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Cantata BWV 187
Es wartet alles auf dich

P. Spitta | W. Voigt | A. Schweitzer | F. Smend | T. Braatz | A. Robertson


Thomas Braatz wrote (July 16, 2002):
BWV 187 Es wartet alles auf dich - Commentary

I want to share the commentary (most of which is my translation or paraphrase from the original) on this cantata. Later on I wish to expand on some of the ideas given here:


Relating to the Gospel about the feeding of the 4,000, the main, opening chorus, which cites Psalm 104:27-28, praises God’s generosity which nourishes all of creation with inexhaustible gifts. The chorus has a grand design with a rich exposition. Its only drawback is that it is too somber for the content of the text. As the cantata progresses through the remaining mvts. to provide greater detail about God’s great deeds, this somber tone is abandoned. Using the words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:31, 32), Bach composes a bass arioso that comes rather close to becoming a full-fledged aria. This arioso demonstrates Bach’s dogmatic eagerness which suits him well here. Both the alto and soprano arias are very much like God’s blessing of the ripening fields that are ready to harvested, where the golden stalks of burgeoning grain seem to wave in our direction. In these arias there is something of the warm, beautiful sensuousness which Mozart later develops more fully. Enchanting is the ‘Un poco allegro’ in 3/8 time in the soprano aria. Here a rhythmic modification of the main theme of the adagio section reappears. The old-fashioned sounding chorale, “Singen wir aus Herzensgrund,” a hymn of thanksgiving, seems to return to the prevalent feeling in the 1st mvt.


This is a cantata with a grand design (planned on a grand scale), having an appealing text and containing 3 excellent arias, where the main focus/stress of the cantata lies/is placed. The introductory mvt., despite all of Bach’s musical artistry is definitely lacking something from the poetic standpoint. It is conspicuously gloomy (dismal, sad, depressed, dull, etc.) and, as a result, it contradicts somewhat the texts and interpretation of the texts in the following mvts. It is quite obvious that the main choral section (after a beautiful beginning, which treats a significant theme alone at first, but then, later, includes a contrast) simply provides a vocal accompaniment to the material already presented in the instrumental ritornello. The final section of Mvt. 1 is treated entirely in this manner. The middle section, “wenn du ihnen gibest,” does allow the voices to appear independently in a dominant fashion, but through the expansion of this fugal section, the 1st and last choral sections are unnecessarily suppressed without allowing them to sound a warmer tone. Granted, this chorus has an impressively solemn effect, but it simply does not attain the high standards to which Bach normally aspires.

In contrast, both arias for female voices demonstrate best, Bach’s ability to express tender emotion, and it could be said that they break through the usual limitations adhered to by composers of sacred music. They thus have some unusual characteristics. The 1st aria (alto), “Du Herr, du krönst allein,” uses a somewhat freer than usual da capo scheme, where the middle (2nd) section states the main theme in minor, while the other part of the middle section has an independent development. The 2nd aria (soprano), “Gott versorget alles Leben” (in Eb major, adagio) is quite original in the development of the melody and the structure throughout. The main section closes in G major, while the coda ends in G minor. In place of a middle section, there is a section entitled ‘un poco allegro’ in 3/8 time which picks up the major key again and therewith provides a way to express ceremonious feeling overflowing with a heartfelt thanksgiving. Particularly fine is the manner in which the recapitulation of the main theme appears in a changed form which helps to tie both parts together more closely. The conclusion is than simply the ‘adagio’ introduction.
A significant contrast to both of these arias is provided by the bass aria, “Darum sollt ihr nicht sorgen.” This aria is replete with the unusual fervor that Bach is able to muster when rendering the words of God’s commandment into music.
Bach obviously enjoyed setting the naïve text of the final chorale, for he has the choir sing two whole verses of it.


The text is very fine. It is a satisfactory text. The dynamic markings and phrasings are distributed throughout with great subtlety. There is a large scale chorus with a particularly lengthy orchestral introduction. The 1st biblical verse is set as a chorus; the 2nd, a beautiful passage from the Sermon on the Mount, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink,” is declaimed in a simple bass arioso. In the alto aria, “Du Herr, du krönst allein das Jahr,” the orchestra has a cheerful melody, in which Bach has marked the nuances almost from bar to bar. The 1st part of the soprano aria (adagio), “Gott versorget alles Leben” (“God nourishes every living thing” is founded on the rhythm of solemnity; at the words, “Weichet, ihr Sorgen” (“Away, ye cares”) – un poco allegro – the music breaks into flying figures.

Dürr’s and Smend’s analysis of the 1st mvt. will be the basis upon which I will later expand and expound on my personal observations.

I find the following thoughts by Smend quite illuminating:

In the same way that Bach, in the most reliable portrait of Bach that we have, holds out to the observers a canon, as if challenging them to figure out the solution all by themselves, this cantata (BWV 187 – particularly Mvt. 1) demands from us that we also attempt to uncover things that are not immediately apparent on the surface. [My comment: We know, of course, that this canon was the “Canon triplex à 6 Voc(ibus) per J. S. Bach” BWV 1076 which, according to Smend, contains an encoded text whose complex musical contents would remain obscure to the general viewer and challenge even the well-versed musician (Wolff – Bach biography, p. 391.)]
In June 1747, Lorenz Christoph Mizler managed to persuade his former teacher, Bach, to join the Society of Musical Science as the 14th member to be admitted to this society. [Gematria: B = 2; A = 1; C = 3, H = 8; hence BACH = the total number 14] Bach presented a reprint of this canon (BWV 1076) in recognition of his admission to the society.

In a conversation with Hans Asmussen regarding Bach’s use of gematria in this canon and elsewhere in Bach’s music, Smend heard Asmussen make the following statement:

“Whoever can do things like this, the way Bach does, and it must certainly have cost him some extra time and effort, while, at the same time, he considered that others might not be able to understand just what he had truly accomplished here; such a person [Bach, in this instance] must have had a splendid sense of freedom toward (or ‘over against’) that which he had completed to his satisfaction. I think this is really great. This type of attitude lends expression to a special type of humor that belongs in the category along with some of the greatest accomplishments of mankind.”

Smend continues commenting about BWV 187 Mvt. 1:

In contrast to the choral mvts. of an earlier masterpiece, “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” BWV 21, where many individual short choral segments are loosely attached to each other in a series, this cantata’s [BWV 178] 1st mvt., demonstrates how Bach is able to weave together in a masterly fashion, all of the musical material into a single, closed, unified form. All the segments of the mvt. are seamlessly melted together and flow as a single stream from begto end. This mvt. attains a highpoint in Bach’s creations that can easily be compared to the Credo and Gloria of the B-Minor Mass (BWV 232), even though it has only 4 separate vocal parts instead of 5 and does not include trumpets, flutes and timpani. The prevailing atmosphere is serious, as befits the choice of key: G minor. There are, however, moments in F major and B major which express joy over God’s rich gifts.

I have decided to post rather than neglect these comments even though they contain some ideas that I do not happen to agree with or though they might strike some of you as being just a bit odd and perhaps antiquated. It is my hope that you might possibly gain some insights as I did when you begin to ponder how it is possible for someone to have arrived at these conclusions. Remember, also, that these commentators, during their lifetimes, may only have heard one live performance of this cantata, if they had been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. Consider how lucky we are to be able to listen to various recordings over and over again [although this could be more of a bane than a boon, depending upon the quality of the performance.]

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 17, 2002):
BWV 187 Es wartet alles auf dich - Mvt. 1 (ctnd.):

Voigt was perplexed by Bach’s treatment of the choral parts. He wondered: “Not only is this a gloomy mvt. that does not suit the text very well, but Bach also persists in treating the choir very shabbily by allowing the choir parts to simply repeat, in an accompaniment mode only, the musical material already stated in the instrumental ritornello. Did Bach’s musical imagination ‘go on vacation’ or leave him ‘in the lurch?’ Worst of all, after the fugue in the middle section which does allow the voices ‘to have their say’ and ‘their moment of glory,’ the final section, which should crown this wonderful composition, is dominated completely by the orchestral material and the choir is unable to come to a strong, fitting conclusion, hence the predominant somber and serious mood of this mvt.

Voigt is really trying to say to Bach, “How could you let us down in this fashion by composing this mvt. in this way?”

What Voigt is complaining about is a specific compositional technique that Bach employed, a technique more recently defined and given the term, “Choreinbau.” To understand this mvt. better, you will really need to become acquainted with this term. Alfred Dürr, who frequently uses this term (was he the first to use this musicological term?) explains this as an adding of vocal parts for a choir to an already existing, purely instrumental section or mvt. Take, for instance, the 1st mvt. of the Christmas Day cantata, BWV 110, “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens” Here we have an already existing instrumental composition, which, without a doubt, ‘stands on its own legs:’ the 1st mvt. of Bach’s Orchestral Suite Nr. 1, BWV 1069. For the cantata mvt. Bach later “composed into” the already independently existing instrumental score a 4-pt. choral section that duplicated many of the existing musical lines, but also added some new ones as well. What we have, according to the term, “Choreinbau,” is a vocal expansion/overlay of the purely instrumental score. Many who know BWV 1069 in its original form would perhaps say, “that’s it! There’s no way to add any new notes and melodies to an already perfect score. It is so perfect, that to add additional notes and melodies would be sacrilegious.” Surprise! Just check out what Bach did with the Brandenburg Concerti, when he wanted to use them in church: example – the 3rd Brandenburg, 1st mvt. for strings only, is expanded in BWV 174 “Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte” to include additionally 2 hunting horns, 2 oboes and a separate viola part in addition to the 3 already existing viola parts! Some other important examples of “Choreinbau” are BWV 47, BWV 146 = BWV 1052 (the D minor Clavier Concerto BWV 1052); and BWV 164.

The final choral section from ms. 108 to 125 [end of mvt.] parallels ms. 12 to 27 in the introductory ritornello; ms. 107, 109 are like ms. 19 to 20. The 1st choral section in ms. 28 to 49 (not the fugue) also shows the following correspondences: ms. 28 to 31 are the same as ms. 16 to 19; ms. 32 to 33 are the same as ms. 16 to 17; ms. 34 is the same as ms. 6; the choir parts in ms. 35 to 36 are the same as ms. 24 to 25; ms. 39 to 49 are the same as ms. 4 to 13; ms. 49 to 54 are the same as ms. 1 to 7 (but transposed). For the ritornello just before the fugue, ms. 58 to 65 are like ms. 20 to 27 at the beginning [of course, there is no “Choreinbau” here.]

Using the scheme suggested by Dürr, the 1st mvt. can be broken down as follows:

Section A ms. 1 to 65 Introductory Ritornello (Sinfonia)

Section B ms. 66 to 106 The Grand Vocal Fugue

Section C ms. 107 to 125 The Vocal + Instrumental Conclusion (a modified da capo)

Actually, although Dürr labels the last section as “C,” it is in reality a shortened form of A with ‘Choreinbau’ hence it could be labeled A’ [prime] instead. This gives us a ‘frame’ rather than an open-ended form that Dürr suggested.

Now that we have ‘staked out’ the general territory covered in this mvt., let’s go into greater detail:

Section A

1 – 27 the ritornello or introductory instrumental sinfonia

28 – 34 1st choral subsection: a ‘building in’ of a choral section using motifs already supplied by the instruments earlier – there is free polyphony in canonic style
35 – 41 a 2nd short choral section: a dual thematic canonic, freely polyphonal, choral complex somewhat like a double-fugue (fuguetta) – ms. 35 to 38 introduce a new submotif
42 - 49 a 3rd short choral section that is entirely “Choreinbau”

49 to 65 ritornello (sinfonia) now only 17 ms. long

Section B

66 – 78 the grand choral fugue begins with B(ass), then T(enor), then A(lto) and finally S(oprano)

78 – 79 a failed fugal attempt by the B(ass) voice

80 – 82 the T(enor) makes a single entry

82 – 83 an extremely short instrumental ritornello – same as ms. 1 – 2 (transposed)

83 – 96 now the opposite sequence of entries occurs: S, A, T, B

95 – 106 once again, S, A, T, B

104 – 107 the fugal theme in the O(boes) (much like the trumpet parts in similar cantata mvts.)

Section A’

106 – 111 end of the fugal section and bridge to the final section

111 - 112 instrumental interlude based on the ritornello material

113 – 125 the final ‘Choreinbau’ section.

Spatially, the fugal entries might be depicted as follows (I hope that the primitive e-mail system will not disturb too much the formatting that I have attempted to indicate by spacing the letters into position):






This figure should appear a ‘T’ or a cross with the (B) above the middle ‘T.’ Notice the palindromic nature of the horizontal line! There is something eminently pleasing about this arrangement, while it also represents the way Bach thought about musical lines: use of the 'crab' = reverse arrangement of an original sequence of notes, etc. Remember that these capital letters are same ones that Bach would have used in designating these entries. The unusual T(enor) entry in ms. 80 – 82 is the linchpin that determines this structure. The failed entry of the B(ass) in ms. 78 – 79 throws it out of the unity with other sequences (hence I placed it on top.) The final entry in the O(boes) lends weight to the descending vertical line and it seems appropriate, if not logical, to place it where it is.

Now count the entries (not the failed one in the B(ass) to determine the total. Then recall that Bach, using gematria, definitely was aware of this total (14) that equals the sum of the letters of his family name: B = 2; A = 1; C = 3; and H = 8. (Smend was the first to point to the 14 fugal entries in this cantata mvt.) This is not sheer coincidence. Bach was aware of what he was doing, but he was juggling so many other elementand levels as he composed this mvt. that the challenge to write this grand fugue in this way with this added meaning and his solving of this problem in such an efficient manner must have given him great personal pleasure, a pleasure that he may not have been able to share with others, or one that he did not even want others to know about (the members of the Leipzig City Council, for example.) It is in this type of fugue that Bach clearly demonstrates the greatest musical ability that he has, so it comes as no surprise that he might attempt to include this type of gematria as a final flourish to his signature, one that he has successfully translated directly into the music itself the same way that many Renaissance painters 'painted themselves into' the altar paintings they produced for the church.

To be continued.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 17, 2002):
Here, once again is Voigt’s criticism regarding this mvt.: the choir + orchestra sections are weak because they present nothing new! Read again the text for this mvt. and think this time of the members of the congregation as well as the musicians who are hungry for that which Bach can give them to satisfy their thirst for music that uplifts, ennobles their spirits. This would come in the form of the choral fugue where each voice represents another segment of humanity that joins with the others to form the supreme harmony that is the brotherhood of man. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives a similar description of a Bach fugue, but I can not find my Bonhoeffer paperback book where he makes this statement.] Bach may have consciously ‘dampened’ all the other choral sections with 'Choreinbau' so that the fugue in the middle of this mvt. might more gloriously break forth and be recognized as God’s gift to mankind (through Bach.)

Consciously or unconsciously, Bach builds up the tension of this mvt. by applying gradually, step by step, a ‘stretto’ effect, usually defined as the final entries of the fugal theme, where the voices literally fall over each other in quick succession much like the conclusion to a display of fireworks. Bach begins this process quite early. Only the expansion of the main fugal section runs counter to this type of development, and even there Bach applies some stretto at the end of the fugal section. This is what he does:

In the 1st choral subsection of A, beginning with ms. 28, the separate canonic (fugal) entrances occur on the 3rd beat after the entrance of the 1st or earlier one. In the 3rd choral subsection of A, beginning in ms. 42, he has already shortened the time interval so that the 2nd entry, for instance, comes at the end of the 2nd beat (three eighth notes later than the earlier entrance.) Now the instrumental ritornello returns, considerably shortened (10 ms. less than the original ritornello.) In the grand choral fugue, section B, beginning at ms. 66, each entry of the fugal subject is 13 beats later than the former one, however, toward the end of this fugal section, ms. 101 to 103, the Bass enters on the 9th beat after the previous Tenor entry, and in ms. 104, the Oboes enter on the 5th beat after the previous entry. Do you feel the stretto ‘building’ as the entries become shorter and shorter? Beginning in the final ‘Choreinbau’ section, ms. 113, the voices enter only a ½ beat later! This is the ultimate foreshortening before reaching the ‘finish line.’

Now let’s look at the fugal subject of the main choral fugue (section B):

It consists of two distinct parts:

a) 2 quarter notes with a leap of an octave from the lowest to the highest, followed by 2 eighth notes, then another quarter note, then, once again 2 eighth notes, making a total of 7 notes which essentially are the same note [only the 1st note, an octave lower is not exactly at the same pitch, but is nevertheless considered to be essentially the same note.] Bach is calling attention to the enumeration of these notes because they remain rather static.

b) a series of 24 16th notes in a coloratura pattern that descends slightly follows in the second part of the fugal subject and provides a stark contrast to 'a.'

In section ‘a’ Bach seems to counting out all seven notes carefully and rather slowly so that listeners will be able to perceive the number of repetitions, whereas in 'b' the many notes just seem to flow along on the word "sammeln" ["collect, pick up."] Perhaps the listeners are now beginning to 'pick up' the theme while also thinking about the many gifts that God bestows.

Back in March of 2001, Jane Newble pointed out that there are more than 200 references to the number 7 in the Old Testament [The text for this mvt. is derived directly from that source] and that, in the Bible and biblical theology, “7 stands for perfection and completeness [this fugal section could be considered in this category] as well as for Jesus Christ. Four stands for Humanity, and three for Divinity, and because Jesus Christ was both man and God, seven symbolizes Christ in his perfection.”

Regarding the number 24, we need only to look at the WTC with its two groups of 24 preludes and fugues.

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 20, 2002):
BWV 187 – Background [Alec Robertson]

The background below is taken completely from Alec Robertson’s book ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ (1972). The English translation is by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.

Mvt. 1: Chorus
Es wartet alles auf dich
(Everything depends on you)
Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
The words of this fine chorus are based on verses 27-28 of Psalm 104. The rise of the fourth on the first violins in the first bar of the introduction becomes the leading motif in the first and third chorale sections but it is followed here by another motif for the oboes in thirds with the violins playing staccato counter motif below them. This bar and the subsequent use of its material suggested to Whittaker ‘the waving of corn in the breeze and the movement of the sickle’. It could be so, but it could equally be the pleasure and gratitude of the hungry at being fed!

Mvt. 2: Recitative for Bass
Was Kreaturen hält
(What creatures are contained)
A tribute of praise in the multitudinous miracle of creation for which all earth’s gold could not pay.

Mvt. 3: Aria for Alto
Du Herr, du krönst allein das Jahr mit deinem Gut
(You Lord, you alone crown the year with your good)
Oboe I e Violino I all' unisono, Violino II, Viola, Continuo
An attractive feature of this pleasant aria is the tying of the third quavers in each of the bars (3/8 time) to the first one of the next bar in the accompaniment almost throughout, while the soloist is given a flowing legato melody.

Mvt. 4: Aria for Bass
Darum sollt ihr nicht sorgen noch sagen
(Therefore you should not be anxious nor say)
Violino I/II all' unisono, Continuo
The words, which come from St. Matthew 6: 31-32, are set in the simple straightforward style Bach usually adopts for Christ’s sayings.

Mvt. 5: Aria for Soprano
Gott versorget alles Leben
(God cares for all life)
Oboe solo, Continuo
The style of this aria is in complete contrast to Mvt. 4. Oboe and voice share the expansive florid phrases of the first section. The tempo then quickens from adagio to un poco allegro for the next section, in plainer style. The staccato phrases for the oboe happily reflect gratitude for ‘Geschenk’ (gifts).

Mvt. 6: Recitative for Soprano
Halt ich nur fest an ihm mit kindlichem Vertrauen
(If only I can cling to him with the trust of a child)
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Another expressive gratitude and trust, and the acceptance of any trials that may come, all of which He has suffered for us before.

Mvt. 7: Chorale
Gott hat die Erde zugericht'
(God has set up the earth in such a way)
Oboe I/II e Violino I col Soprano, Violino II coll'Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo
Verses 4 & 5 of the anonymous ‘Singen wir aus Herzensgrund’ (1569) set to its origmelody (1589).


Cantata BWV 187: 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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