BWV 177 has elements that hearken back to the main presentation of the chorale melody in Mvt. 1. These relationships can come in the form of a direct, short quotation taken from anywhere within the chorale and presented anywhere within the aria or recitative (in this instance BWV 177 has no recitatives.) In this cantata the connections with the chorale melody seem much more subtle at first. Alfred Dürr, in his book,“Die Kantaten,” (1971), shows how the melody line in the alto aria (Mvt. 2) is a variation derived from the cantus firmus as set by Bach in the final chorale, Mvt. 5. Both Spitta and Dürr perceive an increasing distancing (remoteness) from the chorale melody in each succeeding aria. Sometimes only tiny fragments can remind the listener of the original melody. [Remember that the members of Bach’s congregation knew these chorales forwards and backwards, and they could easily sing all the verses by heart when asked to do so.] Dürr also points to the descending interval of a 3rd at the beginning of the aria (both in the oboe da caccia and in the voice part.) This interval drop is the same as the opening of the chorale melody. In addition, Dürr points out how Bach gradually moves away from the typical A A B barform structure of the chorale, still retains it in Mvt. 2, but with very frequent repetitions (interruptions) of the ritornello in the basso continuo. In Mvt. 3, however, the form becomes A B B’, and in Mvt. 4, the form has been completely changed to A A’ B B’, thus the departure from the imbalance of the barform has now been completely transformed into a very balanced structure.

It is interesting to observe how Bach picks up on the key elements of the chorale and then uses them in the arias with even greater effectiveness because he can create a “Tonmalerei” [“Word pictures or painting in music”] on certain words that appear only once, that is, he is not faced with the usual problems confronting a chorale text poet who has a number of different sets of words associated with the same section of melody. Bach, for instance, takes the repeated 3-note phrase (Mvt. 1, verse 1 on the words, “den wollest” in ms. 186-188, and Mvt. 5 on the words, “daß sich mich nicht umstoße” [“so that it won’t knock me over”] where the words relate to the music and maintains a stationary pitch which implies that one will remain ‘unmoved’ by temptation or temptation will not ‘knock one over.’ Bach transforms this motif into the marvelous, and fairly obvious, word painting in ms. 45 on the word, “Beständigsein” [“to remain steadfast”] and does not move away from the note, but only repeats it at the same pitch. [Dick Wursten pointed this out.]

Another feature that Dürr emphasizes is the leaping-upward figure which relates to the notion, “Ich ruf’” [“I call/cry out.”] The leap upwards of a fourth is found in Mvt. 1 (the 1st verse of the chorale) in ms. 223 in the cantus firmus on the words “mein’m Nächsten” [“the person closest to me in proximity”] and in Mvt. 5, ms. 14 “daß mir’s” [these words of little or no import in this context.] The opening oboe motif is a leap upward of a fifth, answered very quickly by the violino concertino with a similar leap of a 4th. In Mvt. 1, Bach plays with contrasting interval leaps, those jumping upwards resembling the calling/crying/pleading/praying of the congregation or singers who direct their plea upwards to Christ. The opening figure in the violino concertino contains in nuce both the upward leap, but also closely thereafter a descending figure in ms. 2 – 5. This second part of this figure could represent Christ’s already anticipated answer coming back down to the congregation. In ms. 8, 16, 88, 261, Bach specifically marks the downward-jumping notes played by the violins as staccato to draw attention to this descending motion. It might otherwise be overheard. When the choir begins its fugal entries in ms. 32, 33, they emphasize this calling out with separately upward-leaping intervals. Beginning in ms. 56, Bach even increases the interval to a sixth. In Mvt. 3 (soprano aria), the soloist even increases the upward-leaping interval to a 5th and a 6th and eventually this is expanded to an octave on the word “Unglück” [“Misfortune”] in ms. 56. Quite remarkable are many other leaps of an octave: Mvt. 1 in ms. 40 – 42 in the alto and tenor voices, but changed slightly in ms. 112 - 114 when this section is repeated (no octave leap in the tenor part.) There are octave leaps in the bass in ms. 189, 191, 201. In Mvt. 2 there is an octave leap in the alto part in ms. 5 of the opening phrase and also in ms. 46. In Mvt. 3 the bc has it in ms. 2, 6, 8, 18, 38, 42, 53, 59-60, 70, 99, 103, 105, 108, while the voice has this figure in ms. 51, 56, and 74. The 4th mvt. (tenor aria) becomes even more involved: the bc begins with an octave leap upwards and then repeats three times a quarter note at the same pitch [“Beständigsein.”] There follows a profusion of octave leaps in the bc, but also in the violino concertato and the tenor voice as well: ms. 14, 23, 42, 51. This last instance seems to be a high point of alarm and attention-getting as it resembles the post horn that was discussed on this list earlier this year.

I am inserting here an excerpt from my discussion of BWV 115:
< What is remarkable is that Bach, in his revised version of the beginning of this mvt., decides to use the motif already assigned to the vocal entries of the 1st, 3rd, and 7th lines of the chorale text. There the motif consists of quickly moving octave jumps in eighth notes that move downward and upward in rapid succession. I wondered about this unusual motif and quickly made a connection with a piece by Telemann contained in his Musique de Table 3me Production. It is the mvt. entitled "Postillons" (the 4th mvt. of the Suite for 2 Oboes and Strings in B major.) In seeking further confirmation of this association I learned from Brad Lehman of a similar use of this octave-interval leap in Bach's Capriccio in Bb Major BWV 992 'sopra la lontananza del fratello dilettissimo' Mvt. 5 Aria di Postiglione and Mvt. 6 Fuga all' imitatione di Posta. This evidence establishes the connection that Bach easily may have had in mind as he used this interval in this cantata. Since the appearance of this motif at the very beginning of the cantata places it in a position of importance and increases its significance, the question that remains is "Why the difference in the note values?" The slower note values could indicate that Bach wanted t"announce the arrival" (just as a posthorn would herald the arrival of news and passengers) of the Day of Last Judgment. The faster note values, when used by the voices when they first enter, symbolize the greater urgency associated with the imminent arrival. It serves as a 'wake-up call' for those Christians who were still 'sleeping.' >

Schweitzer finds all the arias in this chorale cantata to b‘wearisomely long.’ I do not agree with him at all.

Throughout Mvt. 2, notice that after the initial four fragmented phrases, Bach had the continuo play a series of leaping intervals vacillating between upward and downward intervals. I have located similar figures in the “Well-Tempered Clavier”: from pt. 1 the Fugue to no. 13 [BWV 858] in ms. 7-10, 12-14, 17-19, 21, 23-31, 33-34 and from pt. 2 the Praeludium to no. 9 [BWV 878] in ms. 21-22, 29-30, 43-44. Also in the Aria variata, variation 2: ms. 7,9-10 and variation 4: ms. 7,8.

In Mvt. 2, ms. 29-32, the alto sings a coloratura on the word, “daneben” [“in addition”] where Bach characterizes musically the word by including additional, extra music in the form of a long melisma. In ms. 48-49, on the word, “alles” [“all=all possibilities”], Bach uses in the range of notes that he circumscribes with another coloratura ALL the notes available in this single octave from Db’ to Db’’ save one: a B natural. Why he left this note out might be explained by realizing that German uses an H instead of a B natural, an anomaly that Bach respected because the H is out of sequence! In ms. 58, on the word, “ewig” [“eternally”] Bach has the alto sing an extra-long note on f.

In Mvt. 3 (soprano aria), the falling sequences of running 16th notes in the oboe da caccia seem to indicate in advance the blessing that Christ will bestow in response to the prayer in which one requests that one will genuinely grant forgiveness to one’s enemies. The coloratura on “neues Leben” {“new life”] imitates the descending pattern of Christ’s blessing which is now incorporated in the melodic structure and creates new life (the liveliness of many 16th notes) for the individual that has requested it. Similar sequences occur on “nähren” [“to nourish”] and “wehren” [“to defend against”] in ms. 50, 52, 76-77, 79-82. The musical treatment of “abkehren” [“to turn/break away from the path and move toward evil”] in ms. 59-60, 65-69, 89, 94, 96-97 by Bach uses syncopation, unexpected, very short rests (16th and 8th note rests) and an unexpected leap upward of a diminished 5th.

Mvt. 4: Here we see the inversion of the bc figure from Mvt. 2 which consisted of a figure that had two 16th-notes in a downward leap followed by the same in reverse. Now, in Mvt. 4 Bach has the violino concertino in ms. 9-11 play just the opposite in 8th notes. This figure is much more joyful than the former. In Mvt. 2, the intervals gradually open (become larger) before they begin closing again. This is like the opening and closing of a scissors. In Mvt. 4 the intervals remain very much the same and sound more forceful and joyous than in the earlier application in Mvt. 2. Similar to the cascading scale-like 16th-note figures in Mvt. 3 in the oboe da caccia part, the bassoon obbligato also has this blessing by Christ coming down upon the individual in ms. 9-11, 37-39 (the violino concertino repeats this same figure in ms. 61-63. At the word, “sterben” [“to die”] in ms. 70-73, 84-88, the mood very obviously changes through the use of chromaticism, pianissimo, a slower tempo, and drooping two-note phrases.

A wonderful touch in the final chorale (Mvt. 5) occurs on the words, “kömmt nun Anfechtung” [“should temptation approach”], when Bach has the basses sing (and the bc accompanying them) a stepwise, scale-ascending, partially chromatic, constantly upward moving phrase that indicates that we can expect this temptation to come to us from below.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 2, 2002):
Here is an attempt to summarize, but also extend the commentaries I related in my last posting:

1) The mvts. of this (and also other chorale cantatas by Bach) are all related to the main chorale much the same way that those of a keyboard suite are where the initial allemande states musically the foundation from which all the other dance mvts. take their initial inspiration. These mvts. show rather subtle and more remote connections to the initial mvt. the more they are removed physically from the 1st mvt. (the later they appear in the sequence of mvts.) In the chorale cantata, the final return to the chorale in a simpler 4-pt. harmonization in the last mvt. means that this last mvt. compresses into the most succinct form musically everything that has transpired earlier in the cantata. With this feature Bach has achieved an aesthetically pleasing and fulfilling form for the overall structure that embraces all the mvts. of the cantata, this is contrast to the suite which usually ends with the faster moving gigue to reach its conclusion. The suite therefore remains more of an open-ended form, whereas the chorale cantata has a strong musical framework that leads to closure. As Dürr has pointed out, Bach, in this late cantata BWV 177, as he moves from one mvt. to the next, appears to be moving away from the open-ended, rather unbalanced bar-form (A A’ B) of the original chorale (which he necessarily has to maintain in his opening choral mvt.) until he achieves a balanced mvt. structure in Mvt. 4 (the tenor aria). With the exception of the ‘B’ sections which dwell on “sterben” (“to die”) using all the devices that Bach can muster for this word, the general feeling throughout the rest of this mvt. is one of happiness and joy. I reported Dürr’s scan of the musical structure of Mvt. 4, “A A’ B B’”, which is not entirely correct when you consider the fact that the initial instrumental ritornello appears once again at the conclusion of this piece. So we really have A A’ B B’ A which, although not entirely balanced, does give us the sense of an enclosed framework that Bach was probably aiming for in his ‘ideal’ chorale cantata: A = the opening chorale mvt. with a cantus firmus in long notes and the other voices + instruments providing supplementary motifs to underline and interpret the text; B = all the middle mvts. with themes that are, in essence, variations on certain snippets from the chorale melody (usually the intial phrase, but not always) and with musical motifs that demonstrate an ever growing remoteness from the original chorale melody; A’ = the final chorale, the most succinct, powerful statement of the chorale melody with a different, later verse from the chorale text. When the listener hears this final mvt., there is a feeling that one has finally ‘arrived home,’ but this ‘home’ is not quite like the return to the original theme in the Goldberg Variations (although that return serves a similar purpose), rather it is more like the following situation: [You become sufficiently acquainted with another individual whom you have come to regard highly. This individual and you gradually lose touch with one another. At some point you meet someone else who seems to have known this individual even better than you did. Through this person you are able to probe more deeply than ever into the mind of the person you had respected. As a result of this experience, your understanding of this person has increased tremendously. Through some fortuitous circumstance you meet this individual again many years later. You are now looking at the same person you had once seen and experienced, but now there is much more depth and understanding between you because of what has transpired between both of you during period of physical absence from each other. The reunion is now much more meaningful than you could have imagined.] What we really have here is, in essence, a sonata mvt. form now extended to cover all the mvts. in a chorale cantata. In a classical sonata form, as you probably know, the first (A) section is a statement of related, but sometimes varying greatly in style, ideas (an exposition) that are enclosed in asection which is frequently repeated once again. Once the listener has these ideas firmly in mind, the composer, using material from section A, extends and develops certain ideas {in German this development section (B) is called the Durchführung (“a leading through”), sometimes going rather far afield before returning to a repeat (sometimes shortened somewhat) of section A. So, in essence, we have a beautifully framed structure, A, B, A’, the same type of structure, as explained above, that Bach envisioned for the chorale cantata when you take all the mvts. as a whole: A=Mvt. 1, B = mvts. 2, 3, 4, A’=Mvt. 5.

2) It occurred to me, subsequent to my last posting, that there seems to be (assuming, of course, that the upward leaping intervals signify the ‘calling or crying out’ to Christ) a real possibility that the original chorale text by J. Agricola? is an overlay (contrafact) of an already existing melody, secular or sacred, that does not represent this ‘calling or crying out’ properly. Actually the drooping interval of a minor third at the very beginning is rather sad and does not represent a deliberate, or even desparate, ‘crying or calling out’ to Christ. If the composer of the chorale melody and the chorale text had been one and the same person, would he not have used an upward-leaping interval just as Bach did to underline the text with this suitable musical gesture”? Then, of course, someone might argue: Why could the falling interval not indicate a genuflection or even prostration that would take place before the prayer and request could commence. Would then the key musical figure consisting of falling sequences as introduced by the violino concertino in ms. 2-5 of Mvt. 1, represent not Christ’s blessing or answer coming down to us, but rather these postures of submission being assumed?

3) There are these direct connections of certain distinct musical figures that I pointed out, figures that Bach used in this cantata, but also in some of his keyboard works. Just what is the connection between them? What meaning can we assign to them as it issues from the cantata text which Bach is illustrating musically?
4) The size (distance in terms of one note from another) and direction of these interval leaps carry a variety of meanings, dependent upon whether they move upwards or downwards or whether they express sadness or joy, or fear or confidence.

 

Cantata BWV 177: 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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Last update: ýSeptember 22, 2011 ý13:29:01